Welcome to the ‘American Market’ - On sale: Night-vision goggles, RPGs

Published: June 15, 2011

Military goods on sale at a Peshawar market. PHOTO: FILE

PESHAWAR:  For people who openly sell night-vision goggles, grenades and even the occasional RPG, the dealers at the American Market in Peshawar are remarkably reluctant to talk about their clientele.

Eventually, a laptop dealer, selling Dells and HPs at knockdown prices, explains who the dealers here sell their weapons to.

“Most of the arms here will end up with the Taliban. Some people come to buy these weapons for themselves but mostly they are bought by militants,“ he says.

He explains that the area has come to be known as the American Market because it sells US goods that have either been stolen and transported from Afghanistan or captured from Nato trucks being transported from Pakistan to Afghanistan.

While everything from scanned goods to electronic equipment is available at the American Market, the majority of the items on sale are weapons. The laptop dealer says the American Market is only the third largest of its kind in Pakistan, and similar markets in Bara, Jamrud and Dara Adam Khel offer a greater variety of weapons, although he adds that there has been an army clampdown in Dara Adam Khel.

Despite the abundance of arms available in these markets, this is only the tip of the iceberg for the Taliban.

“The Taliban are the United Nations of weaponry,“ says Lee Wollonsky, an arms-smuggling expert who has worked with various think-tanks in the US.

“They have arms from the US, China, Russia, Iran and just about every other country you can think of.” How the Taliban became an essential chain in the global arms trade, is a fascinating story. Wollonsky says that the Taliban linked into arms smuggling networks that originated from Russia.

“You have dealers in Russia with their own private chartered airlines that they use to smuggle arms around the world. The Taliban get arms from charter airlines that are registered in the UAE, where there is very little oversight.” According to Wollonsky, there airlines shuttle poisonous chemicals, arms, ammunition and sometimes even operatives to Taliban operatives in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The planes that are used are usually the discarded ones from the days of the Soviet Union.

Another source of Taliban arms in Pakistan, says Shanaka Jayasekara, is the LTTE in Sri Lanka. Jayasekara has done academic research into the Tamil separatist group and believes that the LTTE had front groups in Sharjah that smuggled weapons into Karachi, from where they would be distributed to the Taliban.

The US, meanwhile, believes that the Taliban may be getting weaponry from Iran.

Militant safe houses raided in the tribal areas have revealed the presence of Iranian-made AK-47s but it is not known if these have been smuggled out of Iran or provided by the government of Iran.

Taliban videos posted on jihadi-websites, meanwhile, show them carrying Chinese anti-aircraft missiles which, most arms-control experts believe, have come through the international smuggling network and not from the Chinese government.

Ultimately, though, the greatest provider – though inadvertently – of weaponry to the Taliban based in Afghanistan may be its greatest target: the US. As the laptop dealer at the American Market in Peshawar says, “The US gives weapons to people in Afghanistan to fight the Taliban and they just go and sell it to people here who then sell it to the Taliban.”

Published in The Express Tribune, June 15th, 2011.

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Reader Comments (12)

  • Salman Ali
    Jun 15, 2011 - 3:14PM

    I hope I can find night goggles from hereRecommend

  • Abu Abdullah
    Jun 15, 2011 - 3:28PM

    False Reporting!
    I have been to this market and I went through a connection, they don’t sell any of this stuff. The shopkeepers give you an impression that , the militants who kill and loot Americans sell this American “booty” to the shop keepers, On further investigation I learnt that most of the stuff was like knifes, goggles, weapon pouches etc. were cheap Chinese copies while the originals were used boots, clothing, books etc(Mostly useless stuff in tatty condition) that have been discarded or sold as second hand by American soldiers that move out of the region. Recommend

  • Cautious
    Jun 15, 2011 - 4:42PM

    I suppose the authorities will close down these shops when they find it convenient — probably right after they perform a full scale military assault on the Taliban or perhaps right after hell freezes over?Recommend

