Proliferation of Small Arms and Light Weapons in Pakistan

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The Post Second World War period has witnessed an unprecedented proliferation of lethal and non-lethal weapons. The frequent usage of these sources of human destruction has resulted in hundreds of causalities. Unlike the weapons of Mass Destruction, these weapons constitute the primary instruments of violence in any internal or low-intensity conflict and are responsible for a large number of deaths. They are increasingly being acquired by criminals, cartels and irregular forces and in certain cases by influential citizens and politicians as a show of strength and  political might. As a result, militarization of crime and political conflict are emerging as serious and potentially irreversible threats.

In recent years, there has been a growing tendency within the activist and scholarly communities to treat major conventional weapons and small arms as well as light weapons as distinct areas of policy formulation and study. An estimate of the global value of small arms production in 2002 is $7.4 billion. Well over 1,000 companies manufacture light weapons and ammunition in nearly hundred countries. Controlling production of both light and major conventional weapons has historically been very difficult, because of lack of political will and economic pressures from manufacturers.

The main focus with respect to illegal weapons proliferation in Pakistan remains in the unorganized private enterprise at Darra and Landi Kotal  where the arms trade continues without any state hindrance. Besides this, the organized sector manufacturers are also bound to sell their products to licensed gun owners is not more than approximately 80,000-90,000 in the country. This makes the legal market a very small one, which is adequately served by the private producers.    However, recent trends indicate that the estimated number of weapons in circulation is much higher than tabulated. The rising ethno-sectarian strife, civil war in Afghanistan, and an enhanced sense of insecurity arising out of factors such as poor economic conditions, bad governance and the deteriorating law-and-order situation have raised the level of frustration and discontent. It is witnessed that the rising sense of apathy and social injustice has strengthened the appeal of small arms and light weapons. Darra and its cheaper rates attracts not only NSAs who purchase these weapons in bulk, but also a second category of buyers, such as officials, low-enforcing agents, influential politicians, and feudal and tribal lords who regard the posses session of light weapons as a status symbol. Moreover, the various governments too have exacerbated this situation by giving licenses for prohibited bore weapons to politicians and influentional people to win political favour, or in pursuit of their vested interests in arming one (ethnic/sectarian) group against another from time to time.

The principal source of weapons proliferation and supply to arms of regional and domestic conflict, the unorganized sector, has a minimal manufacturing capacity of a hundred weapons per day. With the very sudden and dramatic termination of the Afghan conflict, the governments following Zia Ulaq’s proved to be ineffective in solving this menace. Although attempts were made in the past, and are being made presently, too, to curb the proliferation and the indiscriminate use of small arms, they are very much an indicator of a dysfunctional state apparatus.

In Pakistan, the failure of governance-especially with regard to narcotics production and smuggling-and the country’s proximity to Afghanistan and its involvement in the attempts to end Soviet occupation of the country have combined to intensity an already dire law-and-order situation. In many cases, access to light weapons has facilitated or intensified conflicts, often by emboldening the protagonists. Consequently, the ability the increased firepower enjoyed by the forces pitched against them.

Second in line are the private manufacturers who operate and produce certain non-prohibited bore are limited in number and are concentrated mainly in the province of Punjab and Karachi. These private entrepreneurs are forced to continue with the production of the same items, whether or not they have market demand, because of the licensing requirements. This proves to be extremely cost-intensive efforts, and in a bid to cover production costs as well as maintain a reasonable profit level, these manufactures not only use substandard material, but are also involved in unauthorized manufacturing.

