Slow clearance of goods at Torkham causes traffic, policing issues

LANDI KOTAL: Slow process of customs clearance of trade goods to Afghanistan at Torkham coupled with arrival of hundreds of more loaded vehicles from Karachi have compounded the traffic management, policing and security related issues both at the border crossing and on Peshawar-Torkham Highway since reopening of the border for trade activities on May 1.

The federal interior ministry through a notification on May 1 allowed reopening of Torkham and Chaman borders with Afghanistan for five days a week (Monday to Friday) for export only, both for Afghan Transit Trade and bilateral trade.

The notification said that Nato and Isaf cargo along with fuel cargo should also be allowed while ensuring Standing Operating Procedures and related protocols.

The authorities at Torkham were directed to clear only 100 loaded vehicles on daily basis and that too only during daytime.

Presently about 700 loaded vehicles await clearance at Torkham

Pakistan had earlier closed all its borders with Afghanistan on March 16 to contain the spread of coronavirus thus hundreds of vehicles loaded with export items and Nato and Isaf cargos got stranded at Karachi port.

With the reopening of the border for trade from first week of May, a large number of the stranded vehicles rushed to Torkham border crossing that caused huge traffic congestion both at the border and the main Peshawar-Torkham Highway.

Figures shared with this scribe by the office of district police officer said that at present around 700 loaded vehicles were awaiting clearance at Torkham, about 250 more were ready for onward journey towards the border from National Logistic Cell terminal in Jamrud while another 800 to 900 loaded vehicles were parked on both sides of the road from Shah Kas Levies Centre to Takhta Bag checkpost in Jamrud.

DPO Mohammad Iqbal told Dawn that the sudden ‘influx’ of such a large number of loaded trucks posed threat to the security of those vehicles besides hampering smooth flow of traffic on the main road leading to Torkham.

He said that in order to address those issues, a joint meeting of the officials of police, customs, NLC, Frontier Corps and representatives of transporters was held in early May and it was decided to manage the traffic flow and only 100 trucks would be allowed on turn from Takhta Bag checkpost to NLC Jamrud terminal after the parking lots there become vacant due to clearance of similar number of vehicles at Torkham border.

The DPO said that the representatives of transporters were authorised to recommend 100 trucks for onward journey from Takhta Bag checkpost. “Unfortunately these transporters’ representatives misused their authority and started taking illegal money from the truckers in the name of police, promising them out of turn journey to Torkham border for early custom clearance,” he added.

He said that an enquiry has also been initiated against officials of his force allegedly involved in ‘fleecing’ transporters at various checkposts.

The DPO said that the transporters’ representatives were also removed from Takhta Bag checkpost after receipt of complaints against them.

Meanwhile, custom clearing agents have also expressed displeasure over the slow process of good clearance at Torkhum.

Ziaul Haq Sarhadi, president of Frontier Customs Clearing Agents, told Dawn that as many as 7,500 containers loaded with Afghan Transit Trade goods were still waiting at Karachi port for onward journey to Torkham and Chaman borders.

He said that the recent decision of reopening of Torkham and Chaman borders for five-day a week further compounded their problems as custom staff was allowed to clear only 100 vehicles while the number was far bigger.

Mujeebur Rehman, a local clearing agent, said that the customs staff at Torkham was not even abiding by the regulation of clearing 100 vehicles per day and instead only 80 to 85 vehicles were issued gate passes after custom clearance.

He said that the existing setup added to their miseries rather than mitigating their problems.

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