The Gun Runners of Afghanistan

Cargo Planes of the AAF. Source: Wikimedia Commons.The Khyber Pass lays between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Historically, it’s been a very important passage in and out of central Asia for various empire builders such as Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan. Several invading forces including the British Empire held this strategic passage to extend and sustain their control over the regions which connect to it. The pass has been important in order  to provide supplies to the Coalition forces fighting in Afghanistan after the start of the conflict with the Taliban in 2001. Apart from its logistic importance the pass had another important “quality”: Housing one of the largest small arms manufactureing operations in the world.

With correct connections one could stroll into the market built onto the pass and shop for a wide range of weaponry ranging from local style sabre, to German Luger P08 and home-made assault rifles imitating successful designs of global arms producers. This was possibly up until 2007 when the Pakistani government closed the access to the region from the outside due to the increasing conflict with the local branch of the Taliban. The arms production was mostly meant for local tribal use which would be under the control of the Pakistani state. After an escalation of conflict in the area, the supply lines came under more attack and complications erupted between the local administration and the NATO forces. Yet, on the Afghan side of Khyber Pass things are even more complicated.

The arms smuggling into Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion has long has been made a legend by  Hollywood. Initially the arms smuggling aimed to decimate the Red Army, but it turned into a way of feeding wars between different fighting groups and warlords. This fight was being funded by the opium and drug production industries in the countrywhich are both still flourishing. After 2001 the opium/heroin trade increased in scale and reportedly continued funding to fund the Taliban war effort against the Coalition and the Afghan government. Drugs are exported along several routes and weapons are smuggled back into the country. One of these routes lies to the west,  near the Iranian border where the drug traffic is harder to control of the where as the weapons flow into Afghanistan is easier due to  selective protective measures put by the Iranian Border Guard. The UK government claimed that this arms smuggling were was backed up by Iranian sources, or according to the Small Arms Survey 2012  they were at least tuning a blind eye to it.

According to the same report, the gun runners prefer transportation means ranging from carrying the guns on mules to concealing railroad carts as food relief containers sent by aid organizations. The smugglers themselves are keen on taking different identities which fit the disguise of their cargo. Even more disturbingly government officials are involved in the drug and arms trade. Along with local “traders” the border police are involved with the dual trade of arms and drugs in Afghanistan. Even Afghan Air Force pilots had, allegedly, run their own drugs and guns using the airplanes which were provided by NATO sources, and although the Afghan officials reject these claims both cases mentioned above suggest that there is reason to believe that there is rampant corruption in many/some Afghan government agencies.

The Taliban in Herat. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Among this hectic environment the date of withdrawal for NATO troops from Afghanistan is fast approaching. suggests that there are believed to be 1,000,000 (both legal and illegal) small arms in the hands of the Afghani general public and 4.4 guns per 100 people. There  have been efforts to establish more control over carrying arms by the Karzai government. As an event in early 2012 suggests, the government is trying to shift the power of legitimacy from private security firms to the hands of the government security institutions. Yet both the amount of arms in the hands of the public and the arguments against the banning of private security firms suggest that there is a lack of trust towards the government in terms of their ability to provide security in the country.

One of the well known definitions of the state is described by Max Weber as “human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory”. It could be argued that one of the prerequisites for a state is the monopoly over the legitimate use of force and the control over arms in a country.  The arms flow inside Afghanistan feeds the war efforts of factions vying for control of the country and its resources. As the 2014 deadline for the end of NATO operations is approaching the Karzai government appears to be under more threat from both the Taliban and other warlords. It is clear that the Karzai government lacks one element which is mentioned above in the definition of the state: the monopoly over means of force.


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