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The arms trail

A peep into the underworld of arms business...

The arms trail

“I’ll provide you a Russian-made Kalashnikov, if you have the licence,” an arms dealer tells me.

He astonishes me. “How is it possible, there is ban on the import of prohibited bore weapons in Pakistan?” I ask him.

“Show me the money, I will show you the way,” he replies.

This brief conversation with the arms dealer gave me a glimpse into the huge underworld bussiness of arms, and the several ways, means and modes of the game.

The fragile law and order scenario has developed a potential market for illegal arms and ammunition. It is a huge market spanning from warlords to private militias, militant organisations to groups affiliated to political parties, drug peddlers to land grabbers. Everyone needs a toy to establish its authority — and the state and the kingpins of illegal weapons provide this pivotal service at their doorstep.

The demand is fulfilled with local- and foreign-made weapons. The locally-made weapons mostly arrive from Darra Adam Khel while the branded ones reach the coast via neighbouring Afghanistan.

A well-known senior police officer of the Sindh Police revealed to TNS that “arms dealers are involved in weapon smuggling. They [arms dealers] have the right contacts at the right place, you just name a weapon and they [arms dealers] will make them available to you”.

It is a dream for every local and foreign tourist to visit the historical weapon bazaar of Darra Adem Khel, located 40 kilometres south of Peshawar. There are more than 1,500 shops in the market that sell low-priced, substandard weapons. There is no mechanism of monitoring the manufacturing of arms in this market.

Deputy Commissioner of Kohat, Riaz Masood, says “For the last two months, a comprehensive discussion has been underway with the tribal elders and various representatives of the market to regularise these shops and, hopefully, in the next meeting to be held on February 10, we will work out a plan”.

A weapon dealer reveals on the condition of anonymity that sea is the main route of foreign smuggled weapons.

Masood who has served as a political agent (PA) in various tribal agencies of Fata, considers 2,600km-long porous border with Afghanistan a haven for arms traffickers. He points out, “there is 1,300km of Afghanistan bordering KP and Fata while the remaining half neighbouring Balochistan. We cannot man it and that provides a great opportunity for arms traffickers to smuggle weapons into Pakistan from Afghanistan”.

He also holds several Afghan jihadis responsible for this menace. “That [Afghan jihadis] granted corridors to establish depots of weapons in various parts of the country and now we are bearing the brunt,” adds Masood.

An important source of the Sindh Police Forensic Division discloses imported weapons are used in most cases of terrorist attacks. “The attackers always prefer and trust foreign weapons due to their quality and performance while local weapons sometimes lead to their arrest — due to trigger mechanism complication at the 11th hour,” he says.

According to data collected by Pakistan Customs, between 2010 and 2014, around 1.2 billion rupee-worth of different kinds of weapons were imported into the country. The data shows that in 2010-11 more than 100 million rupee-worth of weapons were imported into Pakistan. In 2011-12, the figure doubled, and more than 340 million rupees of arms were brought in. The following years show similar trend — Rs30 million in 2012-13 and Rs. 810 million in 2013-14.

Recently, the government of Pakistan lifted the ban on import of several prohibited bore weapons that was imposed by the Nawaz Sharif in 1997. The ministry of commerce issued a Statutory Regulatory Order (SRO) number 1112 (I)/2014 on December 16, 2014, allowing quantity-based authorisation (QBA) by replacing the existing value-based authorisation.

A leading arms dealer of Karachi discloses all terrorist and criminal gangs and groups who are patronised by various quarters have their own network of purchasing illegal weapons. “They never fall short of their fuel [weapon]; these gangs and groups are the regular customer of arms smugglers and have their contacts in Balochistan and KP,” says the dealer.

Chairman All Pakistan Arms Dealers Association, Farhan Anwar, says, “Some weapon dealers also offer their services to get arms licences”.

Surprisingly, Israeli weapons and ammunitions are available in Pakistani arms markets. Israeli made Uzi submachine-gun is popular, but due to its high price, not everyone can buy it. According to an arms dealer of Karachi, there are three types of Uzis —Uzi SMG, Uzi Mini and Uzi Micro (pistol). There prices vary. The Uzi SMG costs Rs450,000 or more, Uzi Mini is Rs500,000 plus while Uzi Micro costs more than Rs600,000.

Anwar concedes, “Like other businesses, there are black sheeps within our business who are involved in illegal sale and purchase of illegal arms”. But, he adds, “No licenced arms dealer is involved in importing illegal arms because it involves series of checks and more than eight different security agencies of the world keep a close eye on the import of weapons, including Interpol.”

Kalashinikov is considered the most trustworthy assault rifles not only in Pakistan but all over the world. Also known as AK-47, it was among the prohibited bore assault rifles before the lifting of ban last month. The only legal way of acquring one was through a Malik (tribal elder) of Federally Administered Tribal Areas, who could gift it to anyone he liked. But Malik got a certain amount for this “gift”. He signsed an ordinary paper, stated that he gifted a certain rifle carrying a particular number to a respective person.

The million dollar question then is: when there was a ban on the import of prohibited bore weapons, how did Maliks get these rifles? Were they manufactured in the country?

While talking about the mode of shipment of weapons across Pakistan, another senior police official of Sindh Police tells TNS, “The weapons initially arrive from neighbouring Aghanistan into Fata, KP, and Balochistan. From there, the consignment is shifted to passenger buses and goods transport, heading to different cities of Pakistan via KP, Balochistan, Punjab and Sindh.”

Passenger busses and goods transporters are involved in the smuggling of illegal arms. “To earn extra bucks, buses and goods transport drivers have certain places in their vehicles. They [drivers] place every piece with care in the containers and safely hand over consignment to local handlers.”

A weapon dealer reveals on the condition of anonymity that sea is the main route of foreign smuggled weapons —“Trawlers of fishermen, private merchant ships are facilitating arms smugglers to cater to the demand of foreign weapons in the country and there are arms dealers who can provide AK-47 and M-16 riffles that cannot be imported or sold.”

But, Former Additional Inspector General of Karachi, Shahid Hayat, disagrees. “There is no information that sea route is being used to smuggle weapons into the country. The issue was raised during the Karachi law and order case proceedings of the Supreme Court but Pakistan Customs denies such reports,” he says.

There are arms dealers and Home Department affiliates who offer their services to acquire arms licence. If you have Rs30,000 you can get the arms licence in Sindh at least. An arms dealer discloses that earlier weapons dealers used to hire the services of federal ministers, MNAs, MPAs and influential people who maintained strong relations with the Prime Minister House. Moreover, dealers also contacted a middleman because, in this case, all the responsibility lies on his [middleman’s] shoulder.

“Having direct relations with the influential elite costs a lot and one has to compensate them through different means,” says a dealer. While explaining the procedure of getting non-prohibited-bore [NPB] he elaborates, “these licences are made in back dates by tempering records and there are arms dealers who deal in Balochistan arms licences but their authenticity is questionable”.

The Balochistan licence can be acquired by paying Rs 25,000.

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