NEARLY half of the American states have legalised the use of marijuana for medical purposes. Frustrated with the uncontrolled use of the illicit drug, Americans are now debating whether to decriminalise marijuana with regard to its use for recreational purposes.
There is a brighter side to the proposed measure; it could rake in a considerable amount of revenue in lieu of duties and taxes on the substance. Something that cannot be cured must be endured, especially if the incurable malady promises to be otherwise productive.
Authorities in Pakistan now appear to be in the mood to emulate the Americans to find solutions to their own myriad problems arising out of unchecked and widespread breaches of the law.
The recent measure announced by the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) in the shape of attractive concessions to the owners of non-custom-paid vehicles to bring them within the regulatory regime is a pertinent example, though perhaps of far worse proportions than even the legalisation of marijuana.
The enticing FBR package has sent a wave of jubilation not only in the black market dealing in smuggled vehicles, but also among the unsuspecting public desirous of owning luxurious cars and jeeps.
Since the phenomenon is more common in parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, including the entire Malakand Division, and rampant in the adjoining tribal areas, people are said to be contacting and sending open cheques to their friends and acquaintances in the bordering districts and tribal agencies to avail themselves of the facility.
The move has also caused a remarkable rise in the prices of the most sought-after commodity in the backwaters of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
The phenomenon of smuggled and unregistered vehicles is not new. It reared its head in the early 80s during the peak of the conflict in Afghanistan, spreading virulently throughout the 90s and burgeoning into a fully grown evil at the turn of the century.
The liberal concessions from the customs and motor vehicle registration laws granted to the vehicles brought by thousands of Afghan refugees gave birth and impetus to the trend, which subsequently went out of control owing to the ridiculously stunted arms of the customs department.
Robber barons on the porous border made hay while the sun shone, while customs officials focused on chasing petty smugglers with their lean baggage of a few sheets of cloth and used tyres in the narrow alleys and crowded bazaars of Peshawar.
In a grotesquely comedic scene one only recently saw a customs patrol jeep on duty in the spare parts market adjacent to the Qissa Khawani Bazaar. The unregistered jeep with an inspector therein on the passenger seat had broken down during rush hour and two constables were running alongside the slow moving vehicle, sprinkling water on the overheated carburettor.
While such daily occurrences provide much-needed comic relief to the entertainment-deprived people of Peshawar, they also reflect poorly on the approach and capacity of a national institution charged with combating smuggling.
The problem of non-custom-paid vehicles is not going to go away with such inconstant measures as the grant of one or several concessions. Reports from the Malakand Division, which is home to over 100,000 non-duty-paid unregistered vehicles, indicate lukewarm interest by the people at large.
Why should they pay even Rs10 in lieu of duties if they can do without it? In fact it is the people of districts other than Malakand Division who have found unrestrained temptation in the so-called final concession.
The entire Malakand Division was until recently in a state of war. The situation was so bad towards the middle of 2009 that the armed forces had to intervene after militants had seized control of state institutions, forcing millions of people to flee to the plains in the scorching heat.
That was an unmitigated tragedy, but equally tragic is the fact that the causes of the conflict and the elements and tools contributing to and sustaining it were never truly explored.
An unregistered vehicle is a license to commit and abet crime. As stated above in Swat and the rest of Malakand region there was not one but approximately 100,000 unregistered vehicles, lending that much intensity to crime.
It is simply appalling that those thousands of unregistered vehicles are still plying the roads in the volatile region on the ludicrous assumption that the area is a tax-free zone. The less-than-serious officers posted in the region have been found feeding exaggerated reports to their bosses, arguing against making the people of Malakand follow the laws of the land. No doubt it is always the sum total of such preposterous suggestions and their net results that lead nations to the brink.
Any concession to the holders of the non-duty-paid vehicles or more bluntly to the violators of the law will most certainly be construed as a precursor to many more concessions to follow, thus nullifying the desired impact. The last thing a responsible state can afford is to start bribing its delinquent citizenry in order to discipline it.
It would be more prudent to waive the import duty altogether to enable a regime of strict registration rather than aiding and abetting lawbreakers.
The writer is a freelance contributor.