Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Taleban Buying Up Smuggled Guns

There are fears that smugglers are selling weapons to former Taleban and al-Qaeda fighters.
By IWPR trainee

When a tip-off led police to stop a Russian-built Kamaz truck in Kabul city centre, they stumbled across an arsenal of weapons, enough to equip a small army.


A search of the vehicle, which had set off from Baghlan province in the north, turned up 30 Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifles, three PK machine guns, two rocket launchers, 20 hand grenades and 70,000 bullets.


The haul highlights a frightening new trade in arms smuggled out of Afghanistan into neighbouring Pakistan. So far this year, the defence ministry says it has seized 475 hauls of weapons, including more than 2,000 rockets, 4,000 land mines, and five million bullets.


The arms are moved in cars, trucks and even mules through the mountainous border areas. And there are fears that many of the weapons are falling into the hands of former Taleban and al-Qaeda fighters who are known to be active around the frontier.


Lutfullah, an arms smuggler from Wardak province west of the capital, explained how the trade works. "We mostly buy the arms from soldiers who are not paid their salaries. We then take them through Logar and Wardak provinces to the border towns of Pakistan, like Miranshah, Wana and Bannu, where we sell them to tribal people for a high price. A Kalashnikov we buy for 5,000 Pakistani rupees (around 80 US dollars) we sell on there for 15,000 rupees.”


Soldier-turned-smuggler Azizullah has registered with different regional commanders in order to buy weapons. They are happy to have him on board as the more soldiers they recruit the more money they get from the government. "So far I have sold six Kalashnikovs to smugglers. I take arms from one commander after spending some days with him then I go to another and do the same," he said.


Former army officer Colonel Abdul Ahad says there is a long tradition of soldiers selling their weapons to smugglers. "They were often in faraway provinces and the government could not pay them on time," he said.


Now the smugglers and arms traders are showing an interest in Western weapons. They say they’re prepared to pay up to 200,000 rupee for one American or ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) gun. ISAF media officer Squadron Leader Terry Hay said, “All our weapons are expensive, but they’re not going to get them unless they kill us.”


President Hamed Karzai announced in July a drive to collect a million weapons from all around the country. But in a nation where guns are part of the culture, it has proved a difficult task. Many of the weapons now being smuggled were gathered by the Commission for Collecting Arms and never destroyed. And commanders in the east have thousands of arms left over when the Taleban fled from Jalalabad and the Tora Bora cave complex.


The tribal areas and the provinces along the border with Pakistan are where much of the arms trading is conducted, apparently with the involvement of local military chiefs.


Akhtar Mohammad, a soldier in Nangarhar commander Abdul Wahid’s units, said, "We participated in the holy war for 15 years. We have suffered, but today the commanders are playing with our blood,” he said. “ I had a Kalashnikov which Abdul Wahid gave me. Ten days ago, he took it back from me and told me that he is going to hand it over to the government, but he didn't and instead he took it to Pakistan." Sharifullah, another fighter, backed up Mohammad’s claim, " The commanders are collecting the arms from their men and sell them."


Military chiefs deny any involvement in the trade. Haji Mohammad Hassan, a commander of Hizb-e-Islami, said, "We have collected arms from our men, but we haven't sold them. The people misunderstand us."


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