ISLAMABAD: Just a few kilometres from the Pakistan Army’s General Headquarters is the Kabari Bazaar – but unlike most bazaars where you find local goods, this particular market is filled with smuggled and looted Nato supplies.
The flooding of the market with these unusual goods coincides with the initiation of Nato and US troops’ withdrawal from neighbouring Afghanistan.
One can find everything from the travelling bags of American troops to brand-new all-weather sleeping bags, belts, leather covers for revolvers, boots, hunter kits, caps and tents on sale.
Zuhruddin, a shopkeeper in the market, is very candid in admitting that all these goods are either smuggled from Afghanistan into Pakistan or looted from containers carrying supply for American troops stationed across the border.
“We get supplies of these items from Peshawar and Quetta,” he says, adding that an order for different goods is placed with a middleman who then brings them to the market after a month. Zuhruddin claims that all the items in his shop are original and made in the US. “All the items carry an American flag and the brand name of American companies. We don’t deal in fake things.”
The list of items available isn’t limited to basic travel gear and apparel. Night vision goggles and laser rifles can be arranged for potential customer on order. “These are sensitive and costly items; therefore, we don’t keep them in the shop,” he explains.
US troops’ shoes are sold for Rs3,000 ($30), while belts and travelling bags bearing the US flag are sold for Rs500 ($5) and Rs2,500 ($25) respectively.
It’s not easy, however, for the shopkeepers to get their hands on these much sought after items. “Every shopkeeper in the market cannot get hold of American military gear because one needs to have a good rapport with big businessmen in Peshawar and Quetta to order the fatigues,” says Zuhruddin.
Irfan Mehmood, a customer in the market, says that he usually visits the market every two weeks to see if there is something new. “American boots and commando belts are wonderful and comparatively cheap.” He says that he is looking for an American travelling bag and tent as he is planning to go to Kaghan for a trip with his family next week.
The vast majority of goods meant for American and Nato troops in Afghanistan first arrive at the Karachi seaport and are later transported to Kabul in containers. It takes almost five days to reach Kabul through Peshawar and the Khyber Pass, or through Chaman.
A customs official speaking on the condition of anonymity told Dawn.com that in most cases, the containers’ drivers and conductors sell the items in Peshawar and Quetta’s black-markets and “pretend to be looted by goons on their way to Kabul.” He admits, however, that looting and stealing goods cannot be ruled out as well.
The official also clarified that weapons and ammunition are not transported by road, and are flown to Afghanistan instead.
Mohammad Khurshid, another shopkeeper in the market, says he gets the supply of American troops’ fatigues from Peshawar. However, he expresses his ignorance about the smuggling and stealing of these goods. “We give money in advance to a dealer in Peshawar and receive the supply after two weeks,” he says, boasting that these items have boosted his business manifold.
The uniform of the Pakistan Army and other military accessories can also be found hanging outside the shops in the market. Army personnel and civilians buy this gear from this market, although it is banned by the local administration.
After a brazen attack on the GHQ in Rawalpindi in October 2009, the local administration barred private tailors from sewing uniforms for soldiers and other gears but the ban has not implemented. It is believed that the terrorists who attacked the GHQ had bought the army uniform from the open market.
Nevertheless, the items meant for American troops are hot favourites for their durability and comparatively cheap prices. And it’s not just the Kabari Bazaar – the Karkhano Market in Peshawar is notorious for the sale and purchase of stolen Nato goods, including even electronic appliances and household items.
The writer is a freelance contributor. His Twitter handle is @AamirSaeed_.