With respect to the scope of the term ‘illicit trade’, one should consider the illicit manufacture, acquisition, possession, use, and storage of small arms and light weapons, since these are closely linked to transfers of such weapons. The illicit trade in small arms and light weapons is closely related to the excessive and destabilizing accumulation and transfer of such arms and should, therefore, not be limited to criminal breaches of existing arms legislation and export/import controls, but consideration should be to all relevant factors. With regard to the manufacture, production, and sale of light weapons, we can divide the domestic producers of SA/LW in Pakistan into three broad categories:

1.                  The state-owned or public sector enterprise

2.                  Private manufacturers(operating under state license and regulation)

3.                  The Darra Bara/gun cottage industry (which is not under any state            supervision).

State-Owned/ Public Enterprise: This primarily constitutes about 14 public sector manufacturing enterprise at the Pak .Ordanance   Factories (POF), Wah. The variety of weapons manufactured in these factories includes Heckler and Koch MP-5, G-3, A-3, MPSA-2 guns, Anti-tank light weapons, ammunition and anti-personnel land mines. All of these items are produced under license with a very stringent control mechanism and maintenance of complete record. The items thus produced are not only ISO9001 certified, but also come under strict export regulations under the government’s Statutory Regulatory Order (SRO-123/124 OF February 1998). Carrying out correct marketing procedure and purchase enumeration both at the receiving and purchasing end is also properly overseen. Besides the POF, items such as anti-tank systems and ammunition, anti-personnel and anti-tank landmines, explosive devices, multi-barrel rocket launchers etc. are manufactured at the Kahuta Research Lab (KRL), an independent entity under state control.

The POF was made a public-sector enterprise in the early 1980’s by redesigning the Head of POF as “Chairman” and instituting a “Board of Directors”, As part of its new states the POF has also been given the authority to engage in profit-making activities, but in spite of that, its principal and largest client remains the Pakistan military with new weapons, these ordanance factories hold reserve stocks and repair facilities for the normal wear and tear.

From the entire gun manufacturing facilities, POF remains the only outfit, which is allowed to export its products. These exports include anti-tank ammunition as well as infantry equipment and the sales also cater to the domestic market but in a very limited manner. Although very stringent regulations are in place on the production and scale of weapons to state actors alone, there are reported incidents where weapons seized from low-intensity zones could be traced back to the POF.

Thus as mentioned above, the revenue generation criterion does not find much relevance in this case. The point to be noted here is that due to a limited demand, the POF’s full production capacity is not being properly utilized. Thus the factories end up producing only what is required by the principal client, the Pakistani military, and this of course is quite restricted in scope given the annual optimum ammunition production capacity which is not less than US$ 70 million.

Private Manufacturers: Second in line are the private manufacturers who operate and produce certain non-prohibited bore weapons under license. The organized legal arms manufacturers are limited in number, and are concentrated mainly in the province of Punjab and Karachi. Although the licensing requirements restrict the manufacturers from producing anything other than the exact configurations of the armaments, the main incentive or motivate or motivation  for the private enterprises is to generate profit task that has become increasingly difficult in the restricted business environment where the one hand these guns manufacturers are constrained by license regulations and on the other they are provided with no incentives and are also heavily taxed by the government

These private entrepreneurs are forced to continue with the production of the same items whether or not they have any market demand, because of the licensing requirements. This proves to be extremely cost-intensive effort and in a bid to cover production cost as well as to maintain a proportionate profit level, these manufacturers not only use sub-standard material but they are also involved in unauthorized manufacturing. Accordingly, in many cities there are few or no licensed manufacturers, but there can be found many dealership and repair license holders, for it has a better money generation scope. The end-users in this regard are usually sub-state sectors or outfits which purchase these items for coercive activities.

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The Darra Bara or Gun-Making Industry: The arms bazaars of Darra Adamhel and Landi Kotal in the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan are famous for the production of light weapons for centuries. Both are colonial as well as Cold War legacy, these traditional grey areas gained increased salience, after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. However, the illicit gunsmiths of India are poor cousins when compared to those of DAK. Darra is the heart of Pakistan’s notorious arms bazaar, and it is here that one can acquire practically any small arm at a low cost: Kalashnikovs, M-16S, Uzis, and even guns hidden in walking sticks and ballpoint pens. Some are originals left over from the war in Afghanistan; others are copies made in back-alley workshops, repaired originals, or copies made from cannibalized parts. Often the only difference between the original and are made from inferior quality metal. Original AK-47s sell for about US $320, but an identical copy starts at US $50.

