Illegal smuggling of US-made weapons from Afghanistan to Pakistan and its trade: a thriving business in Pakistan

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As the US began to wind down its operation in they left much of the military equipment and weapons at the disposal of the Afghan forces which eventually fell into the hands of the Taliban.

So, when Taliban seized control on 15th August 2021, they not only took political control of Afghanistan but had also gained control of all the US-made weapons and military equipment’s that were left behind by the fleeing Afghan forces.

Clandestine markets for these US-made arms are thriving in Afghan-bordered areas in Pakistan, which were supplied by the US and the NATO forces to the Afghan army.

The US-made arms and military accessories are openly traded in shops by Afghan gun dealers. The traffickers are collecting the weapons from the abandoned Afghan army bases, and procuring them from the Afghan government soldiers and Taliban fighters.

These weapons are then mostly sold in weapons market or arms bazaar in tribal areas of Afghan-Pakistan border.

There is a lot of history of arms smuggling between Afghanistan and Pakistan, but now the availability of US-made weapons in bulk and at a throwaway price has set the arms market thriving in Pakistan.

In Landikotal, Pakistan’s town along the Durand Line in the tribal area of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, the trading of US-made arms and ammunitions has become a flourishing business.

US made Smith and Wesson pistols, grenades, walkie-talkies, ammunition belts, M4 and M16’s, AK-47’s, are all at disposal to buy in the illegal markets.

The markets which were previously bombarded with China made weapons are now in demand for US-made weapons and equipment. Previously, weapons aficionados in Pakistan would have to place an order in a legal way for high end sophisticated US-made arms at very high rates.

The falling of the US backed Afghan government and the Taliban rule back in Afghanistan has ensured cheap availability of weapons in Pakistan.

The US had supplied Afghanistan with weapons to the tune of $28 billion which included guns, rockets, night vision goggles, drones and communication equipment.

It was estimated that US had invested $83 billion in the Afghan forces over 20 years.

In the illegal arms markets, a M4 rifle is priced at $2,500-3,000 while the M16 rifles range between $1,800 and $2,000.

The Glock, Beretta and Smith & Wesson 9mm pistols are available for $350-$500.These are low-priced compared to their original price tags.

The arms smugglers in Pakistan’s borders are having a field day. The weapons from Afghanistan are smuggled into Pakistan in trucks carrying fruits and vegetables.

The main points of entry through which the arms are smuggled are Torkham border crossing Torkham (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa), Chaman (Baluchistan), Ghulam Khan (North Waziristan) and Nawa Pass (Bajaur).

As early as in August 2021, immediately after Taliban took control of Afghanistan, the Pakistan custom officials claimed that they had thwarted arms smuggling near the Torkham border crossing in Afghanistan and recovered two M4A1 carbine rifles, seven Glock 9mm pistols, eight Beretta pistol barrels and ammunition from a trailer truck.

In mid-September, Taliban reported that weapons and ammunitions were recovered from a truck coming from Helmand province in Afghanistan.

The arms were being smuggled into Pakistan and the truck was stopped in Daman district of Kandahar. They were being smuggled for the potential use by terrorist groups functioning from Pakistan.

Pakistan also faces continuous ethnic and sectarian discords, and presence of untracked arms and easy availability of arms and ammunitions will lead to more internal hostilities.

The arms markets have given militants, and separatist groups functional in Pakistan, an access to sophisticated and advanced foreign weapons at cheaper rates than earlier.

There are reports of these foreign made arms left behind by US to have found their way to Baloch militants.

Advanced military gears were used in the early February attacks by the Baluchistan Liberation Army, a separatist militant group operating in the Baluchistan province, on two military camps (Noshki and Panjgur).

The weapons of the Baloch separatists were fortified with Dual Beam Aiming Lasers (DBALs) that help in precision firing during the night time. Attached to their rifles were also that Thermal Imaging Sights that aide in reading body signatures and help in aiming accurately in the dark.

The M-16A4 and M4A2 rifles equipped with night vision goggles which were sold by Colt Arms to the Afghan National Army under a US government-funded tender.

Modern weapons are lethal and have the potential to cause irreparable damage and escalate to more brutal conflicts.

Proliferation of small arms and assault rifles will have a devastating effect on the human security in the region and has the tendency to trigger conflicts and armed violence.

Increased availability of arms to extremist organizations would also result in arms smuggling into India.

These foreign made weapons will be now used to fuel conflict in the neighbouring countries like India.

Pakistan has been sponsoring terrorist activities in India for a very long time. The easy availability of sophisticated arms for extremists would mean a higher overflow and improved armament of extremists in India.

The cross-border smuggling of arms looks inevitable.

In addition to the illegal arms smuggling through the borders, there are also reports that the Imran Khan government is buying weapons directly from the Taliban so that they do not fall into the hands of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

Additionally, the terror organisations operating from Pakistan who are bolstered by the Taliban presence in Afghanistan are only going to make matters difficult for Pakistan first.

Pakistan has also seen terror attack by these organisations in the past which might now intensify.

Taliban has been insisting that there are proper security checks to prevent any weapons smuggling because they are an improved Taliban, better than the US backed Afghan government.

They assured that they will not allow their soil or the weapons to be used against India. But the weapons market is thriving and the weapons that are being smuggled into Pakistan will eventually be used in cross-border skirmishes against India and make their way into India.

But before that Pakistan will have to pay huge price if it does not control the illicit arms trafficking. Ultimately it is going to suffer first when the separatist and terrorist organisations operating from its land get a hand on these weapons on a large scale.-Iffras