GILGIT: The wrangling between high-ranking customs officials has been hampering operations at the Sost dry port — the country’s main land trade post with China — effectively halting goods transportation from China to Pakistan through the Khunjerab Pass.
Gilgit-Baltistan Collector Customs Nisar Ahmed Khan has accused the Federal Board of Revenue’s Directorate General of Intelligence and Investigation in Islamabad of ‘needlessly’ blocking consignments from China ‘without any jurisdiction’ in the region.
As the discord intensified, Mr Khan allegedly allowed the release of four consignments, which had been blocked by the intelligence directorate.
The GB Customs Collectorate had earlier cleared consignments that were eventually blocked in October of this year, after intelligence directorate officials suspected that high taxable items were part of these consignments.
GB collector accuses customs intelligence of working ‘without jurisdiction’
According to rules, the blocked consignments can only be cleared after the completion of an investigation by the intelligence directorate.
However, when Mr Khan visited the dry port on Nov 1, he ordered the assistant collector to release the consignments through manual inspection, in an apparent violation of rules as electronic clearance of the same is necessary.
The same day, the assistant collector wrote to a senior manager of the Sost dry port to release the blocked consignments.
The letter, seen by Dawn, stated: “It has been decided by competent authority that … GD [goods declaration] number 278, 351, 357, 358, blocked by intelligence and investigation Islamabad, may be released and goods may be delivered to owners.”
Meanwhile, officials of the intelligence directorate told Dawn on condition of anonymity — as they are not authorised to speak to the media — that the blocked consignments cannot be released without the directorate’s permission.
When asked to comment, FBR Spokesperson Afaque Ahmed Qureshi said that apparently, there was no row between the collector customs and customs intelligence at Sost.
However, when contacted, Mr Khan claimed the directorate has no jurisdiction in GB, adding that some traders have even challenged the intelligence directorate’s jurisdiction in the GB Chief Court.
When asked how the four consignments were cleared without the intelligence directorate’s permission, he said the consignments were released manually with the permission of the chief collector, as the date of their clearance had long passed.
Whenever Customs officials clear goods for release, the intelligence directorate blocks them, Mr Khan claimed, saying that this was affecting trade activities between China and Pakistan through the Khunjerab Pass for nearly a month now.
He said that 13 consignments blocked by the intelligence directorate were still stranded at the dry port.
After remaining closed for more than two and a half years, the Khunjerab Pass was reopened for trade only to facilitate the transportation of the containers loaded with goods from China to Pakistan. It was closed in November 2019 to contain the transmission of coronavirus between the two countries.
Under a protocol agreement signed between the two countries, trade and travel activities through the Khunjerab Pass continue from April to November every year. However, this year transportation of goods from China will continue till Nov 30.
Traders fear that the suspension of clearance can cause purchased goods stranded in China.
Published in Dawn, November 12th, 2022