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.

Hacking the hackers: Russian group hijacked Iranian spying operation, officials say

Updated 13 min 16 sec ago

Hacking the hackers: Russian group hijacked Iranian spying operation, officials say

  • The Russian group has used Iranian tools and computer infrastructure to successfully hack in to organizations in at least 20 different countries over the last 18 months
  • The hacking campaign was most active in the Middle East but also targeted organizations in Britain
LONDON: Russian hackers piggy-backed on an Iranian cyber-espionage operation to attack government and industry organizations in dozens of countries while masquerading as attackers from the Islamic Republic, British and US officials said on Monday.
The Russian group, known as “Turla” and accused by Estonian and Czech authorities of operating on behalf of Russia’s FSB security service, has used Iranian tools and computer infrastructure to successfully hack in to organizations in at least 20 different countries over the last 18 months, British security officials said.
The hacking campaign, the extent of which has not been previously revealed, was most active in the Middle East but also targeted organizations in Britain, they said.
Paul Chichester, a senior official at Britain’s GCHQ intelligence agency, said the operation shows state-backed hackers are working in a “very crowded space” and developing new attacks and methods to better cover their tracks.
In a statement accompanying a joint advisory with the US National Security Agency (NSA), GCHQ’s National Cyber Security Center said it wanted to raise industry awareness about the activity and make attacks more difficult for its adversaries.
“We want to send a clear message that even when cyber actors seek to mask their identity, our capabilities will ultimately identify them,” said Chichester, who serves as the NCSC’s director of operations.
Officials in Russia and Iran did not immediately respond to requests for comment sent on Sunday. Moscow and Tehran have both repeatedly denied Western allegations over hacking.
Western officials rank Russia and Iran as two of the most dangerous threats in cyberspace, alongside China and North Korea, with both governments accused of conducting hacking operations against countries around the world.
Intelligence officials said there was no evidence of collusion between Turla and its Iranian victim, a hacking group known as “APT34” which cybersecurity researchers at firms including say works for the Iranian government.
Rather, the Russian hackers infiltrated the Iranian group’s infrastructure in order to “masquerade as an adversary which victims would expect to target them,” said GCHQ’s Chichester.
Turla’s actions show the dangers of wrongly attributing cyberattacks, British officials said, but added that they were not aware of any public incidents that had been incorrectly blamed on Iran as a result of the Russian operation.
The United States and its Western allies have also used foreign cyberattacks to facilitate their own spying operations, a practice referred to as “fourth party collection,” according to documents released by former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden and reporting by German magazine Der Spiegel.
GCHQ declined to comment on Western operations.
By gaining access to the Iranian infrastructure, Turla was able to use APT34’s “command and control” systems to deploy its own malicious code, GCHQ and the NSA said in a public advisory.
The Russian group was also able to access the networks of existing APT34 victims and even access the code needed to build its own “Iranian” hacking tools.