The Darra gunsmiths are famous for their skills and expertise,                                                    which have been passed down from father to son for generations, and they are known for their ability to produce any kind of weapon in Spartan conditions. Although these artisans do not have any formal technical training, they have inherited the skills and have the ability to copy and make almost any kind of light weapon. Before the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979, they produced mainly rifles and shotguns in addition to a wide range of pistols. Now they are adept at producing exact copies of any light weapon desired in a matter of days. They have been known to make imitation Chinese laser-sight pistols and Japanese pen pistols down to the finest detail.Some of Darra’s older craftsmen have also invented their own designs; for example a shotgun that works like a revolver, with a chamber holding six shells. Unlike the previous two categories of gun manufacturers, the Darra gunsmiths base their business on demand and supply and are acutely aware of the prevalent market trends and demand factors.

At one time they supplied the Afghan mujahideen in their struggle against Soviet occupation. Now they are the main suppliers of guns to Kashmir and to Pakistan’s troubled provinces of Punjab and Sind. Darra ‘s shops and factories offer home delivery any where in the country, and are known to have also sold arms to guerrillas from Northern Ireland and the Middle East.

. Both a colonial as well as   Cold War legacy, these traditional grey areas gained increased salience after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. This brought a new dimension to light weapons manufacture and production in this area-the unabated and immeasurable proliferation and inflow of illicit and illegal arms. Before the Soviet incursion, Darra used to produce mainly 9mm. rifles, shotguns and pistols ranging from 0.22 to 0.32 caliber, etc. The Darra manufacturers are now adept at producing very exact copies of kalashnikovs, bazookas, and even rocket launchers.

An important characteristic of Darra and its various manufacturing units is that it is an unorganized enterprise, free from any state licensing, regulation and tax requirements. It is a part of the NWFP’ s tribal belt where no formal state law has been accepted or applied, and the tribal authority, better known as the jirga ,mediates and enforces justice, law and order .The government also cannot do much about the production sale of weapons here, because the state laws do not have jurisdiction over the tribal areas-even the British couldn’t establish their writ here. The government can only check the in-country movement of arms from this area, which is indeed a very challenging task.

Arms purchasers are attracted to the Darra because the manufacturing cost of weapons made here is relatively low compared to the state-regulated gun making sectors and the ready availability of a wide variety of weapons with so much pilferage taking place across the border. There is also found in this primitive gun-making cottage industry gunsmiths carrying out innovative changes which are not possible without a certain level of expertise.These arms bazaars of Pakistan are perhaps the best-known example of small-scale production of small arms .Hundreds of one-room operation manufacture copies of AK-47s and other rifles and pistols. Individual craftsmen manufacture small numbers of weapons, with a pistol taking three days to produce and an AK-47 between seven and ten days .But because there are many hundreds of such arms sellers, the overall production figures run into thousands of weapons

Small Arms Trade and Manufacture in Pakistan:

In the case of South Asia and more specifically Pakistan, some very interesting aspects come forth. The source of weapons supply and acquisition has been myriad: ranging from illicit influx, transfer or trade to the local production facilities. Several countries in the region produce SA/LW in the government-owned or public sector enterprise, which is licitly regulated, with India and Pakistan possessing the most developed weapon manufacturing capabilities. But as such the predominant from of acquisition of LW by the state security forces continues to be the import or foreign technology transfer.

Although LW have somewhat always been available in the arms bazaars within the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan, such as Darra Adamkhel and Landi Kotal, the major impetus and free flow of modern light weapons has increased manifold after the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. The December 1979 Soviet invasion resulted in Pakistan’s proactive support to various Mujahideen outfits engaged in fighting the occupationist forces. This effort was practically driven by its own security interest but mainly on behalf of the US, which provided material and financial assistance to these Afghan guerrillas though Pakistan. The failure or ignorance of the incumbent government of the time to pay adequate attention to this dangerously spiraling trend of weapons accumulation and free flow in the hands of non-state actors aggravated this problem. In spite of the cessation of Soviet occupation, Afghanistan to date remains bitterly embroiled in a civil war, which has cast very severe shadows on the Pakistani civil society.

