ISLAMABAD: Citing limited resources, the Frontier Corps has declined to help the government in curbing oil smuggling from Iran into Balochistan, a Senate panel was informed.
“The FC has its hands full trying to maintain security in the province and on the border. It is under-resourced. It cannot take on additional responsibilities under the circumstances prevailed over Balochistan,” Lt-Col Naeem said at a meeting of the Senate Standing Committee on Rules of Procedures and Privileges.
He said the paramilitary force was under-manned and ill-equipped and did not have vehicles and helicopters to monitor the 500km Pakistan-Iran border.
“There are pickets 70-km apart and smugglers find a way across the border.”
He said the entire 500-km belt had been sealed by trenches and barbed wires to make it difficult for smugglers to cross into the province. Still they find a way through the border and security checks.
“This is not possible without support of the Iranian government,” Lt-Col Naeem alleged.
The issue was taken up by the committee after the interior minister had failed to respond to Senator Mohammad Talha Mehmood’s question in January about steps taken by the government to stop cross-border oil smuggling.
The Senator had been seeking an answer to the question for over a year before it was referred to the committee.
The members of the committee said they realised that smugglers had been using the long and porous border for a long time. Oil smuggling from Iran has been a standard part of the trade for decades. Apart from other means of transportation, mules are used to ship oil canisters from the other side of the border. Small-scale smugglers hire children who carry bottles of fuel to the Pakistani territory.
They said that the authorities lacked the will and resources to police the border, adding that their complicity in the trade could not be ruled out.
The meeting was told that because of sanctions on Iran, the smuggled oil cost less. But most of the members said that it was high time that the smuggling was stopped because it caused immense loss to the government.
“Smuggled and sub-standard oil is being sold in Balochistan and Southern Punjab. This has to stop,” said a member.
But Lt-Col Naeem insisted that the FC needed more resources to do the job. “Last year its budget was cut by 30 per cent. Another 30 per cent has been slashed this year. The FC cannot handle the extra task with limited resources,” he said.
He claimed that the prime minister had absolved the FC from the responsibility to assist the government in curbing the smuggling.
Despite that, he said the FC had confiscated 1.4 million litres of oil over the past three months.
Senate Committee Chairperson Colonel (r) Syed Tahir Hussain Mashhadi appeared to be not satisfied with the FC response.
On the occasion, Federal Petroleum Secretary Abid Saeed assured the meeting that his department would look into the matter to prevent incidents like Gadani tragedy of March, in which a bus carrying smuggled oil caught fire after an accident, killing dozens of people.