We recently spoke with Sultan Azam Temuri, additional inspector-general with the capital police in Islamabad, about the illicit cigarette trade in Pakistan. The interview, using questions from the public on Twitter, was conducted on Nov. 5. Excerpts:
What’s the scale of the cigarette smuggling trade and where is it centered?
It cost Pakistan about Rs. 5 billion in lost taxes this year alone. The main smuggling routes are along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, which is very porous and hard to control or guard. Smuggled goods also include narcotics and arms and ammunition; this links up with terrorism.
How are the police working to clamp down on smuggling?
At least two to three times every week, we comb all the slums around Islamabad which have crime pockets. We recently recovered unlicensed arms from Afghans living in these areas and made arrests. We have pickets around these areas and conduct house searches. We also have a hotline, 15, for citizens to phone in any suspicious activity.
Who all are involved in this illicit trade on either side?
On the government side, we have the Federal Board of Revenue, law enforcement agencies, Rangers, the Constabulary, the Frontier Corps. We can’t give out specific names of people involved on the other side. The police are assisting other agencies in hunting down criminals, ensuring health warnings are printed on cigarette packs, enforcing and making sure all the relevant laws are followed. In Islamabad, all police stations are coordinating with each other to stamp out the illicit cigarette trade.
Is controlling smuggling a priority area for the government?
It’s an important issue, but right now the government’s priority is preventing terrorism and maintaining law and order. But the government is focusing on the smuggling problem also. It has directed border control to prevent it. We have tried different solutions—for example, a barrier wall was suggested, but it was not possible [to implement]. We have deployment in areas where the smuggling problem is most acute. We need stability in Afghanistan, and the region, to really focus on the illicit cigarette trade. The key is to ensure regional stability to control smuggling, to have zero tolerance for crime, and to resist political pressure from mafias and bust the cartels. Smuggling is aiding and supporting terrorism in Pakistan.
Does Pakistan have the experience and expertise to overcome the problem?
Capacity building is essential; this includes equipment and infrastructure to help the police. Existing laws are adequate, but they must be implemented. We’re training with experts, and we are open to working with other countries which have the expertise. Pakistan’s illicit cigarette trade is the third largest in the Asia-Pacific region, following Malaysia’s and Hong Kong’s.