By Khalid Zerai
JALALABAD -- Afghan authorities have accelerated efforts to curb corruption in Torkham, a major border crossing in Nangarhar Province along the Afghanistan-Pakistan frontier.
The crossing has long served as a key trade and transport route between the two countries, but recently the Afghan customs department, which collects import and export duties, has become the centre of a corruption crackdown.
Afghan officials October 4 announced that they arrested several Afghan security personnel and civil servants who were engaged in fraud and collusive practices, including demanding bribes from drivers of cargo vehicles.
"We took into custody four security personnel during our visit to Torkham today," Nangarhar Provincial Governor Hayatullah Hayat told reporters during a visit to the border. "The suspects were involved in taking bribes from drivers of transport vehicles running between Jalalabad city and Torkham."
"We also arrested eight more individuals who were collecting illegal money in the name of unions," he said, adding, "There will be no corruption between Torkham and Jalalabad nor will money be taken from the drivers."
"There are many complaints about you," Hayat told the four arrested security personnel. "All four of you will be prosecuted, and you will have to respond to the complaints made against you. If convicted, you will be punished, and if you are clean, you will continue your jobs."
"I cannot tolerate corruption at the Torkham border crossing," he said. "Anyone who finds out about corrupt practices should share it directly with me."
Pir Mohammad, 40, a trailer truck driver, did just that.
"Whenever we come to Torkham, the local officials here ask us for money for one reason or another," he told the governor during his visit to Torkham. "These officials have set up phony receipts that they use to loot money from us. We have to pay them."
"When we try to complain to you, these policemen beat us with their rifle butts," he said.
"The corruption on the border crossing has created difficulties for the businesses on both the Afghan and Pakistani sides, and it needs to be solved," said Afghan Consul General in Peshawar Moin Marastial, who accompanied Hayat to Torkham.
"Corruption, bribery and collection of illegal money from drivers were a common practice in Torkham before," Afghan border forces commissioner Wahidullah Niazi told reporters October 4. "This problem, however, has been contained to a large extent, and we will continue to increase our efforts to root out corruption."
"Before the government began to crack down, bribery and corruption were everywhere in Torkham," said Mohammad Yasar, a 32-year-old shopkeeper in Torkham. "Policemen and civilian officials regularly extorted money from transport vehicle drivers, but, thank God, it has decreased greatly since."
"Even if it occurs, it is done secretly. I hope this will also disappear," he told Salaam Times.
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