There are an estimated 20 million illegal arms in circulation in Pakistan.
This includes serious firepower: law enforcement authorities are increasingly coming under attack from criminals and terrorists armed with heavy weapons such as grenades (including rocket-propelled ones), long-range sniper rifles and machine guns. The volatile situation in Lyari was a case in point, where despite the fact that police were equipped with tank-like armoured personnel carriers, they were forced on the back foot.
But the question is: where do all these weapons come from?
Defence expert Brigadier (R) Mahmood Shah says the main supply of illegal weapons into the country comes from neighbouring Afghanistan. “The border areas, especially those along Khyber-Pakhtunwa (K-P) and Balochistan, are porous,” he said.
While relatively small arms such as Kalashnikovs are mostly produced locally, rockets, grenades, anti-aircraft guns and anti-tank shells are believed to come in the most part from across the border. “These are mostly Russian-made and copies that are built in central Asian states,” he said.
Frontier Corps (FC) spokesperson Murtaza Baig also said that the weapons that land in Balochistan largely come from Afghanistan.
“The now-imprisoned Shahzain Bugti was also caught by FC when he was smuggling a huge cache of arms including rockets and anti-aircraft guns from Gulitan and Chaman in Balochistan,” he said.
SP Farid Jan Sarhandi, who recently caught a huge cache of weapons, including 100 grenades, 16 rocket launchers and anti-aircraft guns from a criminal hideout in Karachi’s Mowach goth, believes “most of the weapons were being smuggled from Afghanistan.”
Inspector General of Police Islamabad Bani Amin and SP Central Investigation Agency Lahore Liaqat Malik both say that most weapons smuggled into Punjab come from K-P. “These originate either from Afghanistan or are manufactured locally in K-P,” Malik said.
K-P’s Darra Adam Khel region is still considered the epicenter of illegal and locally manufactured arms in Pakistan. It is estimated that Darra region produces 20,000 of all kinds of weapons annually and has the capacity to produce 100 AK-47s per day at a cost of less than $150 per weapon.
Officials say that apart from Darra, there are other weapons bazaars such as one called the Dagar bazaar in Kurram agency that houses unregistered arms factories. There are many types of sniper rifles such as the G3 can be fitted with a telescope that are also available.
Karachi’s DIG East Tahir Naveed says there are many ‘lush push’ copies of American and Austrian weapons circulating in the market as well. “It’s hard to tell which ones are copies and which ones are original,” he said.
The bulk of these locally manufactured guns from these illegal bazaars is believed to land in the hands of terrorists and criminal gangs operating all over the country.
Licence to kill
Intelligence officials believe that most of the prohibited bore licences that have been issued across the country in the last few years are being used in criminal activities.
An intelligence officer says that up till the year 2006, only ministers, senators and MNAs were allowed to purchase one prohibited bore from the Pakistan Ordnance Factory. However, since 2007, MPAs have also been allowed to avail this opportunity.
Intelligence agencies believe that thousands of these automatic weapons have landed in the hands of politically-backed gangsters.
The legal trade in weapons is subject to the Pakistan Arms Ordinance 1965. The two major sources of the legal trade are imported weapons and locally-manufactured weapons.
The legal import of weapons originates mainly from three countries: China, Turkey and Brazil. These are brought into the country through legal sea and air routes by dealers duly authorised from the Ministry of Commerce. These imported arms are sold to individuals who hold valid government arms licences, and monthly sales are reported to the provincial Home Department and DCO. These weapons are generally intended for purposes such as hunting and sporting, self-protection and private security services.
The registered arms manufacturers comprise public sector entities such as the Pakistan Ordnance Factory in Wah that manufactures several conventional arms such as MG3 machine guns, G3A3 assault rifles and MP5 sub-machine guns. This factory supplies to the armed forces, law enforcement agencies and those who have been granted prohibited bore arms licence at the discretion of the prime minister, subject to a No Objection Certificate from the Pakistan Army.
The private sector companies, which are mostly situated in Peshawar, also legally manufacture pistols, revolvers, shotguns, rifles, carbines guns, ammunition and explosives.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 17th, 2012.