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Darra Adam Khel

Darra Adam Khel is an unkempt village of two story wood and adobe buildings in the sand stone hills near the Kohat Frontier region in Orakzai Agency. It is the gun factory of the Tribal Areas, located around 40 kilometres (25 miles) south of Peshawar on the road to Kohat. The drive takes around forty minutes.

Darra (Adam Khel denotes a clan of the Afridi Tribe) is inside Pakistan but beyond Pakistani Law, and very nearly beyond comprehension, for everyone here seems to make or sell just one things, i.e., Guns.

In the countryside beyond Peshawar, among plush fields, stand solemn enclosures with high windowless walls and tall gates. Some 300 feet long with battlements and rifle slits in the walls. These aren't villages but houses. A village is just a cluster of these forts.

The town has just one street lined on either side with shops. Except for the odd tea stalls or butcher shop, every single one of them is a gun shop. There are no women in the Bazaar. Above the traffic noise is the cracking sound of small arms fire by the shop keepers; Product Testing!

In the arcades off the main road are workshops. Hundred's of closet sized rooms where men and boys make working copies of the entire world's guns with nothing more than hand tools and a small drill press. The tools are astonishingly 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. 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 due to the templates created. Handguns, due to being more complex take a little longer.

In Darra, almost three fourths of the people are in the gun trade. Pen pistols and walking stick guns are popular here but heavier ordinances like anti aircraft guns are also manufactured here. Around 400-700 guns are made in Darra each day and the number is rising with the adoption of more tools. These guns are more than enough for the Pashtoons themselves. Many guns find their way to and from Afghanistan. In the 1980s, heroin was shut down in the markets after consultation with the tribal elders due to foreign pressure but guns could not find their way out considerably when they are known as the ornaments of a Pashtun. There is more to be lost than gained if somebody interferes with this tradition. It's surreal to see these weapons being tested in the open streets. Everything is calm when suddenly; a Pashtun walks out of a shop two feet away and pumps twenty rounds into the air from a freshly made M-16 rifle. Such is the magic and aurora surrounding this place.

Travel by foreigners to Darra is forbidden. A permit and an armed escort are required from the Home Secretary of NWFP whose offices are in the Civil Secretariat on Police Rod in Peshawar. The permit is free of charge and issued on the very instance it is applied for. But still, only a few places are allowed to be seen. Travelers can drive by bus or car through Darra without a permit provided they do not stop because that will invite trouble. If tourists/foreigners buy guns, the shopkeepers mostly tip off the customs and the police about the trade. As a result, buyers are nabbed and the guns are either confiscated or released by giving a bribe.

The Darra arms trade fired up in 1897. In return for turning a blind eye to this illegal Pashtoon enterprise, the British were guaranteed safe passage along the main roads. In any case, the British believed it better that the Pathans have inferior weapons of their own making than stolen British-made guns.

This arm trade has won a fame for the Adam Khel Afridis who are the major inhabitants of the town. Details about the Afridi Tribes can be viewed in the Pashto Tribes section of this site.


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