Before moving further the point to be stressed that when studying weapons proliferation, an important aspect is to keep in perspective the demand and supply factor. The motives for which suppliers and recipients engage in weapons transaction may be mixed. Suppliers may have political or commercial incentives or a combination of both. For this reason, excessive and destabilizing accumulation and transfer of small arms are closely related to the increased incidence of conflicts and high level of crime and violence. It is observed that sub-state or non-state forces make extensive use of such arsenal due to its merits of easy accessibility, storage and handling. Insurgent forces, irregular troops and freedom fighters, criminal groups and sub-state actors harbouring ethnic, religious and sectarian agenda use SA/LW for their particular motives with impunity. Generally speaking the most perturbing aspect of these conflicts is that more than 80% of the causalities are civilian, non-combatants-mostly women and children.

Market Trends and Origins of Arms Proliferation in Pakistan: The main focus with respect to weapons proliferation in Pakistan remains on the unorganized private enterprise at the Landi Kotal, where arms trade continues without any state supervision. In comparison to this, the POF as mentioned earlier creates mainly the military-specific ammunition, the production cost of is relatively expensive. Secondly, the POF manufactured ammunition has a very limited and restricted clientele. Another contributing factor is that POF sells only through designated distributors.

Secondly, the organized sector manufacturers are also bound to sell their products only to licensed buyers. This again limits their sale capacity. The overall number of licensed gun owners is not more than 80,000-90,000 people of the entire country’s population. This makes the legal market a very small one, which is adequately served by the private producers

But recent trends indicate that the estimated number of weapons in circulation is much higher than tabulated. The rising ethno-sectarian strife, civil war in Afghanistan, and an enhanced sense of insecurity arising out of factors such as poor economic conditions, bad governance and deteriorating law and order situation, have given rise to a level of frustration and discontent. It is witnessed that this rising sense of apathy and social injustice has strengthened the appeal of SA/LW. Darra and its cheaper rates attract not only non-state actors, who purchase these weapons in bulk, but also a second category of buyers, such as officials, aw enforcing agents, influential politicians,  feudal and tribal lords who regard possession of light weapons as a status symbol. Moreover the various governments too have contributed to exacerbating this situation by giving licenses for prohibited bore weapons to politicians and influential interest arming one (ethnic/sectarian) group against another from time to time.

A principal source of weapons proliferation and supply to areas of regional and domestic conflict, the unorganized sector has a minimal manufacturing capacity of producing per unit a hundred weapons per day .With a very sudden and dramatic termination of the Afghan conflict, the political governments after Zia’s military rule proved to be ineffective in solving this menace. Although attempts were made in the past and present to curb the proliferation and indiscriminate usage of small arms, they are very much an indicator of a dysfunctional state apparatus.

In Pakistan, the failure of governance-especially with regard to narcotics production and smuggling-coupled with the country’s proximity to Afghanistan and involvement in the attempts to end the Soviet occupation of the country, has aggravated an already dire law-and-order situation. In many cases, access to light weapons has facilitated or intensified conflicts, often by emboldening the protagonists. Consequently, the ability of security forces has declined corresponding with the increased firepower enjoyed by the forces pitted against them. As regards the leakage of these illicit arms, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan unshared in a new era in the light weapons trade in South Asia,   with millions of tons of military material including SA/LW, being imported into the region.

