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Thursday, July 28, 2016

Pakistani Tribal Town, Were Guns Are Cheaper Than Smartphones

Guns cheaper than smartphones in
Pakistani tribal town
DARRA ADAMKHEL: Gunfire echoes through a dusty northwest tribal town, the soundtrack to Pakistan's biggest arms black market, where Kalashnikovs welded
from scrap metal are cheaper than smartphones and sold on an industrial scale.
DARRA ADAMKHEL, a town surrounded by hills some 35 kilometres (20 miles) south of the city of Peshawar, was a hub of criminal activity for decades. Smugglers and drug runners were common and everything from stolen
cars to fake university degrees could be procured.
This generations-old trade in the illicit boomed in the
1980s: The mujahideen began buying weapons there for
Afghanistan's battle against the Soviets, over the porous border.
Later, the town became a stronghold of the Pakistani
Taliban, who enforced their strict rules and parallel
system of justice infamously beheading Polish
engineer Piotr Stanczak there in 2009.
Now Darra is clean of all but the arms, yet the
gunsmiths in the bazaar say the region's improved
security and authorities' growing intolerance for illegal
weaponry are withering an industry that sustained them
for decades.
"(The) Nawaz Sharif government has established
checkpoints everywhere, business is stopped," said
Khitab Gul, 45.
Gul is known in Darra for his replicas of Turkish and
Bulgarian-made MP5 submachine guns, one of the
most popular weapons in the world, widely used by
organisations such as America's FBI SWAT teams.
The MP5 can retail for thousands of dollars. Gul's
version, which comes with a one-year guarantee, costs
roughly 7,000 rupees, or $67 -- and, he claims, it works
Gul then puts on a demonstration, test-firing his MP5 in
the small outer yard of his workshop -- first the single
shot mode, then firing in a burst.
A Darra-made Kalashnikov, Gul says, can sell for as
little as $125, cheaper than most smartphones. "The
workers here are so skilled that they can copy any
weapon they are shown," he explains.
"In past 10 years I have sold 10,000 guns, and had zero
complaints," he claims.
In Gul's sweltering workshop, employees shout over the
roar of electrical generators as they expertly cut and drill
through metal brought from the shipyards of Karachi,
far to the south on the Arabian Sea.
The main bazaar which cuts through the town used to
hold nothing but tiny gun shops crammed together, their
gleaming wares displayed openly on racks as
customers test-fired into the air above.
Trade was illegal, unlicensed and unregulated, but long
tolerated by authorities with little power in the tribal
areas between Afghanistan and Pakistan, where
militants once operated with impunity.
Residents, for their part, viewed the market as
legitimate in an area dominated by Pashtun traditions,
where gun culture is deeply embedded in male identity.
But in recent years, the military has cracked down on
extremism, particularly in the tribal areas, and security
is the best it has been since the Pakistani Taliban were
formed in 2007.
Every second or third shop in Darra now sells groceries
or electronics instead of weapons, the gunsmiths
lament. The Wild West atmosphere is fading as the town
embraces modern conveniences.
Before the crackdown Gul's workshop -- just one of
hundreds in the town -- could produce more than 10
weapons a day, he says.
Now they only produce four. "Demand has decreased,"
he says.
Gunsmiths put the blame squarely on the Pakistani
government and military, particularly checkpoints on the
way to Darra halting customers who once travelled to
the town openly.
Foreigners have been banned for security reasons.
The military has not yet objected to the gun market in
Darra directly, but residents say they have had to give
sureties that they will not harbour militants, and a half-
hearted attempt at licensing is now also being made.
"I have been working here for 30 years but now I have
no work to do," says Muzzamil Khan, sitting idle outside
his workshop. "I am ready to sell my lathe machine."
Muhammad Qaisar, making cartridges at his shop in the
main bazaar, said at one point there had been up to
7,000 shops there -- but now almost half have closed.
If the government does not change its policies, he says,
"I fear... Darra will be finished".
Darra trade union leader Badam Akbar confirmed that
some 3,000 shops have closed, and said skilled workers
are attempting to learn new trades. "Nothing is left in
this bazaar now," he says.
Hundreds of gun shops still cram the narrow streets
around the bazaar and the sound of gunfire still pierces
the air -- albeit intermittently
but the gunsmiths say it
is not enough.
"We have no electricity, no water, no business," Akbar
warns. "Life has became very diffic

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