BANNU: The smugglers of illegal vehicles from North Waziristan to other parts of the country are extremely upset over the military offensive in the region. It has almost ended their businesses, as the supply line of non-custom paid vehicles from North and South Waziristan tribal regions has been cut off with the operation and mass exodus from the region.
While the investors of this illegal business were mostly from Swat hill-station, majority of their facilitators and suppliers were based in Bannu, the town adjacent to North Waziristan. These local smugglers used to deliver non-customs paid vehicles to different destinations in the country, particularly Malakand Division, charging a hefty amount for the service.
It varied from vehicle to vehicle, depending on its category, make and model. The delivery price for a car ranged between Rs 100,000 and Rs 180,000 whilst latest available versions of jeeps were charged up to Rs 300,000. One-fourth of this amount was given to the drivers, locally known as “pilots”, while the rest of the money went into the pockets of the facilitators who were bound to pay back the investors if a vehicle was busted by customs officials or police officials in the way.
Several such smugglers in Bannu revealed to this correspondent their stakes in the risky business of smuggling illegal vehicles. According to them, before bringing these vehicles out of the tribal region, fake registration books and number plates, preferably of Islamabad, were made for them in Bannu, a town known for specialising in creating fake vehicle number plates, bogus registration documents along with forged property and academic documents, to name a few.
“We normally use numbers of legal vehicles already plying on the roads and then enter the engine and chassis numbers of illegal ones into the fake registration documents with fake stamps,” said one of the persons involved in this business. These vehicles, according to him, normally travel in a convoy of four to six vehicles while a registered legal car travels few kilometers ahead clearing their route. “We keep at least five kilometer distance and stay constantly in touch with our ‘pilots’ to inform them in time of any imminent threat in the way. We play extra careful knowing that in case of any mishap the loss will be inflicted upon us,” the smuggler said and added that the normal route they use for taking these vehicles from Bannu passes through Karak, Kohat, Khushal Garh and Fateh Jang areas. “We feel safe once we enter on the motorway through Tarnol or Brahma Bahtar interchanges en-route to Swat. We exit motorway either through Swabi, Mardan or Charsadda interchanges,” he said. When asked what they normally do when caught by police or customs officials, he said: “We simply strike a deal. In the start they demand for more but one will have to make a good bargain. Usually the deal for a car is settled for around Rs 40-50,000 whilst expensive jeeps aren’t agreed for less than Rs 100,000.”
Earlier, the rates for delivering non-customs duty paid vehicles was almost half of the given figures but it has almost doubled after frequent killing of “pilots” in encounters by officials of law enforcement agencies. “So far, 25 drivers have been killed in this risky venture,” said one of the prominent figures involved in this business for past several years. “We have suffered most due to the military offensive in North Waziristan. This operation has destroyed our businesses. We could easily earn up to Rs 100,000 a week before but its now gone,” said another supplier of non-customs paid vehicles.
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