Aug 17, 2011

Illegal presence

Non-registered vehicles pose a serious security threat in the Malakand division

By Arshad Yusufzai

Recently, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government sought help of the federal government to solve the issue of nearly 1.45 million Non-Customs Paid (NCP) vehicles that are plying in the Provincially Administered Tribal Area (PATA) of Malakand division without registration or payment of customs and excise duty.

Most of the non-registered vehicles are brought from Japan to Afghanistan and then smuggled into Pakistan via different routes. The cost of these automobiles ranges from one-third to half of the actual price of the cars of the same make and model in the Pakistani market.

The precise details about the total NCP cars, their make and models are not known. According to estimates of the seven districts that make up the Malakand division, Swat has the highest number with about 450,000 NCP vehicles. The districts of Buner, Chitral, Malakand, Shangla, Lower Dir and Upper Dir have each from 150,000 to 200,000 non-registered vehicles.

The provincial transport minister, Liaqat Shabab, told reporters that the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister, Ameer Haider Khan Hoti, has shown personal interest in solving the issue of NCP vehicles. “The Chief Minister intends to meet the Prime Minister to discuss the issue. Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani during his visit to Malakand division last year talked about a special package for the people of Malakand with regard to the registration of NCP vehicles. We want him to fulfil his commitment,” he said.

Liaqat Shabab points out that illegal vehicles use services like roads. “Bringing these vehicles under the tax net would not only raise billions of rupees in revenue but also help law-enforcing agencies in improving security situation in the Malakand division,” he argues. “On many occasions in the past, non-registered vehicles have been used in terrorist activities and other crimes in the Swat valley and in the rest of Malakand division. Registration of these vehicles would help police easily identify owner of any vehicle,” the Transport Minister adds.

Non-customs-paid vehicles were previously given temporary registration and number-plates on the basis of owner’s residence in a union council. However, the system had loopholes as many vehicles were reportedly used in law-breaking activities.

In a bid to check misuse of NCP vehicles following Taliban insurgency in Swat, a new registration system of listing all such vehicles was introduced to register the vehicles with the concerned police station, the District Co-ordination Officer (DCO) and the District Police Officer (DPO) offices and number-plates were issued according to the name of the police station.

Talking to TNS, District Police Officer (DPO) Swat, Qazi Ghulam Farooq, says although the system is better than the previous practice there is still need for properly registering vehicles as changing the number plates and registering the same car at different police stations is not a difficult job for law-breakers. “The government should design a computerised system to store the engine and chassis numbers of all vehicles in a database. Each vehicle should be given a registration number according to the district to which the owner belonged at a nominal cost,” he says.

Excise and Taxation provincial secretary, Sajid Jadoon, says Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) shows lack of interest in solving the issue in response to the provincial government’s request of giving a customs package for the registration of such vehicles. “We requested the FBR to give owners of the NCP vehicles up to 60 percent relief in the registration and taxation process, but the federal government is unmoved,” he says.

It should be noted that the registration of non-custom paid vehicles was initiated by the FBR on two different occasions in the past decade. However, the FBR observed that more and more illegal vehicles were smuggled into the country after the registration process.

Although the non-registered automobiles are a familiar sight in the seven districts of Malakand division, the owners are not allowed to take the vehicles beyond the boundaries of PATA into the settled areas as they do not have registration documents.

This is one reason that owners and users of the NCP vehicles want the government to initiate the process of vehicle registration. Ali Raz Khan, who owns a 1999 Toyota Corolla car in Swat, tells TNS he cannot drive it to the settled districts outside Swat and rest of Malakand division, “Many people will benefit from vehicle registration as we would be able to travel to settled areas. During emergency situations, we often hire registered vehicles to take us to Mardan or Peshawar.”

Currently, NCP vehicles are confiscated at the excise and customs checkpoints functioning at the entry and exit points to the Malakand division because use of unregistered vehicles in the settled areas is not permissible.

For Ali Raz Khan and all other owners of non-custom paid vehicles, selling their vehicles outside the Malakand division is not an option due to non-registration while the prices offered by buyers are always below expectation. Ali Raz says he bought his car for Rs250,000 a year ago and was ready to sell it for a loss of Rs50,000, “I can’t sell my car outside Malakand division and here I would be happy if it could fetch me Rs200,000. No buyer until now has made me that offer,” he says.

Another resident from Swat, Bakht Ali Khan, who owns a non-customs paid vehicles showroom, says many people will not welcome introduction of tax system as most cars are more than a decade old and owners would find it hard to pay taxes to register and regularise old vehicles. “No doubt, the tax system will result in better revenues for the government and bring benefit to the owners. However, paying huge amounts as customs and excise duties for a 10-year old car would be waste of money and uneconomical for many car owners,” he says.

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