By Jamil Nagri
GILGIT: The combined opposition in the Gilgit-Baltistan Assembly (GBA) and Awami Action Committee (AAC) warned on Saturday that if traders’ demands were not accepted protests would be launched across the region.
GB traders, transporters, and labourers continued their protest sit-in in Sust town on the fourth consecutive day on Saturday, blocking Karakoram Highway, the entry point of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CEPC), against imposition of taxes and introduction of Weboc (Web-Based One Customs) system at the Sust Dry Port.
Traffic between Pakistan and China remained suspended. Containers and trucks loaded with import and export goods became stranded both sides of the protest camp.
Chinese and Pakistani citizens faced difficulty while travelling to each other countries via Khunjerab Pass.
Trade activities between the two countries have been suspended for the past two months as traders have boycotted import and export business till acceptance of their demands.
Opposition members in the GBA, including opposition leader Mohammad Shafi, and AAC chairman Maulana Sultan Raees arrived in Sust to show solidarity with the protesters.
Speaking on the occasion, Mr Shafi said that GB traders had been protesting for many days but no one had so far taken notice of their grievances. He accused officials of Pakistan Customs and Federal Board of Revenue of hatching a conspiracy to fail the CPEC project and give a bad name to GB people.
The opposition leader said the GB people stood with the protest movement launched by people affiliated with Pakistan-China trade. He said for making the CPEC project successful it was necessary to address grievances of local people.
Nawaz Naji said that without giving due importance to GB the government could not complete the CPEC project.
The AAC would continue supporting the protesters, Mr Raees said, adding that leaving the protesting traders, transporters and labourers who were demanding their due rights was against the tradition and culture of this region. He criticised the Customs and FBR officials for not accepting the orders of GB courts, adding that if they were not accepting the court orders their presence in the region was not justified. “This is a serious issue and it should be resolved at the earliest.”
Pakistan Peoples Party member Javed Hussain said without providing special incentives to local traders the trade between Pakistan and China through this road was not possible. He said GB traders and labourers would continue their protest till acceptance of their demands.
Meanwhile, the Model Customs Collectorate (MCC) Gilgit-Baltistan, issued a rebuttal on Saturday.
Deputy Collector Asfandyar Khan issued a press release with reference to the news published in media regarding roll out of WeBOC at MCC Gilgit-Baltistan and the protest by traders. He said the Pakistan Customs had always wanted to support local traders.
According to the press release, WeBOC is a clearance software that provides for end-to-end integration.
Clearing agents, traders, terminal operators, banks and many other government and non-government functionaries are linked in the system and the relevant data is visible on screen to all the stakeholders. Goods Declarations are processed through paperless workflow environment which ensures speedy disposal, decreases dwell time and cost of doing business. Moreover, Risk Management System (RMS) of WeBOC further reduces dwell time, under Green Channel, by marking consignment directly to the port authorities thus, bypassing examination and assessment.
In a nutshell, WeBOC is primarily aimed at trade facilitation and it is regrettable that clearing agents are protesting against its launch at SRDP, Sust. Recently, internet connectivity was established at the dry port and training sessions were held to educate the stakeholders regarding functioning of different modules of the software. MCC Gilgit-Baltistan has also operationalised a Trade Facilitation Centre at the dry port for traders and clearing agents to ensure speedy disposal of consignments.
Moreover, the department is unable to clear the stranded consignments because of refusal of traders to file GDs in WeBOC module and the ensuing sit-in.
Published in Dawn, June 3rd, 2018