Darra Adam Khel: Pakistan’s dying gun bazaar

Dec 24, 2019 05:52 PM 0 Answers
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Darra Adam Khel: Pakistan's dying gun bazaar

- Dec 24, 2019 05:55 PM

Tribal areas will have laws extended to them for the first time, but lack of clarity around process has many worried.

Darra Adam Khel: Pakistan's dying gun bazaar
Darra Adam Khel’s gun market has flourished for more than a century [Asad Hashim/Al Jazeera]

Darra Adam Khel, Pakistan – Nestled in the eastern foothills of the Safed Koh mountains in northwestern Pakistan, a jumble of low buildings forms a bazaar that has been the centre of guns and drugs in this part of the world for more than a century.

In the two-kilometre stretch of the Darra Adam Khel market, about 140km west of the capital Islamabad, there are dozens of weapons factories, manufacturing everything from crude copies of Chinese pistols to sophisticated facsimiles of the US-made M16 automatic rifle or the Austrian Glock semiautomatic pistol.

The air is thick with the smell of gunpowder and machined metal, as gunsmiths work industriously at a trade that has employed generations of craftsmen here in the Khyber tribal district.

“We’ve been doing this since the British were ruling here – my father, and his father before him,” says Banat Khan, 67, the owner of a gun shop.

You can pick up a local copy of an M16 rifle, standard issue to US troops stationed in neighbouring Afghanistan, for as little as 30,000 Pakistani rupees ($214), or about a quarter of the cost of the original, at Khan’s shop.

The semi-automatic AK-74 Krinkov assault rifle – an upgrade to the venerable AK-47 – is the market’s bestseller, however, priced at just 10,000 Pakistani rupees ($72). If you’re on a budget, a basic pistol will set you back just 3,000 Pakistani rupees ($21).

Darra’s marketplace has survived for decades, thriving in a legal grey area that puts it outside of Pakistani law as part of the country’s erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).

Weapons manufactured here have fuelled both the first Afghan war against Soviet forces and, later, the Pakistan Taliban’s fight against the Pakistani state itself since 2007.

All that, however, is about to change.

Customers test their newly purchased rifles by firing into a ditch behind the market [Asad Hashim/Al Jazeera]

Amid change, uncertainty

In May 2018, Pakistan’s parliament passed an historic law that would see FATA – until now governed directly by Islamabad through a colonial system of “political agents” who wielded extraordinary powers in their areas of jurisdiction – merge with its neighbouring Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province.

The law sees the repeal of the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR), a British law that gave political agents wide-ranging executive, judicial and legislative powers over each of the seven tribal districts, home to more than 4.6 million people.

Pakistani criminal and constitutional laws did not apply to citizens of FATA. They also did not have recourse to the court system. Governance was historically weak in these areas, with FATA’s districts consistently ranking at the bottom of socioeconomic indicators.

Darra Adam Khel, a town of several thousand residents, most employed by the gun industry, has thrived in the nebulous enforcement of laws that this arrangement created, serving as a hub for weapons manufacturing.

Pakistani law mandates that all gun owners obtain a licence from either the provincial or federal governments, with certain types of higher calibre weapons (such as automatic rifles) more tightly restricted. While the laws are exhaustive, their application is often selective, and government arms licences are often distributed as a form of political patronage.

The manufacture of all types of weapons is tightly controlled through a system of licences, allowing factories to produce only a specific type of weapon.

None of that applies, of course, to Darra Adam Khel.

“People could buy a gun with freedom,” says Azmat Khan Akharwal, 55, a local chieftain. “Whether on their own licence or in some other way. We would not ask them for their licence.”

Craftsmen include master engravers, whose work is mostly used on expensive hunting rifles [Asad Hashim/Al Jazeera]

‘Our traditions will be damaged’

Now, however, Akharwal says, the thousands employed by the gun industry in Darra are afraid of how the merger with KP will affect their industry.

Among tribal leaders, who enjoyed considerable influence under the FCR as conduits of the political agent’s power over citizens, the arguments against the implementation of the merger centre on ideas of freedom and tradition.

“We have been … living our lives under traditions for many years, and we have been doing well under it,” says Akharwal, the tribal chieftain.

“Now if we bring courts or other systems here, things that we are not familiar with, it will affect our freedom. Our traditions will also be damaged.”

For those with less access to power, however, there also appears a preference for the existing systems to stay, based on both familiarity with them and uncertainty of what comes next.

“We are not familiar with the police,” says Sahib Khan, 28, a gunsmith in Darra’s main bazaar, as his daughter tugs at his shirt. “The old system, I think that that system was fine. Even if there was the FCR, we were familiar with it, we understood it.”

Khan, whose family has manufactured guns for generations, says he is not attached to the business, but does need the income, and lacks the means to do anything else.

“I never even went to school. I spent my childhood here, in this workshop,” says Silawar Khan, his brother.

“We know only this work … if I find a job anywhere I will pack up and go!”

Banat Khan, left, says his family has been selling guns in this district for longer than he can remember [Asad Hashim/Al Jazeera]

‘In our sights’

The government, for its part, says it is working around the clock to implement the Supreme Court’s orders and to extend regular governance to FATA.

“We are progressing towards [the merger] on a war footing,” says Ajmal Wazir, the KP chief minister’s adviser on tribal affairs. “These deprivations of the last 70 years, we are going to finish them.”

Wazir outlined the government’s plans to extend the jurisdiction of the provincial government’s health and education programmes to the tribal areas, and to establish courts in each tribal district.

On Darra’s gun bazaar, he was more circumspect, saying that while a number of plans existed, no concrete proposal had yet been decided upon.

