At barely a half-hour drive from Peshawar, lies the hot, dry and dusty little arms manufacturing town of Darra Adam Khel in a valley surrounded by Kohat in the south, Peshawar in the north, Orakzai Agency in the west and Punjab in the east.
Adam Khel in the semi-autonomous tribal area of the frontier region of Kohat is famous for gun manufacturing and sale of foreign firearms of all kinds. The business is centuries old and the local elders say that the artisans learnt the art of making guns from the Mughals.
Drugs, fake currency, degree certificates, stolen vehicles, kidnappings for ransom are all interwoven into the social fabric. But the main source of income is from arms manufacturing. The bazaar has hundreds of workshops, display centers and arms manufacturing factories. There are nearly 900 factories knocking out firearms round the year.
It is interesting to note here that the iron used for making guns is purchased from the Gaddani ship breaking area of Karachi. This is because the steel available from Gaddani provides the required strength and thickness for firearms to be made in one piece.
Nowadays foreign firearms smuggled from Turkey, Italy, US, China, Russia and other countries make their way to the bazaar. The prices of foreign pistols range from Rs45,000 to Rs100,000 while shot guns and rifles are priced around Rs40,000 up to Rs250,000 for antique guns.
Deadly weapons line the shelves of these shops like innocuous grocery items. Every shot heard while passing through the bazaar means that a pistol or gun has been sold after being checked by the buyer.
After the deployment of security forces against the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in the area, smuggling has become a little bit tough. Weapons which used to reach the owner by carriers within 24 hours now reach the destination after at least one week. The fare varies according to the type of firearms being delivered. Delivery to Karachi or Islamabad will be around Rs.1,500, depending on the weapon. The rate for Kohat, which is hardly 11km from the Darra bazaar is Rs700.
Strangely enough, every tribal artisan and even common tribesmen say that for centuries, they have been making guns for their own use and cannot smuggle them to other parts of the country.
In the mid-90s the government tried to legalise the business to ascertain who were the buyers and sellers and also to set some controls. For this purpose, a government scheme was launched and young artisans were employed at Wah Ordnance Factories.
Each artisan was paid Rs25,000 cash besides being given facilities of boarding and food. But they left the jobs saying that they could easily make Rs10,000 in Darra Adam Khel by making two pistols, instead of living away from their home for such a low wage and little promise for the future. The makers of big guns like Kalashnikovs and rifles could obviously make much more.
The artisans and manufacturers are so capable that they are summoned to Afghanistan by militants to repair their guns, said one craftsman while talking to Dawn in Darra Adam Khel. He said that they are paid very well by the militants and they come safely home after completing their task.