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The Killid Group

Illicit weapon smuggling thrives in the North

Written by Abdul Wahid Ahmad
Monday, 21 February 2011 10:14

Illicit weapon smuggling thrives in the North Little is known about the deadly weapons by which the insurgents maintain their armed rebellion against the Afghan Government and its foreign allies. A Killid investigative report sheds light on key weapons smuggling sources.

As the anti-Taliban war enters into its tenth year questions are rising about sources of the weapons, munitions and other military equipments which fall into the hands of the insurgents to sustain the war. The insurgency is believed to be making millions of dollars from the illicit drug trade, security charges on the movement of convoys, extortions and financial contributions from charities and wealthy individuals from various Islamic countries.
This report sheds light on key weapons smuggling sources, routes and the alleged networks and individuals involved in the lucrative but illegal trade.
U.S./NATO and some Afghan Government officials accuse elements in the neighboring Pakistan and Iran of supplying munitions and light weapons to the Afghan insurgent groups. However, little is known and reported about the private weapons business which flows through the country's Northern provinces. Local people, police and intelligence officials and several individuals involved in the business in Kunduz, Takhar, Balkh and Baghlan provinces told Killid about a highly clandestine and multi-million weapons trade which allegedly involve high ranking government officials, a powerful drug mafia and many criminal gangs.
A weapon smuggler who asked for anonymity in an interview with Killid said: "We smuggle weapons from Tajikistan through various routes such as from Kal Baad to Imam Sahib District [Kunduz Province]." He said the business was risky but strong. "I think you had better not to investigate and report on this business because a lot of powerful people are involved in it," he warned.
Smuggling routes are difficult and clandestine and smugglers use horses and donkeys to carry weapons, he said. Smugglers also use the Darqad Pass between Tajikistan and the northern Afghan province of Takhar to illegally import weapons to Afghanistan, several local people said.  "They are smuggling light weapons such as Kalashnikovs and pistols and heavy weapons such as rockets and mortars mostly at night," Sakhi Mohammadi, a resident of Takhar Province said. Boats are also allegedly used by some smugglers to smuggle weapons over the Amu Darya [Oxus River] from Central Asian republics to the north of Afghanistan.

"Security officials involved"
Mohammad Ghafar, deputy director of the National Directorate of Security (NDS) in the Central Baghlan District acknowledged the involvement of powerful people in the weapons trade. "They are so powerful that no one can stop them," he said adding that the smugglers ran their own criminal groups to maintain the business. Ghafar said he knew several high-profile individuals who were implicit in the illicit trade or were making profit from it but said he was unable to disclose their names for the sake of his personal security.
Local people, meanwhile, said most of the smugglers were local strongmen who also maintained links and business relations with the Taliban and other armed opposition groups.
Abdul Habib Sayedkhil, general commander of the border police in the north of the country, said that ethnic relations between people from the north of Afghanistan and residents of the Tajikistan border areas were helping smugglers to maintain their illicit activities. "People have contacts with the other side of the border and they also know secretive routes to smuggle weapons," he alleged. He said the police vehicles were unauthorized to drive between the provinces in Afghanistan and that no police official had been found implicit in the weapons smuggling.
However, other officials and experts said some local security officials and the smugglers were working hand in glove.
Citing rampant corruption in the police ranks as a major cause for their involvement in various illicit activities, Atiqullah Amarkhel, a military expert, alleged that police vehicles were used to smuggle narcotics and weapons across the country. Similar accusations were echoed by Mohammad Ghafar, the NDS official in Baghlan Province: "Weapons are certainly not smuggled into the country by air but by roads. How can the smugglers operate so brazenly without receiving support from the police and other security forces?"
Mohammad Dawood Dawood, a senior police commander in the Northern provinces, also tacitly acknowledged the alleged attachment of some government officials with the smuggling groups. "Some people are misusing the police uniform and authority," Dawood said adding that the government was committed to arresting rouge police and security officials.
According to Dawood, there is a strong nexus between the drug mafia and the weapons' smugglers. "The weapons which are smuggled from Tajikistan are usually exchange with drugs," he said.
Afghanistan is the world's top opium and heroin producer and the annual illicit narcotics trade is estimated at over US$4 billion a year, according to the UN Office for Drug and Crimes (UNODC).
The heroin produced in Afghanistan finds its way to Russia, Europe and elsewhere in the world through powerful and well-connected mafia groups, both Afghan and foreign. The UNODC has said that the Taliban and other insurgent groups in Afghanistan are profiting from the narcotics trade to finance their combat activities.

Criminal impunity
There are also strong links among the Tajik and Uzbek Islamist insurgent groups and the Afghan weapons and drug smugglers, some officials alleged. "We share porous borders with Tajikistan and Uzbekistan which are used by some subversive elements to smuggle weapons, drugs and other illegal items," said Zalmai Wisa, a military official in the north of the country.
Once smuggled from Tajikistan and other countries, the weapons quickly find their way to the volatile south and south-eastern provinces. Here again, accusations are strong against security forces, government officials and local strongmen for their alleged involvement and support in the domestic transport and the smuggling of weapons. It is believed that some smuggling networks even operate in an environment of criminal impunity owing to their alleged ties with senior government officials.
"There is no police and no law to stop us," said one smuggler who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of his work. "Every obstacle is removed by money and relations."
Over three decades of war in the country has created huge demands for weapons by many armed actors which seek political, economic and other interests through armed violence. In addition to the extensive infrastructural damages and the economic losses resulting from the war, hundreds of thousands of Afghans have been killed and wounded by the very imported weapons over the past 30 years. Backed by foreign donors the Afghan Government has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to collect weapons and disband illegal armed groups in the country through programmes such as the Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) and the Disbandment of Irregular Armed Groups (DIAG) since 2003. However, the programmes have yielded little in reducing the menaces of illicit weapons and the illegal armed groups and the security situation has deteriorated rapidly.

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