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FIA investigations into 19 Afghans smuggling to UK hit a snag

FIA investigations into 19 Afghans smuggling to UK hit a snag

RAWALPINDI: Pakistani and British authorities are at odds over how to proceed against a ring of human smugglers that is allegedly helping people from Afghanistan travel to the UK, via Pakistan, on forged documents.

In September, a total of 19 Afghans, travelling in two groups on consecutive days, flew from Islamabad airport to the UK on PIA flights. Ten of the men left for London on Sept 20 aboard PK 785, while the remaining nine left the next day on the same flight.

The first group managed to evade immigration checks at the airport and is currently at large inside the UK, but the second group, which also includes two women, was detained by British authorities upon arrival. Based on the information they provided, Pakistani authorities registered a case against the 10 individuals who managed to escape. However, no legal paperwork has been initiated in the case of the nine people booked by UK authorities.

Sources claim that this is the largest ever group of individuals which has managed to make it to Britain from Benazir Bhutto International Airport on fake documents. But despite the gravity of the situation, there seems to be no real attempt by Pakistani authorities to break the human smuggling ring or establish who is behind it.

Investigators fear that the smugglers may be backed by influential parties, who have managed to manipulate official machinery in Islamabad to continue sending illegal immigrants abroad. However, the Federal Investigation Agency seems to have run into a dead end.

FIA Islamabad Zone Director Inam Ghani was initially charged with heading the investigation, but the case was then transferred to the FIA’s Special Investigation Unit.

During the course of the investigation, FIA immigration official Shahzad Gul was arrested while a PIA officer, Khurram Shahzad, who had issued boarding cards to both groups of travelers, was also being investigated along with a travel agent and another individual who are said to have arranged air-tickets for the travelers. However, all three have successfully posted bail.

During interrogation, Khurram Shahzad told investigators that the travel documents of the 20 people were stolen along with his car from his house in Mandi Bahauddin. But local police said they had no such incident of theft on their records and suggested that Shahzad is lying to cover his tracks.

Foreign Office Spokesperson Tasneem Aslam Khan said that British authorities had not contacted Islamabad in this matter, while the British High Commission did not respond to requests for information on the three-member team that came to Islamabad earlier this month.

The FIA believes that investigations will remain at a standstill until they could gain access to those in custody in the UK, which will allow investigators to establish who is behind this human smuggling ring.