- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 20, 2002

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan Huge quantities of arms, left behind by the United States and Russia after the decade-long war against the Soviets ended in Afghanistan, continue to surface in the tribal areas of Pakistan and provide terrorists with a cheap supply, officials in Islamabad say.

The weapons include assault rifles, grenades, land mines, rockets, rocket launchers and rocket-propelled grenades, which were widely distributed for use against Soviet forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

An Interior Ministry official said not all who said they were "mujahideen" the term for anti-Soviet fighters actually used the arms against the Soviets. Many sold the weapons to dealers in Pakistan's autonomous tribal areas near the Afghan border.

When the war ended, "the Americans and others left without attempting to collect the arms," said the official, who asked not to be named.

Since the beginning of July, police have reported the discovery of huge arms caches on an average of once every 10 days.

The seized weapons, usually put on display for the media, include assault rifles, bazookas, grenades and rocket-propelled grenades.

Interior Minister Moinuddin Haider blamed both the Americans and the Russians for "dumping hundreds of thousands of small arms in Afghanistan."

Arms dealers based in Pakistan's tribal areas began a brisk trade after the war ended, reselling weapons at dirt-cheap prices.

"For instance, something that would normally cost $300 was sold for $30," one official said.

Terrorist groups, criminals and other Pakistanis began showing up in the tribal areas to purchase the cheap weapons.

By the end of the 1990s, lawlessness was so rampant that Pakistan was on the brink of becoming a failed state like Afghanistan.

Mr. Haider, a retired army lieutenant general, told The Washington Times that some of the governments that were in power in Pakistan during the past 20 years also had to share the blame for not doing enough to stop the flow of illegal arms out of the tribal areas.

"There was a sort of loose control by the governments" in the period spanning the previous dictatorship of Gen. Mohammed Zia ul-Haq and the subsequent civilian rule headed alternatively by former Prime Ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif.

"Pakistan developed a sort of Kalashnikov culture," Mr. Haider said. "Weapons became a power symbol for politicians and others."

When Gen. Pervez Musharraf came to power in October 1999, he cracked down.

Gen. Musharraf's government "banned the display of arms, even a licensed one," Mr. Haider said. "We stopped the issuing of arms licenses to reduce the number of weapons in the hands of civilians.

"In June last year, we launched a deweaponization campaign," he said. People were given 15 days to hand in illegal weapons or face prosecution.

"During those 15 days," Mr. Haider said, "we recovered 87,000 weapons" in the tribal areas of Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province an area sometimes known as Pakistan's "Wild West."

After the 15-day amnesty period expired, Mr. Haider said, "with good intelligence, we went inside [tribal areas], into houses where we thought people [had] weapons."

The number of small arms collected had reached 166,000 by early this month.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide