Army woos tribal arms-makers to curb illegal production
ISLAMABAD: Unchecked arms production in the semi-autonomous regions near Peshawar and close to the Afghan border poses danger for the government when the weapons fall into private hands.
Moves by the Pakistan Ordinance Factories (POF) are paying off, officials say, pointing to the slowing of production in the multi-million dollar Darra Adam Khel arms bazaar, near the North West Frontier Province capital Peshawar which is close to the Afghan border.
“So far, we have brought in around 100 skilled artisans to the complex. Their absence from the bazar and their presence here is certainly making a big difference,” POF chairman Lieutenant General Abdul Qayyum said. Picked up from some 300 workshops operating in the tribal belt, they are now employed by the POF, a cluster of 14 factories 40 kilometers north of Islamabad that make up Pakistan’s key arms manufacturing complex. Arms manufacturing has become a cottage industry in the area, where tribesmen brandish rocket launchers and AK-47s with pride. The bazaar, known for its cheap weapons, provided rocket launchers, hand grenades and even anti-aircraft guns to the Afghan guerrillas.
The development of the “Kalashnikov culture” and persistent religious militancy forced the government to launch a de-weaponisation campaign in June 2001. It stepped up border vigilance to curb trafficking of weapons when Pakistan joined the US-led war against terrorism after the September 11 2001 terror attacks in the US.
More than 200,000 illegal weapons were collected nationwide during the de-weaponisation drive, Interior Ministry spokesman Iftikhar Ahmed said. Tribesmen admit that the POF recruitment scheme has slowed arms production in their home region. “Many people are losing jobs,” said Mohammad Waqas Afridi, who specialises in assembling crude replicas of the Russian Kalashnikov assault rifle AK-47, popular among Pakistani and Afghan tribesmen. The arms trade in Darra Adam Khel played a key role during the 1979-89 war against Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and the subsequent civil war among the rival mujahideen groups.
“Before the war, business was good and I used to make around Rs 7,000 (about $120) a month. Here I get Rs 4,000, but with free medical facilities and other amenities,” said Afridi, 21, who spent five years in one of the bazar’s factories before moving to POF last year. His colleague Haji Noor,28, is not satisfied with his salary because he says it is nothing in comparison to his skill. “Wages here are small. I used to earn Rs 10,000 ($172) a month there. Here I hardly make Rs 4,000 to 5,000. Im thinking of going back.” Noor said.
POF Chairman Qayyum said luring the tribal arms makers to POF was not easy. “Our incentives and their sense of responsibility prevailed,” he told AFP. “Now we are focusing on bringing the best of them here.” He conceded that the small wages offered by POF cannot totally wipe out the illegal weapons scourge. “POF alone is not enough to rid the country of illegal arms. There is a strong need for private sector participation.”
Local media said about two million weapons were officially registered, but Pakistan is believed to have several million undeclared weapons. —AFP