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.


India holds ‘Super Tuesday’ vote

Indian National Congress party president Rahul Gandhi (C) gestures after laying a wreath to pay tribute on the 100th anniversary of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre at the Jallianwala Bagh martyrs memorial in Amritsar on April 13, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 7 min 31 sec ago
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India holds ‘Super Tuesday’ vote

  • Rahul Gandhi is standing in Wayanad in Kerala state, taking a risk as south India is considered a stronghold of regional parties
  • This election is seen as a referendum on his five-year rule — which has seen impressive economic growth but not the jobs that the BJP promised

NEW DELHI: Indians are voting Tuesday in the third phase of the general elections with campaigning by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist party and the opposition marred by bitter accusations and acrimony.
People lined up outside voting station at several places even before the polling started at 7 a.m.
The voting for 117 parliamentary seats in 13 states and two Union Territories on Tuesday means polls are half done for 543 seats in the lower house of Parliament. The voting over seven phases ends May 19, with counting scheduled for May 23.
The election is seen as a referendum on Modi’s five-year rule. He has adopted a nationalist pitch trying to win the majority Hindu votes by projecting a tough stance against Islamic neighbor Pakistan.
The opposition is challenging him for a high unemployment rate of 6.1% and farmers’ distress aggravated by low crop prices.
Modi is scheduled to vote on Tuesday in his western home state of Gujarat, though he is contesting for a parliamentary seat from Varanasi, a city in northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.
The voting also is taking place in Wayanad constituency in southern Kerala state, one of the two seats from where opposition Congress party president, Rahul Gandhi, is contesting. His home bastion, Amethi, in Uttar Pradesh state will have polling on May 6. He will give up one seat if he wins from both places.
The voting is staggered to facilitate movement of security forces to oversee an orderly election and avoid vote fraud.
India’s autonomous Election Commission intervened last week to block hate speeches by imposing a temporary ban on campaigning by some top politicians across political parties.
Uttar Pradesh state chief minister Yogi Adityanath of Modi’s BJP was barred from campaigning, in the form of public meetings, road shows or media interviews, for three days for making anti-Muslim speeches. He said a Hindu god will ensure the BJP victory in elections, while the opposition was betting on Muslim votes.
Mayawati, a leader of Bahujan Samaj Party, was punished for 48 hours for appealing to Muslims to vote only for her party. India’s top court ordered strict action against politicians for religion and caste-based remarks.
Hindus comprise 80% and Muslims 16% of India’s 1.3 billion people. The opposition accuses the BJP of trying to polarize the Hindu votes in its favor.
Meenakshi Lekhi, a BJP leader, filed a contempt of court petition against Rahul Gandhi in the Supreme Court for misrepresenting a court order while accusing Modi of corruption in a deal to buy 36 French Rafale fighter aircraft. Modi denies the charge.
Modi has used Kashmir to pivot away from his economic record, playing up the threat of rival Pakistan, especially after the suicide bombing of a paramilitary convoy on Feb. 14 that killed 40 soldiers, in a bid to appear a strong, uncompromising leader on national security. The bombing brought nuclear rivals India and Pakistan close to the brink of war.
Opposition parties have consistently said that Modi and his party leaders are digressing from the main issues such as youth employment and farmers’ suicides.
Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan and both claim the Himalayan territory in its entirety. Rebels have been fighting Indian control since 1989. Most Kashmiris support the rebels’ demand that the territory be united either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country, while also participating in civilian street protests against Indian control.