KARACHI: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif formed a fact-finding committee to ascertain the irregularities in the wheat import last year despite a “bumper crop”, excessing the stock leaving Balochistan and Punjab governments unable to purchase the crop from the farmers.

The prime minister asked the relevant officials about the import of wheat last year and why the decision was taken to import the commodity despite foreseeing a bumper crop.

Due to the non-purchase of wheat by the provincial governments, wheat is being sold at a lower price than the official rate. The stock surplus is attributed to Kakar-led caretaker government allowing import of 2,758,226 226 metric tonnes of wheat till Feb 2024.

After wheat, another scandal involving Caretaker Prime Minister pertaining to smuggling is unfolding.

Kakar allegedly protected and facilitated billions of rupees at Customs Quetta.

 A massive corruption scandal has emerged within the Customs Collectorate in Quetta, where officials are accused of both facilitating smuggling and pilfering seized goods including contraband worth billions of rupees. 

According to sources, The Taftan Rifles, a paramilitary force, reportedly handed over goods valued at approximately Rs5 billion to Customs, only for a significant portion to disappear.

The center of this controversy involves high-ranking officials including Collector Muhammad Ismail, and Deputy Collector Shah Faisal (promotee). Two inspectors, Najeeb and Watan Dost, were dispatched from Quetta to Naukandi—a distance of 800 kilometers—to take possession of the seized items. 

Shah Faisal had a connection with caretaker Prime Minister and Senior officers were helpless against Shah Faisal.

Despite closer checkposts with senior officers and storage facilities, the decision to send these inspectors was the part of the plan.

The goods in question, initially valued over Rs5 billion, included destructible items such as cigarettes, betel nut, gutkha, and Chinese salt for being hazardous and contraband, collectively worth Rs3.5 billion.

However, by the time the goods reached Quetta, the majority had been disposed of, with only Rs1.22 million worth deposited at the Bulleli warehouse.

Further allegations suggest that even these remaining goods were tampered with—high-quality betel nuts replaced with rotten ones and Chinese salt swapped for regular salt.

Over 300 tons of cloth, declared by Customs to be at the Bulleli check post, is suspected to be significantly underreported in quantity. Auctionable goods that should have been transported to Quetta were left at Naukandi, with their value allegedly understated.

It may be noticed the goods on the front remains the same, but goods underneath have been replaced. This is to mislead officers inspecting.

Sources claim that Deputy Collector Shah Faisal was awarded a ‘smuggling’ contract by Collector Muhammad Ismail for Rs240 million, raising serious questions about internal corruption. Despite efforts by Chief Collector Abdul Qadir Memon to curb these malpractices, his attempts were thwarted by the influential network of corrupt officers.

Dr. Fareed Iqbal Qureshi, Member Customs, has been vocal about the issue for the past three months, pushing for the transfer of the implicated officers. Although initially ignored by the Prime Minister’s Office, recent actions have seen the transfer of the accused, including Collector Muhammad Ismail, Additional Collector Rashid Munir, and Deputy Collector Shah Faisal.

Intelligence reports by the Intelligence Bureau and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) have been prepared, and meetings are in progress to determine the fate of the accused officers, including potential suspensions and filing of FIRs. 

Collector Taftan Naveed Iqbal is also implicated in the scandal.

Furthermore, it has been reported that bribes ranging from Rs35,000 to Rs200,000 are being collected per vehicle at Baluchistan check posts, depending on the cargo, to allow the movement of smuggled goods. On the other hand honest and performing officers were harassed and shuffled multiple times. 

This incident is feared to be part of a larger pattern of corruption, reminiscent of the scandal involving Enforcement Karachi Collectors Saquif Saeed and Usman Bajwa. Chief Collector Abdul Qadir Memon and Member Customs Dr. Fareed Iqbal Qureshi remain steadfast in their stance against smuggling.

To recall, COAS General Asim Munir had initiated a well-coordinated anti-smuggling campaign involving all security and law enforcement agencies, which resulted in a significant reduction of smuggling activities by over 60%. However, following recent elections, a resurgence of organized smuggling has been observed, leading to substantial financial losses for the nation.