FeaturedNationalVOLUME 18 ISSUE # 44

Fuel smuggling: Unveiling a web of collusion

The clandestine world of fuel smuggling in Pakistan, once shrouded in secrecy, is now under the spotlight as media reports suggest a turning point. A civilian intelligence agency has delivered a damning report to Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaarul Haq Kakar, exposing the involvement of influential figures, including 90 government officials and 29 politicians, in oil smuggling operations.

This illicit trade is causing an annual loss of over Rs 60 billion to the nation. Moreover, the report unveils the startling complicity of Pakistan State Oil vehicles in the transportation of smuggled fuel. With 76 identified points along the border where the contraband is openly sold, it is evident that this large-scale smuggling could not have persisted without the tacit approval of those in positions of power.

The presence of illicit Iranian oil, facilitated by influential figures, has long been an open secret in Balochistan. However, recent soaring fuel prices have led to a significant influx of inexpensive Iranian gasoline and diesel throughout the entire country. Pakistan is grappling with an annual loss exceeding Rs60 billion due to the smuggling of over 2.81 billion liters of Iranian oil into the country. Shockingly, this illicit trade involves the participation of 90 government officials and 29 politicians, as reported.

Media outlets have disclosed that the civil intelligence agency has submitted a comprehensive report on oil and dollar smuggling to the Prime Minister’s House. This report reveals a disturbing connection between oil smuggling proceeds and their utilization by terrorist groups. The civil intelligence organization’s report also uncovers that a staggering 995 petrol stations across the nation are engaged in the sale of contraband Iranian oil. Furthermore, it exposes the involvement of Pakistan State Oil (PSO) vehicles in the transportation of smuggled Iranian oil, typically arriving in Iranian vehicles known as Zamyad. It’s worth noting that 76 vendors in border areas have been ensnared in oil smuggling.

The report goes on to highlight the extensive network of “hawala hundi” dealers in Pakistan, with 722 individuals involved in this business. Punjab boasts the highest number with 205 dealers, followed by 183 in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP), 176 in Sindh, 104 in Balochistan, 37 in Azad Kashmir, and 17 in Islamabad.

It is important to mention that both the interim federal government and provincial administrations have jointly initiated a nationwide crackdown on those engaged in large-scale hoarding of dollars and other commodities. Expressing their concerns, the Petroleum Dealers Association reported in May that up to 35 percent of diesel sold in the country was of Iranian origin. A month later, an energy ministry memo urged security forces to curb petroleum product smuggling, citing a more than 40 percent decline in diesel sales. Regrettably, no substantial actions were taken in response.

A tragic incident weeks ago serves as a stark reminder of the consequences of this illicit trade. A bus traveling from Karachi to Islamabad caught fire after colliding with a parked pickup van loaded with diesel drums on the motorway near Pindi Bhattian in central Punjab. Sadly, 18 individuals lost their lives, and 20 others sustained burn injuries in the accident. It was evident that the drums contained smuggled diesel. A police officer at the scene confirmed that cheap Iranian petrol and diesel are also transported from Karachi to central and upper Punjab concealed in the luggage compartments of passenger coaches.

However, the days of freedom for fuel smugglers and their patrons appear to be numbered, according to recent media reports. Along the border, 76 points have been identified as locations where the smuggled commodity is sold. It is abundantly clear that such widespread smuggling could not have persisted without the cooperation of individuals in positions of authority.

Mere numbers are insufficient; all those involved should be publicly identified, held accountable, and face the consequences of their actions. It would not be surprising if a significant portion of these individuals hail from the province where the illegal activity originates. In fact, the justification of smuggling various goods and commodities from Iran as a means of earning a livelihood in an underprivileged part of the federation is untenable.

However, it is unfair to solely blame these individuals. 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, either on their own or under the direction of officials and politicians in these provinces, did not turn a blind eye or allow vehicles carrying illegal petroleum products to pass freely. Now that an official report has pinpointed the various elements contributing to this problem, it is imperative that corrective action is taken. It is high time that all relevant agencies fulfill their responsibilities and put an end to this reprehensible activity.

Numbers alone are insufficient; it is imperative that all individuals involved in fuel smuggling are publicly named, shamed, and held accountable for their actions. This accountability should extend beyond mere statistics and encompass a thorough investigation into the collusion of authorities at various crossing points, particularly in Sindh and Punjab. The justifications given for such smuggling in underprivileged regions cannot excuse this illegal activity. With an official report now pinpointing the culprits, it is high time for all relevant agencies to fulfill their duties and put an end to this reprehensible practice. The era of impunity for fuel smugglers and their enablers must come to an end to safeguard the nation’s interests and integrity.