Swat: In the last four months, police in Malakand have registered 30,000 vehicles, creating a new database to monitor vehicles to combat terrorism in a region where automobiles are smuggled from Afghanistan across the border. Swat and the adjoining Malakand division was the scene of brutal Taliban insurgency from 2007 to 2009. The militants were cleared from the region after a military operation in 2009 that displaced 2 million people from the region.

Figures made available by the Swat police show there are around 0.2 million smuggled vehicles plying the roads of Malakand division that comes under the Provincially Administered Tribal Area (PATA). Since the vehicles do not enter the region legally and no custom or tax duties are paid on them, they are locally known as Non-Custom Paid Vehicles (NCP).

It was in October of 2014 when the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) police first felt the need for a policy to register NCP vehicles in Malakand since the law enforcement agencies feared they could be used in terrorism related activities.

NCP vehicles come in shape of smuggled auto-parts from Afghanistan via Dubai and assembled in workshops in Swat. The vehicles are smuggled into parts of PATA and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) that border Afghanistan. While they are allowed to operate locally in the tribal areas, the smuggled vehicles cannot enter mainland Pakistan. Earlier, if NCP vehicles entered the mainland Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province adjacent to PATA and FATA, local police stations would register them by allotting local registration plates that made it easy for police to identify them.

Since it was the KP police that registered the vehicles and not the Excise and Custom Department in KP, they would have no proper database of vehicles that had been “regularized” – their status changed from NCP in PATA or FATA to regular vehicles in the mainland districts. In case such vehicles were stolen or used in crime or terrorism, they were hard to trace in absence of digital record.

Former Inspector General of Police, Nasir Khan Durrani, wrote a letter to KP government in October 2014 saying NCP vehicles in Malakand division – that falls under the Provincially Administered Tribal Area (PATA) – should be checked and registered.

“These vehicles [NCP] have no registration documents to prove ownership nor do they have any record with the Excise and Taxation Department, so they could be easily smuggled to other parts of the country,” says the letter, a copy of which is available with News Lens. It said in absence of no registration and ownership data, NCP vehicles were used by militants and criminals for crime and terrorism which made it difficult for police to investigate the cases.

“NCP vehicles used by militants were used in several terrorism activities particularly in Malakand division,” reads the letter. However, the police have no data of NCP vehicles used in criminal activities.

NCP vehicles include different models manufactured in Japan. They are smuggled into Pakistan in the tribal areas of FATA, PATA and Balochistan where they can be purchased from local auto-sellers for private use, without paying any custom duty. This makes them very cheap, compared to legally imported cars on which heavy taxes and duties are paid, making them expensive.

For instance, an NCP Toyota Passo motorcar costs Rs 0.4m to Rs 0.6 m in the Malakan division and the tribal areas, compared to the Rs1.1 million when bought in mainland Pakistan where custom duty is paid on imported automobiles.

The letter to KP government also suggested that the Customs Act should be extended to PATA so that revenue could be generated from non-custom paid vehicles.

Swat Police Spokesperson Mohammad Rehman told News Lens that the KP government started registering NCP vehicles in January 2017 with support from district administrations in seven districts of the Malakand division, police and the Pakistan Army.

The Pakistan Army announced in January 2017 that all NCP vehicles would be digitally registered. The army spokesperson Brigadier Zafar Iqbal told media in a press conference in January that all vehicles would be checked and registered by the district administration, the Excise and Taxation Department and Pakistan Army.

Rehman said since January, tokens have been issued to car owners at the registration centre established in Swat, Lower Dir, showing that their vehicles have been checked and registered.

“A total of nine registration points have been established – three in Swat and one each in other six districts of Malakand division,” he said.

Data obtained from the police office show over 32000 vehicles had been registered across the Malakand division since March, 2017. Out of 32000, more than 15000 had been registered in Swat while the rest in other districts.

Vehicles are checked at the registration points to see if they have been locally assembled from smuggled auto-parts – a practice banned by the district administration because individual parts are even harder to verify than an unregistered vehicle. The local traders call locally assembled vehicles “cut vehicles.”

When asked about the reason for digital registration, Rehman said security agencies fear NCP vehicles were more likely to be used in crimes. In the past three months of registration, five vehicles were found stolen while 30 were found as “cut vehicles.”

When asked about the number of NCP vehicles used in crime, he said no data had been maintained by the police department. Rehman said: “The stolen vehicles are most likely used in crime.”

Contrary to police claims, Swat district Nazim Mohammad Ali Shah doesn’t think NCP vehicles are being used in terror activities on a large scale. He, however, supports registration of such vehicles. “Since NCP vehicles do not have legal documents showing registration and ownership, they could be stolen easily. Even custom-paid vehicles stolen from mainland districts could be used as NCP vehicles in the tribal areas.”

When it comes to registration of NCP vehicles, the Swat district government and the local administration are divided over who should be the registration authority. Ali said since a district government existed in Swat, it should be made the authority.

“We can use such vehicles to generate revenue which would be spent on development projects,” said Ali, adding that a draft proposal had been sent to the KP chief minister suggesting the district government be made a registration authority for NCP vehicles.

He said the district government hadn’t heard from the chief minister on the proposal yet.

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