  • Khawaja Faraz
    Jun 15, 2011 - 5:20PM

    Americas new weapon Dumping Ground …hmmmmmmmmmmmmRecommend

  • Sherkoh
    Jun 15, 2011 - 9:52PM

    False report. 90 % of the stuff is Chinese and the rest is written off. Kindly do more research before reporting such issue.Recommend

  • Mehroz
    Jun 15, 2011 - 10:39PM

    I dont know if only Taliban go to American Market. It is also very popular with people from Rawalpindi and Islamabad. They have lots of Chinese, Pakistani and American weapons. But sometimes they will convince you it is American when it is cheaper version.Recommend

  • Maria
    Jun 16, 2011 - 5:49AM

    This is one of the reasons why Pakistani media reports are not taken seriously. Anyone who has been to this market knows that the goods are mostly cheap copies of other nations goods. Can the author verify what he is writing by seeing himself what was there? I think not. He falls for the typical Pakistani media reporting of saying so and so says so. I know this isn’t so since my mother’s family is from Peshawar.Recommend

  • D. Powers
    Jun 16, 2011 - 10:01AM

    @Abu Abdullah: Thanks for clarifying. I was shocked to read that RPGs are being sold openly. I think the correspondent did not bother to visit the infamous market. Recommend

  • Shero
    Jun 16, 2011 - 11:41AM

    The author has completely got it wrong, being a resident of Peshawar i have been to this place so many times but am yet to see a RPG there. You can find chocolates, gatorades, shoes and other such stuff at discounted price but not American night vision goggles (they have Chinese version of it for kids). The cheap laptops the author talks about are mostly second hand laptops. And the shopkeeper being interviewed was i reckon just trolling, The author claims that weapons find its way into this market from Afghanistan through FATA, so according to him Taliban steals this stuff bring it to the market and then buy them again. Does this make any sense? I wasn’t expecting such childish article from Tribune.Recommend

  • Journalist...
    Jun 16, 2011 - 12:20PM

    False,,,, this is too much..
    ya it was but during 2003, 4, 5. not now,
    @ Abu Abdullah…
    i agree..
    @Nadir,,,check it out, once it was Sitara market in Karkhano area not American Market.., now you will not find any shopkeeper selling such things (American), yes Chinese are available.i dont know about any weapon, who said weapons are being sold there, RPG and Iranian AK47. ???
    i have been to this Sitara Market, not american one, more than 100 times after 2006 but could not find any thing mentioned in the story….
    sorry dear……Recommend

  • Andrea
    Jun 17, 2011 - 2:23AM

    Shows you the standard of journalist of Third World where you can print anything even when it’s not true. I’ve been to this market and never saw any of the stuff the writer says he saw! What are his sources? Why not show us a pitcure of the market with the stuff you claim to see so we can all but it cheap cause I haven’t seen it!Recommend

  • Mohammad Ali
    Jun 17, 2011 - 2:37AM

    TOTALLY FALSE …. I agree with what most people have commented. What one finds there is either discarded military stuff mostly from ISAF i.e. boots, belts, uniforms, canned food, sometimes tool boxes / tool kits, maglite torches etc. other stuff sold as “american” i.e. Cabella’s outdoor outfits, delta force shooting glasses, spotting scopes, binoculars etc. are usually cheap chinese copies (you only need a close inspection to find that out). There are plenty of hand gun hostlers which I beleive are either local made or again chinese made.

    Absolutely no guns, ammunition or amrs of any kind. and yes the “Sitara” market, is also being falsely dubbed as “american” market in this report. As for myths, there was once a popular myth that a closed container was sold by “american” troops in afghanistan to local transporters, who brought it back to find out it had a “helicopter” in it …. :) such childish stories often make their way through, and unfortunately our media reports them as authentic.

    I think the reporter should check his facts before publishing.Recommend

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