The Arms Trade Fu­el­ing the “Never-End­ing Con­flict”

Recoil - - Contents - BY MILES VINING

The stereo­type of per­pet­ual war­fare in Afghanistan has plagued the coun­try since De­cem­ber of 1979, when the Soviet 40th Army came pour­ing across the Amu Daryua.

This kicked off an era of for­eign-spon­sored in­sur­gency, a re­sult­ing civil war that dev­as­tated the once great city of Kabul, Tal­iban rule, and, cur­rently, the se­cond decade of a heav­ily U.S.-backed pres­ence. How­ever, this “per­pet­ual war­fare” hasn’t al­ways been the case in Afghan his­tory; in fact it’s a trag­i­cally unique spell of con­tin­ued vi­o­lence through­out the mod­ern era.

But to fight a war — or any kind of armed con­flict — arms must be ac­quired. We ex­am­ine three of the pri­mary small arms mar­kets within the cap­i­tal city of Kabul. We ex­plore what’s avail­able, in what quan­ti­ties, and for how many good Amer­i­can dol­lars.

And so long as we’re dis­cussing the arms trade in Afghanistan, we also ad­dress the le­gal­i­ties of pur­chas­ing a firearm in the city, along with il­le­gal meth­ods.


The over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of mod­ern small arms out­side of Afghan gov­ern­ment con­trol are tech­ni­cally il­le­gal with­out a spe­cial per­mit is­sued by the Min­istry of the In­te­rior. Pis­tol carry li­censes can be ac­quired by pri­vate ci­ti­zens, but it’s a very lengthy process in­volv­ing at least two gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials to es­sen­tially take full re­spon­si­bil­ity for an ap­pli­cant should there be any wrong­do­ing.

Self-load­ing ri­fles, such as the ev­er­pop­u­lar Kalash­nikov in nu­mer­ous vari­ants, cal­iber, and coun­try of ori­gin, are owned by var­i­ous pri­vate com­pa­nies that pro­vide their own ac­cess con­trol point se­cu­rity. Li­censes for these ri­fles are some­what eas­ier to ac­quire due to their ri­fles be­long­ing to pri­vate se­cu­rity com­pa­nies, but the reg­is­tra­tion process is still ar­du­ous with­out at min­i­mum bribes of some sort.

Some pri­vate civil­ians in the city of Kabul ac­tu­ally carry hand­guns or ri­fles for per­sonal de­fense that are tech­ni­cally il­le­gal and can be con­fis­cated if found by ANSF au­thor­i­ties.

How­ever, this is a risk that some, es­pe­cially busi­ness­men, are will­ing to un­der­take, be­cause the se­cu­rity forces of­ten can’t be de­pended on dur­ing an as­sas­si­na­tion at­tempt or kid­nap­ping for ran­som (one of the more fre­quent crimes con­ducted by or­ga­nized crime syn­di­cates).


Sim­i­lar to neigh­bor­ing Pak­istan, there’s a civil­ian firearms own­er­ship loop­hole. This lies with com­mer­cially avail­able shot­guns and an­tiques. Be­cause both cat­e­gories don’t fire mod­ern hand­gun or ri­fle car­tridges in use by the se­cu­rity forces of ei­ther coun­try, they’re given a pass legally and not re­ally con­sid­ered a threat for lo­cals to own.

In an area of the city known as KuliPushta, an old-world mar­ket of tightly packed shop­pers, jostling sell­ers, and live chick­ens ex­ists, cen­tered around a river that runs through the area. This is where a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of com­mer­cial shot­gun shops are con­cen­trated.

The over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of 12and 16-gauge shot­guns that ex­ist in these lo­cales are Turk­ish im­ports. Names such as UTAS, Drey­nayva, and Asil are quite com­mon, even to the point where some of the mod­els avail­able in Kabul are the ex­act same that are ex­ported to the United States.

Pump-ac­tions rule the day, with var­i­ous hunt­ing con­fig­u­ra­tions avail­able in long-bar­rels and clas­sic pis­tol­grip stocks, but the tac­ti­cal mar­ket has in­fected the Afghan mar­kets just as much as it has the gun show cir­cuit in the United States. Shot­guns out­fit­ted with pa­thetic ex­cuses for lights, lasers, bipods, and scopes com­ing out of China can be found in ev­ery shop. Some even have mag­a­zine ca­pac­i­ties sim­i­lar to com­mer­cial Saigas and Veprs in the United States.

Across the board, prices are gen­er­ally in the sub-$500 range for most pieces. For ex­am­ple, a semi-au­to­matic de­tach­able mag­a­zine-fed shot­gun may go for around $300, while a pump-ac­tion, tubu­lar mag­a­zine-fed shot­gun can be had for about $200. Craft-pro­duced, break open shot­guns from neigh­bor­ing Pak­istan can be as low as $60, but they’re cer­tainly the bot­tom of the bar­rel when it comes to qual­ity.

