In Darra Adam Khel, the Beretta is cheaper than a cell phone, and the gunsmiths who produce it challenge you to find any fault with their copy. With a little government support, they say they could produce export-quality weapons.
“We can make any design. We can copy any design from any country,” says Abid Khan. “We give guarantees. Last-time guarantee.” He means that no matter what, they guarantee what they sell you will work, indeed, perhaps even better than the original Beretta that will set you back Rs200,000. But here, 30km from Peshawar, it will cost you only Rs25,000.
All this may change soon. The village that has been the centre of the arms trade for about 150 years and is the biggest weapons manufacturing hub in South-East Asia could be at risk since Fata merged with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
A different law used to apply in Fata—the Frontier Crimes Regulation—and hence also to the weapons-making in Darra Adam Khel. But now, since Fata has been merged and made a part of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, KP’s weapons license regulations will now apply.
“The government is merging this area, Fata, so I want to know what it has thought will happen to us?” says Naseer who has been working in Darra for about a decade after moving here from Punjab. “We can only make ammunition and that is the only work we know how to do. We can’t do any other work.”
The work is terribly specialized and these craftsmen are world famous but the marvel is that they have very little fancy equipment to work with. They sit in workshops no bigger than grocery stalls, churning out copies of Zigana Sports, Glocks, Smith & Wessons. All day long, the tapping, clinking, shaving, sawing, buffering, hammering goes on. Their hands move like machines, cranking levers of lathes that sculpt the gleaming metals. Thousands of brassy bullet casings sit in a red plastic basket. Each piece is shaped millimeter by millimeter.
The gunsmiths say they can produce an exact imitation of any European, American or Russian company’s arms at a very low price. This is why enthusiasts from across the country have always come here. The industry boom years began after the Russians invaded Afghanistan. “Until a few years ago, a large number of foreigners used to come here to shop for arms and used to like our products,” says Abid Khan. “But terrorism has affected the industry a great deal.”
Ever since the unrest in 2005, most of the factories were forced to close. No one would come to do business and trade. The workshops had to sell off their machines and tools and many of them had to leave.
The people who work here come not just from Darra Adam Khel or Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, but also from Punjab and other provinces. “The government has come after this business to shut it down,” says Asif from Attock who is worried how he will send money home to his wife and children. “But we haven’t learnt how to do any other thing in life.” Some of them make Rs500 to Rs600 in the daily wage.
“We’re not asking you for anything that is not within the law,” clarifies Haji Faheem Ullah Afridi, who works in the main market. “We appeal to the government to give licenses for the .30 bore, shotguns and 7mm guns.” He argues that people should be given permits so that every person is carrying a licensed gun. This kind of tracking deters robberies and crime.
The good news is that the government is working on setting up an ordnance factory for them and has set aside three billion rupees for it. The now defunct Fata Development Authority was responsible for it. The plan was to establish 200 manufacturing units on 50 acres of land and the project is likely to be completed in 2020.