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Kept At Arms Length

One can get all sorts of weapons, from Chinese 9mm pistols of the 1990s to modern German MP5 submachine guns, as laws meant to be abided by the State are not applicable in that region! Reports suggest that there is a market of smuggled arms in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, along the Afghanistan-Pakistan Border.

The market is situated in Darra Adam Khel, the main town of Kohat Subdivision of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Kohat District. The Pakistani media recently reported that buyers could purchase various deadly weapons at a very cheap rate in this market. According to the local media, the trade of illegal arms has flourished across Pakistan’s north-western border since the Taliban returned to power in neighbouring Afghanistan in August 2021. In addition to light weapons, the supply of medium and heavy machine guns, mortars and rocket launchers, too, has increased in the last five months.

The type of business has also changed in recent times, with the shop-owners introducing the Home Delivery facility. In those cases, people would have to select the weapon of their choice from the list available on the Internet, and then instruct the dealer for getting the weapon delivered to their respective addresses, abiding by the formalities involved therein. The price of an older Kalashnikov rifle or a pistol is cheaper than that of a smartphone! One can get a MP5 submachine gun, manufactured by the German small arms manufacturer Heckler & Koch GmbH of Oberndorf am Neckar, by spending a few thousands of Pakistani Rupees more.

The arms market in Darra Adam Khel has been booming since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s. At that period of time, the Afghan Mujahideens used this village, 35km from Peshawar (the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa), as their arsenal. Defence experts are of the opinion that weapons, received by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI, the premier Intelligence Agency of Pakistan) from the CIA to fight the Soviet Forces, had reached Darra Adam Khel, and looted Soviet weapons, too, found their places in this market of smuggled arms. A glimpse of this illegal arms market was seen in the 1988 Hollywood movie ‘Rambo III‘, starring Sylvester Stallone.

Rambo III

It may be noted that different tribal groups, living in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and adjoining areas in Afghanistan, started keeping firearms with them during the Colonial British rule in the Indian Subcontinent. Gradually, the Pakistani arms market attracted the domestic and foreign militant outfits. Later, the Pakistani port city of Karachi became a base for illegal arms exports. However, all the weapons, available in this market, are not original. Local craftsmen in Darra Adam Khel are experts in making duplicates of Italian Beretta or Belgian Browning Hi-Power pistols. Although the range or lethality of them is almost the same, there is more noise and recoil when firing from those fake weapons.

Armoured vehicles, and light or mountain artillery, abandoned by the Soviet Forces after their withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989, had been sold at this Pakistani market. The Pakistani media have reported that various modern lethal weapons, left by the NATO forces after the withdrawal of the US troops from Afghanistan, have also reached the market in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

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