Skip to comments.Town of guns keeps region armed
Posted on 11/16/2001 1:27:03 PM PST by real saxophonist
Town of guns keeps region armed
Pakistan has only nominal control over weapons makers in Pashtun-dominated area
By Trent Seibert
Denver Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 16, 2001 - DARRA ADAM KHEL, Pakistan -
The gun factories that line the main street of this border town may provide the fleeing Taliban extra help if they mount a guerrilla war against the Northern Alliance.
The factories in this border town churn out hundreds of automatic weapons every week, many of which have already been smuggled into the hands of Taliban troops, according to interviews with gun merchants and Pakistani insiders.
"They make guns, and they make death," said Salman Asan, an anti-Taliban refugee from Afghanistan who says he knows of the gun pipeline between this town and the Taliban.
"But they will never stop."
Pakistan's government says it has tried to shut down the gun manufacturers in Darra Adam Khel, where posters of Osama bin Laden dot many walls, but a visit shows that gunmaking, the village's chief industry, is still going strong.
Everyone here appears to be either making guns or selling them.
The one-lane street of the village is marked with dozens of gun shops along its entire half-mile stretch. Test shots fired into the air are so frequent they interrupt every conversation. Perfect working copies of guns such as Russian Kalashnikovs, German Lugers and Chinese .45 automatics are displayed and offered for sale, even to strangers.
"How many guns do you want?" asked one merchant.
In one-story brick structures behind those merchants, gunmakers are at work, crafting working copies of weapons, one by one, using simple tools such as files, hammers and drill presses. Roaring fires act as forges.
Clutching metal sheets and wood for the fires, children sprint back and forth across the trash-filled street between these garage-like factories, dodging cars, horse- and donkey-drawn carriages and heroin junkies.
Gunmaker Zahid Shah's squat three-room factory is in the middle of a dark, clay-walled labyrinth located a short walk behind a gun sales shop. He said he can reproduce an automatic pistol in about four days. Rifles take about three days, he said.
"It's very simple, not difficult," he said, sitting crossed-legged on a cement floor, surrounded by dirt-caked tools, filing smooth what will soon be a working duplicate of a Chinese automatic handgun. "All we have to do is see the original."
They may not be as good as the real thing, but they are less expensive, Shah said. A pistol like the one he's making will sell for about $30. Automatic rifles range between $30 and $100.
The village is located about 40 miles south of Peshawar, nestled in a valley next to the sandy-brown mountains that border Afghanistan. It's in a tribal area called the Kohat Frontier Region. That means it's inside Pakistan, but beyond Pakistani law. Journalists are forbidden to cross into this Kohat tribal territory. So are foreigners. So are many Pakistanis.
Even though the area is technically federally administered, it's the local tribal leaders who call the shots here.
That's why the Pakistan government's attempt to crack down on the village's gun industry and the smuggling has not been completely successful.
Tribal police official Zaraf Khan said the town used to have 49 gun manufacturing plants like Shah's. That's been cut in half because the government ordered the close of many factories. Still, the town produces between 200 and 350 guns each week, Khan said."We sell guns only to our own people," Khan said. "They buy them to protect themselves."
That seems difficult to believe, since by Khan's calculation that would mean as many as 15,600 weapons have been sold to residents of the Kohat Frontier Region over the past year. That means about 10 percent of the entire region - men, women and children - purchased an automatic weapon this year.
Political experts dismiss that. They concede almost everyone in the lawless region does have a weapon, but also say it's common knowledge that guns are smuggled from there. In addition, those who sell the guns say they don't ask who they are selling to.
"We do it for money," gun merchant and tribal leader Gul Hussain Afridi said.
All those interviewed admitted selling weapons to Afghan fighters up until last year. Several, such as Afridi, say they've sold to "foreigners" over the past two months, but when pressed, would not get more specific.
Khan also said that after the U.S. bombing began on October 7, many of the town's young men headed across the border to fight along side the Taliban. They took with them a cache of the town's product, he said.
"It's very difficult to stop the gun-smuggling from this town, and others like it, all across the border," said Riffat Hussain, head of the Department of Strategic Studies at Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad. "There are a lot of tracks from Pakistan into Afghanistan that even the border police don't know about."
This town has a history of selling guns to the highest bidder. That was its mainstay during the 1980s, when Afghan tribes were fighting Soviet invaders. Those operations continued full throttle until last year, when Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf began a ban on new gunmakers and stopped Darra Adam Khel workmen from making larger weapons, such as rocket-propelled grenade launchers.
"In a civilized society, you don't take these weapons to political rallies or religious gatherings, or to marches," Pakistan's Interior Minister Moinuddin Haider said last year, announcing the weapons crackdown.
But the people of Darra Adam Khel have their own definition of a civilized society.
The Pashtun people who populate Darra Adam Khel have fellow tribesmen not only throughout the Kohat Frontier Region, but across the border in Afghanistan. They maintain a fierce warrior tradition and a kinship with the Taliban.
Blood feuds burn for years, townspeople explained. Differences are settled by gunfire. Revenge is served cold, and every other way imaginable, for slights that may have taken place generations ago.
"Everyone has a gun here," said gunmaker Zahid Shah. "Everyone needs to have a gun here."
Some political analysts have said the Darra Adam Khel area would be a perfect spot for bin Laden to hide if he were driven from Afghanistan.
Riffat Hussain called that a "nightmare scenario" for Pakistan and the United States, because it could mean that Pakistani or U.S. troops raiding the area in search of bin Laden would face a well-armed militia. In addition, Musharraf has been courting his Pashtun countrymen, who make up a significant portion of the population. Attacking them could quickly erode support for Musharraf, and perhaps, civil war.
Even if bin Laden continues to hide in Afghanistan, Hussain said gun smugglers such as those in Darra Adam Khel are suddenly more important to the Taliban, who are now on the run from the Northern Alliance.
The Taliban will need to replenish its weapons, and get more ammunition, to be able to face off against the Northern Alliance in warfare from the caves and hills.
"The Taliban retreat from Kabul with all their human and military assets intact marks the beginning of the new phase of this war which will be guerilla warfare," Riffat Hussain said.
"If they use those weapons and ammunition sparingly, and are supplied with others smuggled in, this phase could be interminably long."
There's something to be said for a well-armed militia - what the heck do people think the 2nd Amendment was all about in the first place? Aside from that, there is one thing missing from this article : what the crime rate is in Darra. I'll bet any form of burglary is unknown, as is the occasional passing insult.
I agree it's probably small. The article said vendettas were held for generations. If I lived there, I'd keep my mouth shut and mind my own business.
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