Al­though many civil­ians do pur­chase shot­guns for home de­fense or recre­ation, se­cu­rity com­pa­nies and pri­vate busi­nesses can also be par­tic­u­larly fond of them purely for the rea­son that they don’t need to go through the process of reg­is­ter- ing them with the gov­ern­ment. Less ef­fec­tive than a 7.62x39mm Kalash­nikov, the shot­guns can nonethe­less be use­ful for de­ter­ring thieves or lightly armed crim­i­nals. Against a for­mi­da­ble ad­ver­sary, such as an or­ga­nized crim­i­nal el­e­ment or the in­sur­gency them­selves, these shot­guns don’t stand a chance at of­fer­ing suf­fi­cient fire­power.


Pos­si­bly the largest cat­e­gory are the hand­made firearms that orig­i­nate out of the Fed­er­ally Ad­min­is­tered Tribal Ar­eas (FATA) in north­west Pak­istan, along the bor­der. Specif­i­cally, many of these firearms are from the Pak­istani prov­ince of Peshawar, where a lo­cal gun-mak­ing com­mu­nity be­gan over 100 years ago, mostly due to Bri­tish colo­nial ef­forts to en­force gun con­trol within the re­gion. In the West, they’re known as “Khy­ber Pass guns” due to the trade com­ing through along a val­ley that con­nects trav­el­ers from Peshawar to Kabul. Lo­cally, they’re known in Dari or Pashtu as “Dar­rai” guns, named af­ter the town of Darra Adam Khel where many of them orig­i­nate.

Qual­ity varies from very well made to down­right un­safe to fire due to loose tol­er­ances and qual­ity con­trol. Within the Afghan mar­ket, they aren’t prized as much as for­eign firearms com­ing from out­side the coun­try, with prices re­flect­ing this opin­ion.

Take, for ex­am­ple, a Dar­rai Makarov copy that goes for around $300 to $400 on the lo­cal mar­ket. This is rel­a­tively in­ex­pen­sive com­pared to an orig­i­nal Soviet Makarov PM that goes for over $1,000. Any­thing else, such as black mar­ket Beretta M9s or Wal­ter P5s, typ­i­cally be­gins at this $1,000 bench­mark and goes up from there.

Kalash­nikovs are sim­i­larly priced, but the Dar­rai ver­sions are much more than $400.


The mas­sive amounts of sur­plus firearms left over from the Mu­jahideen era and, of course, every­thing left over from the old Afghan Army’s col­lapse when the Na­jibul­lah gov­ern­ment fell in 1992 made for a large black mar­ket. Dur­ing the in­sur­gency against the So­vi­ets, the CIA and Saudi Ara­bia pumped hun­dreds of thou­sands of firearms into the coun­try through prox­ies in Pak­istan. This armed the Mu­jahideen with every­thing from sur­plus

Lee En­field No.4s to Nor­inco Type

56s Kalash­nikov copies. Much of this sup­ply is still left over and cur­rently be­ing used on a daily ba­sis within the coun­try, not only by pri­vate se­cu­rity forces but also the in­sur­gency.

The cur­rent Tal­iban and so-called Is­lamic State-Kho­rasan in­sur­gency uses a gag­gle of small arms that are also pro­cured through the black mar­ket — aug­mented with arms cap­tured or out­right pur­chased from the Afghan se­cu­rity forces. This even in­cludes sur­plus M16A4s re­cently sup­plied to the Afghan Uni­formed Po­lice force. The largest difference be­tween what the in­sur­gency buys and what the pri­vate se­cu­rity sec­tor buys is that the in­sur­gency has a much more of­fen­sive and mil­i­tant-based op­er­a­tional re­quire­ment that in­cludes items such as RPGs and PKMs.


There’s a mar­ket sec­tor that’s most of­ten ped­dled to tourists or Afghans look­ing for dec­o­ra­tions.

These guns range from the tra­di­tional Afghan flint­lock ri­fles that were preva­lent in the 19th cen­tury to the sin­gle-shot breech-load­ing Mar­tini Hen­rys that were ac­tu­ally pro­duced in Kabul un­der Amir Ab­dur Rah­man Khan dur­ing the 1890s. Mixed in be­tween these two in­dige­nously man­u­fac­tured firearms are var­i­ous for­eign ri­fles and hand­guns that were ei­ther com­mer­cially brought into the coun­try, used as mil­i­tary aid to Afghan forces, or ac­tu­ally left be­hind and cap­tured dur­ing the An­glo-Afghan Wars of the 1800s and early 1900s.

We en­coun­tered Aus­trian 1867 Werndl-Holub sin­gle-shot ri­fles, Mar­tini Hen­rys con­fig­ured for sport­ing use, and even a semi-au­to­matic Winch­ester 1907. Al­though Lee En­fields were quite preva­lent among the Mu­jahideen of the 1980s, we didn’t see any for sale in Kabul it­self.

