According to sources within the intelligence community, the illicit arms trade thrives via a number of land and possibly even sea routes. The tri-border area where Sindh, Balochistan and Punjab intersect is considered a haven for smuggling.
Officials believe that heavy goods transportation vehicles, including Mazda cars, Shehzore trucks, tankers and passenger buses are being used to ferry arms from Afghanistan and other northern regions to the rest of the country.
Hiding the arms cache
Inter-city coaches riding between Karachi and K-P are believed to be involved in the transportation of weapons.
Officials in the intelligence agencies admit that it is in their knowledge that this system successfully works with the active connivance, endorsement and knowledge of police and other law enforcement and border surveillance agencies.
The four main designated land routes are the Super Highway, Indus Highway, National Highway and the RCD Highway. However, there are dozens of unfrequented and hidden land routes, particularly at the confluence of Sindh, Balochistan and Punjab: the tri-border region where dismal security arrangements are in place to check illegal weapons supply by professional arms transporters.
Police sources say that many of the unfrequented land routes used for arms smuggling cover areas that are informally known for tribal conflicts or as dacoit hideout territories. Significant vacuums in law and order in such regions ensure that smuggled arms are not easily intercepted.
Failure of border forces
When asked whether it was not true that the border forces had failed to do their job [in securing the border] and prevent arms smuggling, Frontier Corps (FC) spokesperson Murtaza Baig said that the border along Balochistan was porous in ‘some places’. But in the same breath he also said that the force was doing all it can to curb it.
Brigadier Wasim Ayub of Pakistan Rangers did not say that it was a failure of the paramilitary forces to stop the smuggling via the tri-border area within the country. “The tri-border is manned by police, Rangers and the FC so it is a collective responsibility.”
He said it was also possible that over the years so many weapons have already been dumped into the city by various arms smugglers that one doesn’t necessarily need to place an order from some other place. He blamed intelligence failures and lack of better policing for not being able to curb arms smuggling.
Up to two million unlicensed weapons are believed to be in Karachi alone. Brigadier Ayub said although most of the weapons were being smuggled into the city via road links, “sea routes are also suspected of being used.”
It is also believed that illegal weapons are smuggled from Balochistan to Karachi by means of small boats and ferries along the coastal belt of Keti Bandar (Thatta)-Gadani-Ibrahim Hyderi-Vindar. However, sources within the navy and coast guard deny it and claim that due to vigilant patrolling, sea routes were not regularly used.
In terms of formal sea vessels, there is no evidence that arms are smuggled, as specialised container scanners are installed at all sea-entry points at Port Qasim Authority, Karachi International Containers Terminal and Karachi Port Trust. However, when it was reported that thousands of Nato/Isaf containers went missing, it was alleged that most of them contained arms destined for Afghanistan, which eventually made into Pakistan’s local arms market. In fact, FC’s Baig said he strongly believed that most of the Nato containers which went missing contained sophisticated and heavy arms that were now being used by criminals and terrorists.
Among the estimated 20 million illegal arms in circulation in Pakistan are some seriously heavy weapons. Bani Amin, the inspector general of police in Islamabad, says that rocket propelled grenades (RPG) are rarely used in cities. “Mostly dacoits and gangsters use these rockets. But this is nothing new. Dacoits in Sindh and outlaws in southern Punjab use them too,” he said.
Special Investigation Unit chief SSP Khurram Waris says the RPG-7s and Russian grenades being used by criminal gangs and terrorists in Karachi were the same types that have been in use by militants since the days of the Afghan jihad. About the RPG launchers, SSP Waris said, “One doesn’t need a lot of training to operate the RPG. However, for aiming correctly at your targets one needs a lot of practice.”
Another popular weapon is the ‘Awaan,’ which Waris described as “a launcher fitted on top of a Kalashnikov that is capable of throwing grenade-like shells.” The Awaan, according to the officer, has also been in existence since the Afghan jihad days and remains in use in the city.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 18th, 2012.