“We will make a mechanism for this, and if any legislation is required we will pass that too,” he says. “This thing is in our sights, this issue of people’s livelihoods. If we can find a way out that is positive then we will definitely do so”.

For those in Darra’s bazaar, though, the fear is palpable.

“The government says that we tribals have given many sacrifices [during the war against the Taliban],” says Banat Khan, the gun shop owner.

“We are Pakistani, by Allah’s will we will continue to sacrifice, why not? It is our country.

“But we demand just one thing: sacrifice one thing [for us], and do not take our freedom from us.”

Asad Hashim is Al Jazeera’s digital correspondent in Pakistan. He tweets @AsadHashim.

- Dec 24, 2019 05:58 PM

Pakistan is a third world developing country with a medium sized economy. By the very first years of its birth, it is coping against many military and diplomatic challenges. The threats posed towards its existence by its giant neighbor India are of grave nature. Kashmir is the basic point of conflict between India and Pakistan due to which both countries fought 3 major and several minor wars. Kashmir Conflict is also famous as a nuclear flashpoint and this front is exclusive of its kind in the world where field artilleries of two nuclear capable countries are facing each other and deployed against each other. Pakistan, being a small country with limited resources always invents doctrines and strategies which enables it to withstand against threats. The concept of indigenization in the defense industry of Pakistan is introduced due to the reason that bulk of its armed forces cannot afford the imported weapons due to its small budget and large size. An army comprised of around million military, paramilitary & police forces needs huge resources which are needed to feed the troops, training of troops and for operational requirements. Pakistan Army always sets the trends for world in both training and fighting techniques. 70s and 80s were the decades when Pakistan worked on its nuclear program and also signed agreements with French, Swedish and Chinese manufacturers for setup of rebuild factories and overhauling plants of weapon systems in Pakistan.

In the transfer of Technology, the first step always concerns with the maintenance of the existing system after which the local human resource get the basic and advanced know-how about a machine or a weapon and after that step the proper transfer of technology or indigenization takes place. JF-17 Thunder is the clear example where Pakistan Air force adopted and then invented a technology through a step by step process. First, they installed the maintenance feature for training aircrafts and then started a rebuild factory for fighter aircrafts. Then Pakistan Aeronautical Complex worked in collaboration with China for manufacturing of K-8 Karakorum Intermediate Trainer Aircraft and after all these steps, the next logical and natural step was to design and produce an advanced fighter jet locally. So, the JF-17 Thunder was the end product itself which is just a start in its own domain. Many more products in fighter aircraft manufacturing are still to come by Pakistan Air force which will be available for friendly countries which are in need of such aircrafts at cheap and affordable price.

Pakistani Indigenous weapons always covers two different aspects when they are designed and then produced at mass level. First aspect is about the cost-benefit ratio and the second aspect is about the usability. Pakistan is currently manufacturing all kind of weapon systems at home with remarkably small budget. The tanks, APCs, fighter jets, small arms, frigates, submarines, trainer jets, drones, artillery guns, supporting equipment and logistical equipment are all manufactured currently in Pakistan but to maintain the variety in its inventory, Pakistani Armed Forces are also importing the strings free weapons from different countries. Despite of the fact that Pakistani Armed Forces are 6th largest in numbers but much small in terms of budget but they never compromised on the quality of their weapons. It is a common belief in the defense forces of the world that when Pakistan procures something, then whole world puts an eye on that thing and evaluate that weapon system. Pakistani Al-Khalid & Al-Zarrar heavy and medium MBTs are arming a large share of the armored regiments of world’s 6th largest army. A large part of Pakistani Armored Personnel Carriers are built and designed in the countries own heavy industries whereas the success of JF-17 Thunder is a story itself which is much elaborated everywhere in the world. Pakistan Navy is also manufacturing the locally designed and foreign designed vessels which are banging the buck with low budget and small funds. Country’s drones are capable to carry weapons and can be used for close air support which is a ‘force multiplier’ for low budget army especially when the army cannot afford so many attack helicopters and CAS jets.

The small arms manufacturing in Pakistan are not only saving huge foreign reserves but also earning money by selling arms to foreign buyers and also conducting research and development to enhance the capability of the weapon systems. The success of small arms and light weight weapon systems is also a motivation for small friendly armies which can get a lesson from Pakistan about how they can manage to maintain credible deterrence against their powerful adversaries in small budget. Bulk of Pakistani missile systems are long ranged and are prohibited by missile technology control regime (MCTR) but there are some missile systems are also being produced in Pakistan like Nasr battlefield range ballistic missile which was designed by Pakistani scientists to counter the so called Indian Cold Start Doctrine (CSD) which posed an imminent threat due to Indian preparations to launch small and rapid strikes into Pakistan under the shadow of nuclear umbrella but Pakistan replied this billion dollars doctrine by making a small scale nuclear capable missile which can wipe out a small section of advancing adversary army. Pakistan is using its force multiplier weapons to cope with the threats posed from Eastern and Western Borders and from the Arabian Sea. Pakistan cannot maintain blue water navy or a dozens of submarines, frigates, corvettes force which is a headache to feed so, it is building the weapons which are specifically threat oriented. Pakistani anti-ship missiles and submarine launched cruise missiles are specifically designed to counter a comparatively large navy. JF-17 Thunder equipped with such anti-ship missiles are able to knock out million dollars vessels of enemy’s navy. The indigenization of Pakistani defense industry and force multipliers is a success story in itself. With these success stories, Pakistan have many future weapons systems in pipeline which will be introduced in the future and which will help Pakistan to cope with the challenges of the future.

- Dec 24, 2019 06:31 PM


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