Darra Adam Khel: The Village of Illegal Gun Manufacturers

Sep 25, 2014 7 comments

Darra Adam Khel is a small village in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan, located between the city of Peshawar and Kohat. An unkempt village of two storey wood and adobe buildings among the sand stone hills, Darra Adam Khel’s economy is driven by only one business – the manufacture and sale of illegal arms.

The lone street that runs across the village is lined on either side with shops where revolvers, automatic pistols, shotguns and Kalashnikovs line the shelves. These are manufactured by the villagers from scrap metals from shipyards using simple hand tools and a small drill press, inside hundreds of closet-sized rooms located in the back alleys and side streets. Nearly seventy-five percent of the population is involved in the gun business, and the skills required to produce a working replica has been handed down from father to son through several generation. Sold often at a fraction of the price of the originals, many of these guns find their way into Afghanistan and possibly elsewhere. Allegedly, a large number of guns and ammunition used by the Taliban has been traced back to Darra Adam Khel.


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The gunsmiths of Darra Adam Khel posses the skills to produce replicas of almost any arms on the market, from anti-aircraft guns to small concealable pen-guns.

"There is nothing we cannot copy," an arms trader once boasted to BBC. "You bring us a Stinger missile and we will make you an imitation that would be difficult to tell apart from the original."

And it’s probably true. It is said that a Darra gunsmith, given a rifle he hasn't seen before, can duplicate it in around ten days. Once the first copy is made, each additional copy takes two or three days. The tools are primitive, yet the forges turn out accurate reproduction of every conceivable sort of weapon, from pen pistols and hand-grenades to automatic rifles and anti-aircraft guns. The copies are so painstakingly reproduced that even the serial number of the original is carried over. Whether these replicas perform as good as the original is, however, another matter.

“A gun made manually from ordinary steel cannot match a gun produced in a well equipped factory from weapon grade steel using computerised machines,” claimed Farid Shah, a local gunsmith who produces Kalashnikovs and 12 gauge shotgun, adding that his guns were bulky and since there is no standardization in the workshops, it is not possible to replace parts. Hence, if something goes wrong the entire gun has to be thrown away.


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No one knows for sure when arms manufacturing in Darra actually started, but locals claim that it was brought to the village by a deserter from the British Army, possibly around the time of the 1857 rebellion. The tribesmen were delighted to have at their disposal the skills of this British gunsmith, and within a short span of a few years Darra Adam Khel became the center for illegal arm manufacturing. The boom years, however, began only in 1979, after the Russians invaded Afghanistan. The demand for weapons rose as Afghans took up arms and there were few better places to buy them than here.

Fifteen years ago, Darra Adam Khel was churning out anti-personnel mines, sub-machine guns, small cannons and even rocket launchers. Surprisingly, the technology to manufacture these heavy weapons was received from the government itself. In April 1988, when a major ammunition dump in Rawalpindi blew up, the government sold the destroyed ammunition as scrap to the arms dealers in Darra Adam Khel. Almost overnight, the gun makers acquired the technology for manufacturing mines, machine guns, small cannons and even multi-barrel rocket launchers.

Later when the government discovered that terrorists were using Darra-manufactured weapons against their own forces, they cracked down upon the villagers making manufacture of heavy weapons illegal. Although Darra Adam Khel is located inside Pakistan, it is controlled by the local tribesmen and beyond Pakistani law.

There are over 2,500 skilled gunsmiths in Darra Adam Khel today, who feel that the bad press their village receives is unjustified. The arms that Darra makes rarely end up in the hands of terrorists, they claim, adding that these gunsmiths serve only the local market.

Update: In May 2018, Pakistan's parliament passed a law that would bring the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) into Pakistan criminal and constitutional jurisdiction that previously did not apply, allowing such nefarious activities such as illegal gun manufacture to continue for decades in Darra Adam Khel. Pakistani law mandates that all gun owners obtain a license from either the provincial or federal governments, with certain types of higher caliber weapons (such as automatic rifles) more tightly restricted. Thousands employed by the gun industry in Darra are now afraid that the new law will affect their industry.


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Sources: Express Tribune / BBC / NYTimes / Wikipedia

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