Asia-Pacific, Headlines, Human Rights

PAKISTAN: Gun City Profits From Killings

Ashfaq Yusufzai

PESHAWAR, Oct 14 2011 (IPS) - ‘Gun city’ lies just a 40-minute drive from Peshawar, capital of the troubled Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan. The city, Darra Adamkhel, lives off a thriving trade in making and selling guns.

A gun dealer in Darra Adamkhel. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS.

A gun dealer in Darra Adamkhel. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS.

“It is impossible even for an artillery expert to differentiate between an original Russian-made AK-47 assault rifle and its replica manufactured locally,” gun dealer Ghulam Rasool tells IPS.

The town, located between Peshawar and Kohat districts, has more than 500 shops, offering a range from assault rifles to firearms like 30 bore and 9 mm weapons, revolvers, automatic pistols, shotguns and 22 bore, 45 bore and 32 bore pistols. And there is plenty of ammunition to match, selling as commonly as vegetables.

Among the guns and rifles made and sold are the Kalashnikov AK-47 and the body arm piercing Kalakov. The business employs about 20,000 persons directly or indirectly.

“The market became famous during the Russian invasion when it became the main supplier to jihadist groups,” said Rasool, 58. The pro-American Pakistan government of the time encouraged Darra arms dealers and transferred technological knowhow to manufacture a range of weapons from pistols to rocket- launchers.

“Now government support is not available, and we are dependent on smuggling to the countryside and to Afghanistan,” another dealer Muhibullah Afridi tells IPS.

Afridi says the government knows that arms used by the Taliban are supplied from here. But the town is finding competition. “There are other arms markets in South Waziristan and Bajaur that have cut our business to size.

“Still, the business is not that bad and we continue to receive orders from individuals in all parts of the country,” says Afridi.

“We pay commission to people who deliver the weapons to buyers in any part of the country,” he says. There is huge demand for small arms all over the country, especially in Punjab and Sindh provinces.

The sprawling mud and brick shops found new fortune with the Afghan war.

“During the Afghan war, the CIA trained the Mujahideen in bomb, gun and explosive making, and their legacy is still visible in Darra Adamkhel,” Brigadier (retired) Muhammad Saad told IPS.

Muhammad Shafiq, an arms dealer in Peshawar, says semi-automatic weapons manufactured in Darra are particularly in demand.

Darra Adamkhel is estimated to produce 800 guns a day. The numbers have risen and the sophistication improved with the import of modern power tools and lathes.

Some of the use for these weapons is symbolic and celebratory. Pashtuns customarily fire into the air on festive occasions such as weddings or on sighting the Eid moon, as do other ethnic groups such as the Balochis, Sindhis and Punjabis. But the guns are also used more lethally for settling feuds and dealing with domestic squabbles.

“More often than not, small family differences and petty quarrels snowball into major fights among the Pashtun tribes, and they can end up in several deaths before a ceasefire is called,” said Saad.

Jawad Khan, a police officer in Peshawar, told IPS that according to records, 641 people died of gunshot wounds and 1,590 were injured in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in 2010.

“Small arms are also manufactured in the Khyber Agency and Waziristan Agency, thanks to patronage by the Taliban who fled there following the invasion of Afghanistan by U.S.-led NATO forces late 2001,” said Naveed Shinwari, campaigner against arms proliferation and chief of the local Community Appraisal Motivation Programme.

Acquiring an automatic weapon in Pakistan is probably easier than anywhere else in the world. “On payment of 160 dollars to an agent, an AK-47 rifle will be delivered to the client’s doorstep in Peshawar. The price for the same item would be 210 dollars in Karachi,” Shinwari added.

Saad says that the demand for firearms is increasing due to the volatile conditions. “Every person wants arms for protection. Arms manufactured in Darra Adamkhel are being sent to different cities of Pakistan through no objection certificates issued by the government.”

Licences are issued to own handguns, but there is no bar on caliber or on automatic weapons. The law prohibits public displays of weapons, but it is rarely enforced. Loaded firearms are often carried as ornaments.

Zaheerullah, a political science teacher at the University of Peshawar, says it is impossible to check the gun-making industry because the political will is missing. “Government officials are earning money from the illegal business,” he told IPS. “The Pakistani army is present in Darra Adamkhel, but the industry is flourishing.”

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