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Guns smuggling on the rise in Balochistan
Officials say the long, porous border with Afghanistan worsens the situation
By Ghani Kakar
QUETTA – Police initially thought they had their man.
Four years ago, after seizing three truckloads of heavy weapons at Dasht, the southern area of Mastung District, Police and Crimes Investigation Department (CID) officials accused a nearby farmer, Hazaar Khan Kurd, of owning the weapons.
Authorities later determined that smugglers had brought in the weapons from Afghanistan and that they did not belong to the farmer.
The seized weapons -- including rocket launchers, mortar shells, SMG/Kalashnikovs, RPG-7 rockets, 107mm antiaircraft guns, antitank mines, and antipersonnel mines -- belonged to a high-profile official who is a member of the Balochistan cabinet.
CID Balochistan eventually charged the official with involvement in heavy weapons smuggling. The Quetta anti-terrorist court issued arrest warrants for the minister, but no action followed. The former chief minister of Balochistan, Mir Jam Muhammad Yousaf, withdrew the case.
Pakistan has seen an increase in weapon smuggling, and it has some people worried. Top Interior Ministry sources told Central Asia Online the gun-running business has increased by 50% in recent years.
“Without enforcing a system in which weapons can be sold only to licence-holders and sellers, the government cannot achieve stop the business of illegal gun-running”, senior security analyst Maj. Gen. (ret.) Talat Masood told Central Asia Online.
"There is no checks-and-balances system for arms manufactured in Dara Adam Khel", he said. “Locally purchased guns mostly ... go to gangsters and terrorists".
Ishaq Ali Changaizi, an investigative officer for Balochistan Crime Branch, said, “It is a matter of concern for all of us that some elements are pushing heavier weapons from Afghanistan, where they have easy access to these weapons”.
Changaizi said security forces have focused on popular smuggling points and have foiled several smuggling operations. The culprits often use fruit crates to deliver guns to antigovernment elements and “miscreants”.
Balochistan is not only a smuggling destination; it now holds stockpiles of illegal weapons, said Qazi Abdul Wahid, deputy inspector general of Balochistan Police.
“We have reports that some smugglers are stockpiling heavier weapons in different parts of Balochistan”, he said. Militants are still getting weapons from Afghanistan, as they did during the Taliban's reign, he added.
The demand for weapons is high, an Interior Ministry official said. “There are always arms markets in Fata and other areas catering to the needs of local buyers and they are able to purchase unlicensed arms from these markets”.
When asked why security agencies are not cracking down on those involved in the weapons racket, he replied, “We all are trying our best to halt these bids; militants are ... taking advantage of a long porous border".
Inspector General Frontier Corps (FC) Balochistan Maj. Gen. Saleem Nawaz told state-owned PTV that 150 FC personnel have been killed and 350 have been seriously wounded in attacks by militants and arms smugglers in the past three years.
In that time, FC and local police have made 55 arrests in connection with charges of antistate activities.
“FC has the power of customs to seize contraband items within 60km of the international border", Nawaz said. "However, for narcotics, arms and ammunition there is no limit. They can be seized anywhere in the province”.
"Various powers have their interests in Central Asia, and Balochistan is the key strategic location", said Kamran Khan, a defence analyst and former senator. "They do not want stability in here".
“I think without foreign support, heavier arms could not be smuggled into Balochistan”, he said. “The lucrative gun-running business is supporting gang warfare in Balochistan and other provinces".
Khan agreed that border issues are the biggest reason for the growth in arms trafficking. But additional law enforcement efforts could curb the smuggling, he said. “Past governments have made half-hearted efforts to seize illicit arms or regularise the sale of weapons.
One such attempt was made by the Nawaz Sharif government, but it ended in a dismal failure,” he said. “A major hurdle ... is the inability of our rulers to ensure the rule of law and to refuse exemptions to the privileged few”.
The Balochistan government has decided to strictly enforce a ban on the public display of arms and to stop individuals from moving around with armed bodyguards.
Police making good on that commitment arrested two armed guards of Provincial Minister Sardar Sanaullah Zehri recently in Quetta for displaying weapons in public places.
But Hamid Shakil Sabir of Balochistan Police and District Police Officer Qilla Abdullah-Chaman told Central Asia Online that they lack sufficient resources to patrol the entire border. Additionally, they said many smugglers have too much clout to be stopped.
“In Balochistan, smugglers of heavier weapons are broadly known as those who allegedly have support from some higher-ups across the border and from some in tribal areas, which are half in Pakistan and half in Afghanistan," Sabir said. “The long, mostly unpatrolled border touches Afghanistan’s Kandahar, Zabul and Helmand provinces. We have raised many times the complaint that the smugglers get their supplies from there. But they ... operate without fear and hindrance”.