One rea­son is that am­mu­ni­tion is still read­ily avail­able and can be per­ceived as a mod­ern firearm by the gov­ern­ment. But more im­por­tantly, the tourist mar­ket, con­sist­ing of Amer­i­can or Euro­pean cus­tomers, have im­port re­stric­tions when it comes to the year a firearm was pro­duced. In the United States, guns pro­duced in or be­fore 1898 aren’t tech­ni­cally con­sid­ered a firearm any­more and aren’t sub­ject to firearms im­por­ta­tion reg­u­la­tions. Many ISAF mem­bers and con­trac­tors send these an­tiques back to their re­spec­tive coun­tries through the mail.

But there were a fi­nite num­ber of firearms in Afghanistan made prior to 1898. So how do the sell­ers on Chicken Street cope with this de­mand? Sim­i­lar to the hand­made “Dar­rari” firearms that repli­cate mod­ern small arms de­signs and are pop­u­lar through­out the mar­ket, older de­signs are also copied, stamped with ap­pro­pri­ate dates, and ped­dled to tourists as an­tiques — when in fact they were quite pos­si­bly made the same year as they were bought in the 2000s.

To the un­trained eye, the dif­fer­ences aren’t no­tice­able from an orig­i­nal. With some knowl­edge of the lo­cal mis­takes and his­tory of the de­signs be­ing copied, the dif­fer­ences be­come read­ily ap­par­ent. On Mar­ti­nis a com­mon mis­take is that the stamped “N” is back­ward in the word En­field. In ad­di­tion, some of the marks and man­u­fac­tur­ing tech­niques are just un­like any­thing usu­ally found com­ing out of a largescale arms pro­duc­ing fa­cil­ity.

Along with orig­i­nal ri­fles and copies for sale, there are also com­pletely hon­est fakes of the tra­di­tional Afghan “Jeza­ils.” These are usu­ally non-fir­ing ex­am­ples sim­ply made for folks to hang up on liv­ing room walls. But whether an orig­i­nal, fake, or dec­o­ra­tive piece, the cur­rent an­tique mar­ket is dwin­dling. Tied di­rectly to the se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion, cur­rently there are less con­trac­tors, less NGO work­ers, less busi­ness­men, and more im­por­tantly less ISAF per­son­nel on large bases who might po­ten­tially pur­chase these old ri­fles.


Rel­a­tively speak­ing, com­mer­cial am­mu­ni­tion for self-load­ing ri­fles and hand­guns is in short sup­ply in Afghanistan. A 50-round box of Chi­nese 9x18mm Makarov along with two spare mag­a­zines ac­tu­ally costs as much as the firearm it­self: $300 on the black mar­ket.

This is ac­tu­ally a real predica­ment within the Afghan firearms com­mu­nity, both for pri­vate se­cu­rity and civil­ians. Be­cause am­mu­ni­tion is so dif­fi­cult to come by, ac­tual prac­ti­cal ap­pli­ca­tion and train­ing with firearms is rel­a­tively non- ex­is­tent.

This has led to many mis­con­cep­tions about small arms op­er­a­tion, and se­ri­ous safety con­cerns. The four car­di­nal rules of firearms safety are ba­si­cally non-ex­is­tent as well. On mul­ti­ple oc­ca­sions just walk­ing around the city ,this au­thor has had firearms pointed di­rectly at him in­ad­ver­tently, sim­ply be­cause the users don’t re­al­ize the im­por­tance of muz­zle aware­ness.

Adding to this is­sue is the fact that there aren’t any open shoot­ing ranges to go in the city, apar t from driv­ing out into ru­ral ar­eas or cel­e­bra­tor y fire dur­ing cricket matches.


The lack of se­cu­rity and in­sta­bil­ity that cur­rently ex­ists through­out the coun­try lends it­self to both the civil­ian and black mar­ket arms trade, de­spite the strict Afghan gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tions that are in place. Al­though not a “flour­ish­ing” black mar­ket, small arms are very ac­ces­si­ble by those in the coun­try with the cap­i­tal, con­nec­tions, and cun­ning to skirt any of the gov­ern­ment laws. The an­tique mar­ket is left alone for the most part, mostly due to the lack of any real threat to Afghan se­cu­rity forces from the arms be­ing sold.

Some busi­ness­men risk openly car­ry­ing firearms due to kid­nap and ran­som threats. Pri­vate se­cu­rit y guards can legally carr y arms.

Above: Craz y-ass high-tech Turk­ish shot­gun

Right: Hot garbage craft-pro­ducedshot­gun

Left top and bot­tom: While Soviet Makarovs would never be con­sid­ered safe queens, the Dar­rai clones are far more ghetto.

Right: Amer­i­can ser­vice weapons are avail­able on theblack mar­ket. Be­low: Tal­ibs are of­ten most con­cerned with heav y weaponr y.

Le­git­i­mate an­tique guns (such as the Mar tini Henr y on top) aren’t sub­ject to reg­u­la­tion. How­ever, it’s of ten hard to de­ter­mine the ac­tual lin­eage, due to bootlegs pic­tured be­low.

Real 9x18 on right, to­tally out of spec Dar­rai 9x18 on lef t.

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