LAHORE: A series of airport busts by Customs officials has helped expose a massive organised network involved in smuggling modern weapons and ammunition into Pakistan. The illegal consignments reportedly originated in the United States and Great Britain. In addition to automatic rifles and shotguns, the suspects are also involved in the illegal trade of modern sniper rifles and long-range armour piercing bullets.
Intelligence agencies have started investigations and are trying to determine how widespread the network is and whether or not terrorists were involved.
On Wednesday, Custom officials at Lahore Airport thwarted a major smuggling attempt as they recovered specialised bullets meant for long-range weapons. At least 4,500 regular bullets, 800 exploding tip bullets, and over 3.6 kg of gunpowder had arrived from the United States via a Middle Eastern airline in the luggage of a passenger named Mohsin Nawaz.
Because of the special security arrangements at the airport, the passenger abandoned his luggage on the scanner and fled the airport. Customs officials were able to get footage of the incident taken from security cameras at the airport.
A customs team then set off for Faisalabad and was able to apprehend Nawaz.
During initial investigations, Nawaz revealed that he had been smuggling ammunition to Pakistan for a long time. According to sources, the suspect had also previously procured gunpowder for a major political figure some time ago and was paid an exorbitant price for the product.
According to sources in the arms industry, Nawaz generally used to smuggle bullets of .308 calibre long-range rifle and bullet tips which can sell for Rs1,000 to Rs2,000 per bullet. His consignment also included explosive ammunition which can pierce through armour.
Intelligence agencies and customs officials are investigating how the weapons and ammunition even made it onto the flight to Pakistan given the presence of modern scanning equipment at airports in the US and the Middle East. According to sources, the foreign and interior ministries have decided to contact US officials regarding the seizures. Intelligence agencies have also long been concerned about the availability of long-range rifles in several regions of Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and their use in terrorist attacks on military personnel.
Customs Collector Abdul Rauf confirmed that Mohsin Nawaz made key confessions during the initial investigations, while intelligence agencies are also holding their own investigations into the arms seizures.
Rauf said that it is highly concerning that the lethal weapons could arrive in Pakistan in such large quantities despite stringent security checks and scanning procedures at airports in highly developed countries. According to the customs official, scanning and screening at Lahore Airport has now been further tightened.
Custom officials had also recovered modern rifles and shotguns during an incident at Lahore Airport a few months ago. The consignments had been brought in using bogus import licenses. A verification check by the interior ministry confirmed that the licenses were fake. Sources said that Nawaz may be part of the same group, adding that although the group is based in Faisalabad, they sell their weapons throughout Punjab and Sindh.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 27th, 2019.