EDITORIAL: It’s been an open secret that oil smuggled from Iran under the patronage of influential individuals was freely available in Balochistan. Some of it may have been finding its way into other areas. But following the exponential rise in fuel prices, cheap Iranian petrol and diesel are being shipped in large quantities all across the country.
Hurt by the activity, in May last the Petroleum Dealers Association had complained that as much as 35 percent of diesel sold in this country came from Iran. A month later, an energy ministry memo, cited by a news agency, asked security forces to clamp down on smuggling of petroleum products, saying diesel sales had slumped “more than 40 percent”. But no action followed.
About three weeks ago, at least 18 people were burned to death and 20 others received burn injuries when a bus on its way from Karachi to Islamabad caught fire after colliding with a parked pickup van loaded with diesel drums on the motorway near Pindi Bhatian in central Punjab. Evidently, the drums contained smuggled diesel. A police officer at that horrific crash scene told journalists that the cheap Iranian petrol and diesel are also carried from Karachi to central and upper Punjab via luggage compartments of passenger coaches.
The freedom fuel smugglers and their backers have enjoyed has finally about to end, at least so suggest media reports. A civilian intelligence agency is said to have submitted a report to Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaarul Haq Kakar’s office noting that 90 government officials and 29 politicians are involved in oil smuggling deals, causing an annual loss of more than Rs 60 billion.
Furthermore reveals the report, Pakistan State Oil vehicles, too, are engaged in transportation of illicit fuel brought in by Iranian vehicles. 76 points have also been identified along the border where the smuggled commodity is sold. It is more than obvious that such large-scale smuggling could not have gone on without collusion of some individuals occupying positions of power.
The number mentioning is of no use, all involved ought to be named and shamed, and held to account. It would not be surprising if most of them happen to be in the province where the illegal activity originates. In fact, there smuggling of all sorts of goods and commodities from Iran is even justified by its beneficiaries with the untenable argument that for many in that under-privileged part of the federation that is the only source of earning livelihoods.
It is unfair, however, to blame it all on them. Surely, the illicit fuel could not have spread to the rest of the country if those manning the various crossing points into Sindh and Punjab — on their own or under directions from officials and politicians in these provinces — did not look the other way or happily waved off vehicles carrying illegal petroleum products. Now that that official report has put its finger on various elements creating the problem it ought to be fixed. It is about time all relevant agencies did their duty and brought an end to the reprehensible activity.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2023