Gun making, once limited to the tribal Darra Adam Khel area, has now spread to parts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and especially Peshawar, where over 100 factories of varying capacities have been set up.
Due to military operations in Darra Adam Khel, the majority of arms dealers and manufacturers shifted to Peshawar and other urban areas. At the time, the government had licensed small firms to produce arms and ammunitions in order to clamp down on illegal production of weapons.
More than 1.5 million people are employed by the industry around the province, but due to the current nationwide ban on gun licences, half of them have been sent home, depriving them of a secure source of livelihood.
“We have 500 workers in our arms manufacturing company, but after the ban half of them were laid off as we can no longer afford to pay them,” said Jahangir Khan, the manager of Frontier Arms Company. “Though we are not sure whether the elections will be held on time, it has affected our business.”
Arms dealers around the country have refused to purchase locally manufactured arms, preferring to import them instead. This has also affected the economy, resulting in losses of millions of rupees to the arms industry, he added.
The arms industry is already going through difficult times due to government policies, Khan stated. Explaining his inability to continue arms production he said, “We cannot afford to wait it out and were forced to sack our workers with the promise that if conditions improve, we will rehire them. Because of undue intervention, our industry is on the brink of collapse,” We are trying to modernise the industry but routine raids on factories have hampered our efforts, he added.
Thousands of people associated with the arms industry have already been sent home. Jobs had already been cut when the industry was mechanised. Shah Jehan, 40, who has worked in various arms manufacturing companies around the city, is among the employees sacked by the Frontier Arms Company. “Machines have already reduced demand for our skills and when we managed to get jobs, the government’s ban took them away.”
Fazl-e-Kareem, the manager of Khyber Arms Company, was of the same view. “The ban on the sale of guns has reduced our earnings and we were compelled to lay off employees,” he said, adding that he had sacked 12 workers in the last few days.
Emadullah khan, the president of a sporting and hunting arms manufacturing firm in Peshawar said, “I have sacked 50 per cent of my labour force. To top it off, arms dealers in other parts of the country refuse to pay me the dues as long as the ban is in place.”
The government imports shotguns and other weapons worth millions of rupees every year. Conversely, the gun makers claim they have the capability to make the province self-sufficient in arms if provided with guidance and support.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 14th, 2013.