ISLAMABAD: Unemployed youth from the Hunza valley, and other parts of Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B), are being ensnared by smugglers under the garb of exports to China through the Sost border.
Certain unscrupulous elements, pretending to be exporters from Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), allure youth through their local agents to carry their cargo as goods carriers to China’s Xinjiang autonomous region for a nominal commission.
Many naive young people are easily caught in this trap, and agree to carry the merchandise without proper inspection or knowledge of what the consignment contains. A number of youths were caught and are languishing in Chinese jails as a result.
“My cousin, Liaquat Ali, recently suffered at the hands of a fake trader and his accomplices, who were acting as exporters of Pakistani products to China,” Farman Baig from Hunza told The Express Tribune.
“A consignment booked from Rawalpindi by Muhammad Taqi, a G-B-based exporter, reached Hunza on November 3, 2015, and was transported to the Sost border on November 4. From there it was handed over to my cousin the very next day, who loaded the freight on trucks on November 6 and took two cartons along with himself as hand carry without knowledge of its content,” Baig said, adding that the border remains closed on Saturday and Sunday.
Describing the ordeal of his cousin, Baig said Liaquat transported the cargo across the border to China on November 9. Chinese Customs officials intercepted the consignment and took Liaquat into custody. Baig said he has no information on the whereabouts of his cousin.
“When we came to know about his arrest by Chinese police, we approached the Sost police station to register an FIR against Taqi. We also informed the ANF of the incident, but neither the force nor the police registered an FIR against the real culprits,” he said.
In addition, Baig added that another local youth, Israr Ahmed, was also trapped in the same case of illicit goods trade on November 19, 2015. He said a total of nine persons from G-B had been arrested by Chinese authorities on similar charges; seven of whom had been released and sent to Kashghar, the capital city of Xinjiang. Those released were said to be in contact with their families, but are not allowed to return home.
Baig suggested that these incidents were a conspiracy against the peaceful people of Hunza, and an attempt to disturb trade between China and Pakistan. He appealed to the Chinese ambassador and high-level officials in both countries to take notice of this illicit trade, and order an investigation against officials involved in such rackets. He further opined that such trade seemed hell-bent on destroying the cordial relationship between both countries.
Under the China-Pakistan Free Trade Agreement, local people are exempted from visa restrictions, and only acquire a pass from the G-B government for travelling to China. Such travellers may take with them a consignment of 200 kilograms, or goods equal to 8,000 Chinese Yuan, without paying custom duty at the Pak-China border.
Taking undue advantage of this facility, unscrupulous exporters hand over cargo to such youth at the Sost border in Gojal Valley, and offer them a small commission in return. Despite the presence of Pakistan Customs and Anti-Narcotics Force checkposts at the border, smugglers are still able to successfully transport prohibited goods and drugs into China.
To curb such illicit trade, the UN has donated a scanning machine for the Sost border post. This scanner has yet to be installed by the authorities.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 4th, 2016.