As NATO troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, some of their equipment is being smuggled out and sold in Pakistani markets. Experts say that banned militant groups are also laying their hands on sophisticated weapons.
Peshawar's "Karkhano Market" is famous for selling smuggled western goods. From the US-made sniper rifles to Chinese laptops, you can buy anything here. The market is situated in Khyber Agency, a northwestern tribal area close to Afghanistan, which does not come directly under the jurisdiction of the Pakistani federal government. From this and other tribal areas, much of the illegal foreign goods are also brought to the markets of the central Peshawar city, which is also the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, a province which has been marred by violence perpetrated by the Taliban insurgents.
These days the markets of Khyber Agency and Peshawar are flooded with equipment used by NATO troops in neighboring Afghanistan. As the international troops prepare to leave the country in 2014, their used stuff is being smuggled out of Afghanistan to Pakistan's restive northwestern areas. The militants also attack the trucks carrying NATO goods and weapons, which they also sell to local shopkeepers.
The goods available in these markets include pistols, Kalashnikovs, night vision goggles, daggers, military uniforms, sleeping bags, laptops, cameras and medicine. Sniper rifles, however, are in big demand in these markets. You have to place a purchase order and make payments in advance to get these sophisticated weapons. Usually bought by tribal militias, the demand for sniper rifles is such that their prices have increased manifold in the past few years. A good rifle can be purchased for up to a million Pakistani rupees or 8,000 euros.
Though the business is still covert and illegal weapons are not sold out openly in these markets, those who really want to buy them can get them without much difficulty.
Authorities, however, deny that illegal western goods are readily available in these markets.
"No illegal product is being sold in these markets," a police officer at a check post near a Peshawar market told DW on condition of anonymity. "What you find in these markets are Chinese goods, which are available everywhere in the country. You won't find a single weapon in Peshawar markets," he said. The officer admitted, however, that illegal weapons are being sold and purchased freely in adjacent tribal areas. "We have no authority in these areas. But I can assure you that no illegal weapon can be smuggled into Peshawar."
But counter-terrorism and security experts contradict these claims. They say that much of the sophisticated illegal weaponry is transported from tribal areas to the rest of the country without much hindrance.
Pak-Afghan Business Forum's director Zia-ul-Haq Sarhadi shares this view: "The authorities do not check the trucks going back and forth from Afghanistan into Pakistan. Nobody knows what is inside these trucks. For the past ten years, the Pakistani authorities have not been able to monitor smuggling along the border," Sarhadi told DW.
US-made products are very popular in Pakistan. Foreign products such as shoes and rucksacks available in Peshawar's illegal markets are quite cheaper in comparison to what you get in proper stores.
A US-made pair of boots can be purchased for three thousand rupees (20 to 25 euros) in these illegal markets, whereas those in the city stores cost at least twenty thousand.
Some shopkeepers say these are not stolen items. They are cheaper because there is no custom duty on them, they claim. However, DW has learnt that much of this mechandise comes from the containers robbed by criminal gangs or militant groups. Many a time, truckers also steal these goods and sell them at a low price.
Local sources claim that as NATO troops get ready to withdraw from Afghanistan, many international non-governmental organizations working in Kabul are also wrapping up their work. They are disposing of their used products, which are then sold by Afghan merchants to shopkeepers in Kabul and Peshawar.
Inayat Khan, a Peshawar-based shopkeeper, told DW that not all items are actually made in America. "Many products are made in China. The shopkeepers put the made-in-USA label on these Chinese products and sell it to consumers, charging more money," Khan said.