Fire sales for guns do not bring in the customers

Manzoor Ali Shah May 18, 2010

DARRA ADAMKHEL: Gun shops and factories dot both sides of the Indus Highway in Darra Adamkhel. However, both the shops and the factories that make the guns are largely silent now.

Situated 25 kilometres south of Peshawar, Darra Adamkhel has approximately 1,000 gun-making workshops and factories, according to one gunsmith. The town has been famous for its gun-making industry and prior to the rise in militancy in the area, when the industry was thriving, it used to reverberate with aerial firing by aspiring buyers, but few such shots are heard now.

Not many buyers dare to visit the area anymore. They are discouraged by the security situation as well as by strict security checks by law-enforcement agencies upon entering and leaving town. The town now presents a haunted look and its businessmen seem wary. Arms are not leaving the town in large quantities anymore and work has slowed down. Mohammad Wasim, a local artisan who produces 30 bore pistols, says that business has gone down by more than half.

His small workshop, which employs five people, has three manual machines and is dotted with empty bullet shells. The five employees cost him Rs15,000 per month and long hours of power outages add to the burden, he told The Express Tribune. Wasim has little hope that things will improve. Darra Adamkhel’s fortunes were reversed in early 2007, when a band of militants started becoming active there. Soon the militants ousted not just those dealing in drugs but also attacked CD businesses in nearby Mattani town, which falls in the limits of Peshawar.

And in early 2008, militants captured five army trucks which led to the launch of Operation Eagle Swoop by security forces on January 25. Now, a tank barrel peeps over the tattered wall of a local college which has sandbags on the roof and barbed wire at the entrance. Military check posts dot the hills. Usman Ghani owns a workshop which produces pistol bodies. He says that while previously they used to work day and night, now they only work when there is electricity. “We also do not work late because of security concerns,” he says.

Fewer customers also mean a fall in the price of the merchandise. Ghani says that whereas previously they charged traders Rs475 for a finished item, they now sell it for Rs270. As for production, if power is supply is uninterrupted they are able to produce about 10 bodies, but with the generator it is difficult to even produce five. At least half of the town’s population is attached with the gun business, he says. Haji Dilawar is one of them. Associated with gun-making for the past 30 years, Dilawar says that he has never seen such a slump before.

A pistol which carried a price of Rs7,000 is now being sold for Rs3,000, while a copy of the Chinese AK-47 now sells for anywhere between Rs6,000 and Rs7,000, rather than the Rs9,000 or Rs10,000 it fetched earlier. Meanwhile, the cost of raw material is increasing, says Mohammad Safdar, who owns a workshop as well as a shop. Just the cost of producing an AK-47 is Rs6,000, he said which he sells at his shop for Rs7,500. “Prior to the military operation, the same gun would sell for between Rs 8,000 and Rs11,000, depending on its quality,” Safdar says, adding that the cost of producing a pistol was between Rs1,800 and Rs2,000 and it is now sold for between Rs3,000 and Rs3,500. Moreover, traders are no longer willing to give manufacturers any advance to work with.

Previously, Safdar says, traders used to give workshops up to Rs100,000 as advance, but now they only pay when collecting the merchandise. Though exact figures about the gun trade are not available, approximately 3,000 people are said to be attached with the business. As long as Americans are in Afghanistan there won’t be any peace and it means our business will continue to suffer, concludes a tired looking Dilawar. An irony that without peace, gun sales will not pick up.

Published in the Express Tribune, May 19th, 2010.