Other countries also contributed in one way or indirect assistance in both material and finances. For example, China wary of Soviet designs contributed weaponary, while Saudi Arabia came forth with financial assistance. As a front line ally, Pakistan became the main conduit for this massive military assistance programme, with its top intelligence outfit, inter-services intelligence (ISI), managing the receipt and distribution and the American CIA coordinating the supply of weapons. With a bitter Vietnam experience still fresh in memory, the United States, at least initially, did not want to be seen as providing direct military assistance for the Mujahideen, and for these reason massive amounts of arms were purchased from the Chinese government. Interesting trends could be witnessed in this undercover arms pipeline; the CIA would procure through Egypt large amounts of antipersonnel mines originally produced in Italy. During this period, weapons even of Israeli and as Indian makes could also be found in circulation. The CIA would then arrange for the arms to be either flown to Islamabad or shipped, via Oman, to Karachi.

The US-orchestrated arms shipments had a fundamental impact on the war in Afghanistan. Moreover, the autonomy given to the Pakistan intelligence services in controlling the distribution of weapons was to have a profound effect on subsequent security conditions in the region. Washington’s “hand-off” policy of allowing the ISI to control the arms pipeline was largely the product of Oakley’s belief that the United States had failed in Vietnam because of excessive governmental interference and mismanagement.

One factor contributing to the availability of small arms and light weapons in many areas (of conflict) is their earlier supply by Cold War opponents. Much of the supply and acquisitions of arms in the regions of conflict dealt with by the UN has been conducted by Governments or by legal entities authorized by the Governments. Some states have exercised insufficient control and restraint over transfers and holdings of small arms and light weapons. Moreover, arms supplies associated with foreign interference in areas of conflict are still a feature of current realities. In general, the lines of supply often are complex and difficult to monitor, facilitated by the relative ease with which small arms and light weapons can be concealed.

Not surprisingly, the arms pipeline to the Mujahideen leaked significantly. By the time the weapons reached Mujahideen field commanders, they had been loaded and off-loaded at least fifteen times while transported over the distance of several thousand kilometers by trucks, ships, trains, and pack animals. How many weapons leaked out of the pipeline is unknown, but the estimates run into millions of unaccounted for weapons. One glaring proof of this is the April1988 Ojhri camp blast in the Rawalpindi metropolis, which claimed not less than 100 civilan lives. Although no official version of the inquiry conducted came out, it is generally speculated that the blast was engineered to cover-up for the undelivered and hoarded weapons, and there is also a major link between this incident and the Iran Contra scandal.

Another contributing factor, however diminutive is that Afghans returning to their country after months or years in the refugee camps in the North West Frontier Province have left their weapons behind in Pakistan. This again forms a cause for weapons proliferation. Under the Geneva Accord, it was agreed that any surplus weapons that were left off the pipeline would be handed over to the Afghans, and interestingly there was a frantic arms transfer to Afghanistan, before the agreement came into effect. Most of these were smuggled back into Pakistan and sold in arms bazaars of the tribal area.

Besides, Afghanistan has a significant number of small arms manufacturing units. The trade of these arms is a ready source of income for the war-ravaged Afghan population. With a long porous border that stretches the entire Pakistan-Afghanistan belt, coupled with corrupt and inefficient border control forces, the mechanism fails miserably in effectively checking and curbing the inflow of not only weapons but other forms of smuggling as well. This has made the availability of arms in the commercial market considerably high and in some cases prices have fallen, attracting buyers from all over the country and region to purchase unlicensed weapons. The various weapons on sale in this regard, can be grouped in to four categories;

1.      Weapons that lecked from the US-supported arms pipelines.

2.      The stocks of Soviet weapons captured by the Mujahideen during the conflict.

3.      The third category of weapons is those manufactured by small-scale producers within the region.

4.      Finally, the arms bazaars of the NWFP are full of miscellaneous weapons that must have arrived in the region though extremely circuitous and unpredictable routes-from Vietnam or the Middle East. For instance, G-3s have appeared from Iran, given that border controls between Iran and Pakistan were relaxed after the fall of the shah.

Though there is clear evidence that light weapons are proliferating at an alarming rate from the North to the South, there are also south-to-north movements from Sri Lanka, Singapore, and other starting points in Southeast Asia. There are also discernible east-to west and west-to east movements.

