In ‘Disneyland for gun lovers,’ people look for new trades

Safarish Khan, who sold guns for years, is now bringing smiles to people through the rabab. (AN photo)
Updated 10 February 2019
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In ‘Disneyland for gun lovers,’ people look for new trades

  • Pakistan’s Darra Adam Khel once bustled with ‘illegal arms trade’
  • Khan is one of dozens of gunsmiths and merchants in the town of about 120,000 people

PESHAWAR: Safarish Khan’s family has for generations been in the arms business in Darra Adam Khel, a small mountainous town in northwestern Pakistan that is home to South Asia’s largest black market for hand-made replicas of deadly weapons. But, three years ago, Khan decided to switch trades.

These days, in the same shop where his father, grandfather and great-grandfather fashioned guns out of iron, Khan carves wood into rabab — the classical musical instrument indigenous to Pakistan’s northwest and neighboring Afghanistan.

“I still use the same machinery and have the same shop but now carve wood instead of iron,” Khan, 47, told Arab News at his shop as he polished the newly minted rabab sprawled across his lap.

“For years, I sold guns. Now I’m trying to bring smiles to my war-hit people through the rabab.”

Khan is one of dozens of gunsmiths and merchants in the town of about 120,000 people who have switched to a new livelihood as the “golden days of arms dealing” have ended, local elder Malik Naseem Javid said.

Javid and other elders from the area said the market was in decline due to the heavy cost of production and lack of government support. A ban on weapons’ licenses and increased restrictions on explosives had only made things worse.

Army operations

In recent years, army operations against militants who have used Darra’s surrounding tribal areas to train and launch attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan, in part because the region had no government writ, has also driven away arms buyers and sellers.

But for 150 years before this decline began, the black market flourished, partly because it lies in an “Ilaaqa Ghair,” or no-man’s land, where the country’s laws did not apply.

Darra was formerly a part of Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), governed for over 150 years by a draconian colonial-era law that had denied people basic legal rights and prescribed collective punishment against entire tribes for offenses committed by an individual.

Last year, Pakistan’s Parliament passed legislation to merge the tribal regions along the Afghan border with the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, a key step in ending the region’s much-criticized governance system.

Last month, the provincial KP government said the arms manufacturing industry would be developed into an industrial zone and its products would have access to national and international markets, and quality raw materials through a legalized registration process.

But many of Darra’s merchants see the government’s promises as hollow, and are already looking for alternative businesses.

They fear that government intervention will only mean higher rents and production costs at a time when business is already suffering due to ever rising prices of explosives and iron.

Shah Nawaz, 38, said his family established their business, Sarhad Arms Manufacturers, in 1956 but had converted the facility into a slipper factory.

“Due to militancy, the government banned arms licenses and explosives and other restrictions affected the arms businesses gravely. Our earnings were reduced drastically and family elders began to think of alternatives,” Nawaz told Arab News.

“So we closed our well-known arms company and started this unknown shoe business.”

Saiful Amin’s family has also been in the arms business for 80 years, with Moon Star Arms Company. Their factory on main Kohat Road now sits idle and most of the employees have been laid off.

“Our family is looking for a side business, otherwise soon we will be on the streets,” Amin told Arab News. 

“To balance profit and expenses, we have leased half of the factory building to another person.”

He said 75 percent of shops in the market used to sell arms but that number had reduced to about 30 percent now.

“A few years back we would sell about 200 pistols per month but that has decreased to 50-60.”

Thousands of workers previously employed at the market are also struggling and many have turned to low-paid labor.

Nisar Khan, an expert in making the 9MM pistol, said he had done nothing but forge weapons for 30 years.

“I am seriously thinking about setting up a vegetable or fruit cart,” he said. “I have to feed my children.”

Many of Nisar Khan’s friends were also looking for alternative livelihoods, albeit reluctantly.

But Safarish Khan said he was happy to leave a trade he considered sinful.

“I am the lucky one that I could adopt making rababs as a profession,” he said with a smile. 

“In these tough times, I can finally earn my living in a respectable and dignified way.”

Decoder

What is a Rabab?

Rabab is an essential musical instrument in Pashtun music on both sides of Durand Line. Several families’ livelihood is dependent on rabab manufacturing in the Pakistani province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.


Seoul on alert over possible Uzbek terrorists

Updated 3 min 47 sec ago
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Seoul on alert over possible Uzbek terrorists

  • South Korean diplomatic missions increases scrutiny of visa applicants
  • Uzbek nationals are not subject to visa exemptions in South Korea

SEOUL: South Korea is on high alert after a UN Security Council report warned hundreds of Uzbeks linked to terrorist networks could have entered the country.

The report on Daesh and Al-Qaeda stated members of the Katibat Imam Al-Bukhari and Katibat Al-Tawhid wal Jihad groups had requested entry to South Korea via Turkey. The militants chose the South due to the large Uzbek community already living there.

“Many ethnic Uzbeks request deportation from Turkey to the Republic of Korea, where the total number of Uzbeks is estimated to be between 20,000 and 30,000,” the reports states. “Some Uzbek migrant workers in the Republic of Korea are reported to have been radicalized, and to be a source of financing for the travel of extremists to the Syrian Arab Republic.”

Seoul has asked South Korean diplomatic missions overseas to increase scrutiny of Uzbeks applying for South Korean visas.

“Upon receiving the UN report, we ordered the immigration office to tighten its screening of Uzbek travelers from Turkey,” the Justice Ministry said in a statement. 

“We also asked our embassy in Turkey and other diplomatic offices overseas to thoroughly examine the travel documents of Uzbek visa applicants while closely watching any unusual movements (regarding Uzbeks) here and abroad.”

Uzbek nationals are not subject to visa exemptions in South Korea, so they are required to apply at the South Korean Embassy in Uzbekistan. If they have permanent residence or long-term residency in another country, however, they can apply for a visa in a third country.

“We’ll limit issuing visas to Uzbek citizens confirmed to have visited banned countries, including Syria,” a ministry spokeswoman told Arab News. “In addition, we’ll try to block the entry of terror suspects while strengthening cooperation with foreign governments to stop any influx of terrorists to our nation.”

Terrorism is rare in South Korea, but fear and hatred toward terrorism prevail though the nation has a very small Muslim community of about 135,000, 0.3 percent of the population.

South Korea sent troops to Iraq and Afghanistan in the early 2000s at the request of the US. In 2004, a South Korean worker in Iraq was beheaded by militants who called for the withdrawal of South Korean troops from their country.

In 2007, 23 South Korean missionaries were abducted by members of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Two of the hostages were executed before a deal was reached for their return.

In 2015, an Indonesian was arrested by Korean police for suspected links to a terrorist group. The 32-year-old was suspected to have links to Al-Nusra Front, an Al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria. In that same year, the National Intelligence Service revealed that 10 South Koreans had tried to contact Daesh.