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

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.”


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.

British envoy denies Iran summons over tanker attacks claim

Updated 16 June 2019

British envoy denies Iran summons over tanker attacks claim

  • “I asked for an urgent meeting with the Foreign Ministry yesterday and it was granted. No ‘summons’,” he said
  • Iran’s foreign ministry said the head of its European affairs Mahmoud Barimani met Macaire on Saturday

TEHRAN: Britain’s ambassador to Iran on Sunday denied he was summoned by the Iranian foreign ministry after London accused Tehran of “almost certainly” being responsible for tanker attacks in the Gulf.
“Interesting. And news to me,” ambassador Rob Macaire said in a tweet a day after the Iranian foreign ministry said in a statement that it had summoned the envoy over his government’s accusations.
“I asked for an urgent meeting with the Foreign Ministry yesterday and it was granted. No ‘summons’. Of course if formally summoned I would always respond, as would all Ambassadors,” Macaire wrote.
Iran’s foreign ministry said the head of its European affairs Mahmoud Barimani met Macaire on Saturday and “strongly protested against the unacceptable and anti-Iranian positions of the British government.”
On Friday, British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said London had concluded Iran was “almost certainly” responsible for Thursday’s tanker attacks.
He was echoing remarks by US President Donald Trump who said Thursday’s attacks on two tankers in the Gulf of Oman had Iran “written all over it.”
Iran has denied any involvement in the twin attacks.
It dismissed Hunt’s accusations as “false” and chided London for its “blind and precipitous alignment” with US views, according to the foreign ministry.
The latest incident comes as ties between Tehran and London have been strained in recent months, namely over the fate of a British-Iranian mother jailed in Iran on sedition charges.
London has repeatedly called for the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who was arrested in April 2016 as she was leaving Iran after taking their infant daughter to visit her family.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who is serving a five-year sentence for allegedly trying to topple the Iranian government, has begun a hunger strike in protest at her detention, her husband said on Saturday.
She previously went on hunger strike in January.
Richard Ratcliffe urged the Iranian authorities to immediately release his wife and to allow the British embassy to check on her health, and also asked they grant him a visa to visit her.
On Saturday he also stood outside Iran’s London embassy and said he would maintain his own hunger strike and vigil for as long as his wife refused food.