- Local traders protest closes Khunjerab Pass
GILGIT: Remaining closed as the norm is due to heavy snowfall between December and end-March, a Sino-Pak border protocol agreement confirming the arrangement, the Khunjerab Pass has practically not reopened this year owing to a protest by local traders – leaving nearly three dozen truck traffic from and to China marooned near Sust Dry Port in upper Hunza in Gilgit-Baltistan. The traders are not clearing consignments under the newly introduced Web-Based One Customs (WeBOC ) system at Sust Dry Port.
Various trade organisations, including the Gilgit-Baltistan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GBCCI), have come out in support of the striking exporters and importers rejecting the goods clearance system launched from April this season.
Many rounds of talks between trader representatives and the Pakistan Customs [the FBR being the enforcing body] and the GB government officials to settle the dispute failed to make any headway as both sides were reluctant to soften their stances.
The traders’ view is that business through Khunjerab Pass border is different from the rest of country as the region lacks appropriate internet service and also the traders lack the training and education to operate the WeBOC system.
For its part, the FBR deems that the online system would make the trade through Pakistan-China border easier, and align the Sust with all the other modern infrastructure at dry ports across the country. That’s why introducing the WeBOC system in Sust has for long been part of the government plans.
Meanwhile, talking to a national daily, the GBCCI President Nasir Hussain Raki has questioned the government’s motives, going to the extent of saying that introduction of WeBOC system at Sust is part of ‘a conspiracy’ to turn trade between Pakistan and China into a failure.
That said, it is a fact that traders doing business through this port for years were uneducated and unfamiliar with the newly-launched customs clearance system, and fear that it would turn thousands of people jobless.
In the second phase of protest, Raki said, the Karakoram Highway (KKH) will be blocked for traffic to mount pressure on the government to accept protesters’ demands, without specifying when the second phase might begin.
“If anything untoward happens, the FBR and Pakistan Customs would be responsible,” he warned.
GB Legislative Assembly Member Javed Hussain said KKH is a CPEC route but unfortunately the border trade activity between China and Pakistan has been suspended for over a month.
“The FBR cannot impose laws in GB like other parts of the country, as ‘no taxation without representation’ is a universal principle”. The GB, he demanded, should be declared a tax-free zone as per the wishes of locals.