In Pakistan, it is not only the Afghan crisis alone that was instrumental in introducing the Gun Culture. Another very important but relatively ignored aspect was the Baluchistan insurgency of the 1970s, that witnessed a massive inflow of weaponry from the traditional leakage points

There is a dire need for the government to take control of the drug trade and prevent the proliferation and flow of weapons, domestically, regionally and particularly with the help of the international community. What will be difficult, if not impossible to implement is an effective gun control agenda-such as the present regime’s Seven-Stage De-Weaponization Programmes.  This 7- stage formula includes a ban on arms license, and a proliferation on carrying weapons in the first stage, which became effective from March 1, 2000. The other proposals or possibilities under the same action plan were to recover illicit/unlicensed arms, canceling of the prohibited arms licenses and also to regulate and bring under state control arms manufacturing units in the tribal areas. The problem is so acute that there is a need to implement such policies and reforms in their true spirit. Bringing Darra under the state umbrella is an issue that the governments past and present have seriously deliberated upon. As a necessary first step the tribal areas were awarded with the right to Adult Franchise as well, but the possibility of Darra manufacturers agreeing to any state supervision or taxation seems impossible an evidence of which is reaction faced by the government over its attempt to document and evaluate the economy. The government needs to stick to a given time frame and implement the necessary reforms, otherwise the situation could be one as identified by Pamela Constable, in one of her recent Washington post articles, “Pakistani Retreats in Battle for Reform”- that there is found a tendency on part of the Pakistani government to announce bold reforms, only to backtrack later when opposition surfaces.

At the practical level, this new de-weaponisation policy will face many problems, especially in the NWFP and tribal areas where it is part of local culture and tradition to carry a weapon and in fact it also forms a part of their attire. This plan will definitely discourage open display of weapons in major urban centers, but again this will not be able to redress the problem fully.

Efforts made by the past governments were inadequate for either they were not properly articulated or they failed to deal with the real root cause of the problem that is the illicit trafficking of weapons. Whatever measures enforced affected only the manufacturers, thus giving the illegal trading cartels a free hand to conduct their business with impunity.

Although light weapons have always circulated within Pakistan, the impact of the American-sponsored arms pipeline to the Afghan Mujahideen stands head and shoulders above any other adverse development in recent years. The flood of weaponry into the region has clearly played a major part in the erosion of low and order over the past decade. The growing proliferation of and access to small arms are increasing both the communal polarization and the incidence of violence. The very availability of weapons is providing a short-term solution for a long-term problem. At the very point when political discourse and sound governance are required to overcome these problems, the need is to harness our efforts together to combat this menace.

References

“Light Weapons, Small Arms and Landmines: An Identification Manual”, Centre for Defense
Studies, King’s college London.Dec.1997.

Ayesha S. Agha , ‘Light Weapons Manufacture ‘,in project on Light Weapons, BASIC Working Paper No.2.

Michael T.Klare, ” Light Weapons Diffusions and Global Violence in Post-Cold War Era”, in Jasjit Singh(ed) Light Weapons  and International Security, Delhi, 1995.

Chris Smith, Light Weapons and Ethnic Conflict in South Asia”, in Jeffery Bout well (ed), Lethal Commerce, Cambridge, 1995,pp.

India Arms and Abuses in Indian Punjab and Kashmir”, Human Rights Watch Arms Project6 (10), Washington,1994,pp..

Ayesha S. Agha, “Light Weapons Manufacture in the Public and Private Sectors: A View from Pakistan”, Project on Light Weapons Working Paper no.2, British American Security Information Council, p.3.

Tara Kartha, ‘South Asia; A Rising Spiral of Proliferation’, Background Paper, Geneva: Small Arms Survey, 2000.

The 1999 Report of the UN Group of Government Experts on Small Arms,  August1999.

O Roy, “The Lessons of the Soviet/Afghan War”, A Delhi                                                                                                                   paper no.259,[London International Institute of Strategic Studies,1991].

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Source by jipson v.paul

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