Stop smuggling; create ten million jobs!

I never thought our cabinet ministers had a sense of humour. I refer to the news item, according to which the government is setting up a customs authority to curb smuggling. From the experience, we know what would happen: Customs personnel will use their enhanced powers to harass legal importers while doing nothing to stop smuggling. If the government is really sincere in catching smugglers, all it has to do is to raid thousands of shops in Karkhano Bazaar in Peshawar and other markets in all cities. They would recover smuggled goods worth billions of rupees. But the ruling party dare not confront the smugglers’ mafia, which has the support of many powerful people in our assemblies (as no government so far has been able to eliminate smuggling).

You can easily get foreign medicines, tea, supari (betel nut), tyres and other goods at prices, which are up to forty per cent lower than if they were imported legally. Even though there has been no legal import of supari for over two years, the stuff is available in plenty throughout the country. Why are cigarette packets available at almost half the price fixed by the government? While smugglers brazenly flout the law, local manufacturers are helpless, and thousands of factories have been shut down as a result.

Ironically, most smugglers and tax evaders are deeply religious and pious people. They prefer to contribute millions of their ill-gotten wealth to charity rather than paying income or sales tax to the government. On the occasion of Eid-al-Azha (festival of sacrifice), they willingly pay up to three and even four million for a cow or bull. When you go to these animal bazaars, you’d never guess that in Pakistan, about half the population goes to bed hungry every night. And if you tell smugglers that their illegal activities have led to millions of workers losing their jobs, they simply shrug. “No one can earn more than what the Almighty has ordained for him. If they are jobless today, that is God’s will,” they say. A few days back, the Dear Leader said it will take some time to change the mindsets of the people. Well, he and all vocal ministers can begin by appealing to the people not to buy smuggled goods. For this, the mullahs will also have to be taken on board. That won’t be easy, as most mullahs believe that Custom duty and other taxes are not mandatory, as, in the State of Madina, only zakat and ushr were imposed to run the administration.

So it’s time for the Great Khan to take the smugglers and tax evaders head-on. They will not agree to reveal the National Identity Card Numbers of their suppliers or buyers, because they buy and sell goods which have been smuggled or on which due taxes have not been paid. And that brings me to how eliminating smuggling can enable him to fulfil his promise of providing ten million jobs in the country. This is how he can do it.

One estimate of the number of unregistered shops and businesses is six to seven million. These are owned and run by smugglers, tax evaders and other “worthy” citizens of the country. The Dear Leader can ask the FBR to seize five million of such shops and businesses and appoint two unemployed men in each. That would immediately provide ten million jobs, besides providing billions in tax revenue, which is presently being evaded.
Time is running out, and the country is slowly sinking due to the virtual collapse of the economy. If Imran Khan hesitates to take action now, a time may come when he will be compelled to hand over the FBR to these same smugglers and tax evaders and ask them to collect six to eight trillion rupees every year to save the country. Let’s pray that does not happen.
The writer is an engineer, a former visiting lecturer at NED Engineering College