The Menace of Illicit Arms

By Sundeep Waslekar
6th January 1999


Since the nuclear tests last May, Pakistan has been projecting Kashmir as a nuclear flash point. At the same time, it has refused to enter into a no first use agreement with India for nuclear weapons. Instead, it has proposed a 'no war pace' which would place restrictions on the use of conventional weapons . India does not approve of this as it wants to retain the option of using conventional weapons in response to low-intensity warfare in Kashmir. In the debate on nuclear and convential arms control, the two countries have ignored the menace of illegal trafficking in light weapons. Since a free flow of small arms and light weapons have created tremendous scope for freelance terrorism in Kashmir, it would be necessary to check it if a solution has to be found to the political conflict. It is impossible for any government in New Delhi to negotiate peace it illicit guns reign the valley. Also, the public opnion in India would never consider a solution which is or appears to be dictated by mercenaries.

If Pakistan is serious about engaging the Indian leadership in a dialogue on Kashmir, it should first work with the Indian government to clear the valley and the area around LOC from illicit traffice in light weapons. Moreover, light weapons have now gone beyond the hands of political groups in Kashmir to organized criminals all over India and Paksitan. They threaten the civil life and economy of Mumbai and Karachi. If unchecked, they can seriously damage the state structures in the two countries internally much before a nuclear or conventional war between the two states can be used to settle the Kashmir conflict. Finally, illict arms also contribute to the spread of naroctics in the civil society.

Six years ago Dr. Chris Smith of King's College, London illustrated in several publications how the CIA pipeline to Afghanistan had leaked leading to the diversion of almost 70% of weapons and ammunition meant for Afghan guerrillas. Though funded by the Americans, most of these arms were purchased from China. According to Dr. Smith, at least 3 million Kalashnikovs leaked from the Afghan pipeling and a good portion of them found their way to Kashmir.

The situation in India is comparable to that of South Africa, another country whose economic potential is undermined by the growing control of cirme on civil society. Joheannesburg has emerged as the crime capital of the world, a position Mumbai would challenge in the near future. In South Africa, illicit light weapons have come from Mozambique in the aftermath of the civil war. In India, the bulk of weapons have come from Pakistan in the aftermath of the civil war in Afghanistan. The only difference is that the Mozambique government accepts its failure in controlling the trade in illicit arms, whereas the Pakistan government refuses to do so.

The supply of light weapons is expected to increase even though fresh production has declined. There are already reports of smuggling from CIS. Besides, surplus weapons from countries where conflicts have been resolved such as El Salvador and Mozambique are known to have landed in the international black market. The dissolution of Executive Outcomes, a British firm specialised in supplying armed combatants, would place men and material in the open market. According to one source, 40 million AK series assault rifles have been produced in the world. But other sources place the estimates up to 70 million. Thus, there is a grey area covering the existence and whereabouts of almost 30 million AK series rifles. If India is not alert to the new supply lines, it can find itself engulfed by a monster which has already globbled civil life in parts of Pakistan.

It is impossible for India alone to stop the illicit trafficking of light weapons without cooperation of its neighbouring states. In a typical arms bazaar in Pakistan Kalashnikovs are available for Rs. 6000 of local make and Rs. 10000 of the Chinese make. As compared, the same costs Rs. 2 to 2.5 lakh in Mumbai's black market. With such a big price difference, smugglers have adequate temptations. The government has already taken up the matter at the bilateral level with Bangladesh and Myanmar. It is a necessary to engage Pakistan on the issue at the next round of Foriegn Secretary level talks.

It might even be worthwhile to consider a regional convention against illegal trafficking and training in light weapons, ammunitaion, explosives, and realted material. The countries in Central and South America have adopted an inter-American convention while Southern African countries are considering one at this stage. India is a party to the SAARC Convention on Terrorism which is merely an extradition treaty. It has been rendered meaningless, thanks to the contradictions between it articles VI and VII.

If South Asian convention against light arms and ammunition has to be meaningful it must compel the state parties to act against non-state actors at the behest of other state parties. In the absence of such a convention, India might submit the list of training facilities on the other side of LOC to Pakistan and the latter can simply discuss them. But if a state-party is compelled to act against a center of training and trafficking in light weapons in a territory under it jurisdiction at the state-party, it would not matter if the state-party itself were not the sponsor of such illicit arms facilities.

The convention should paritcularly focus on ammunitions and explosives. Since light weapons are small by definition, they tend to be easy to smuggle and dificult to detect. On the other hand, ammunition and explosives tend to be heavy and easier to detect. Weapons are useless without ammunition. Therefore, an emphasis on ammunition can solve half the problem.

It would be also necessary to complement the regional convention with the establishment of national commission. Light weapons per se can not be banned. They have legitimate use by the security forces. It is therefore necessary to distinguish between legal and illegal weapons so that action can be engineered against the latter. This would be best done at the national level. The national commissions coulc work closely with agencies authorised with the power of prosecusion and seizure to be effective. Basically, the national commission would determine the legitimacy of light weapons as the state would be obliged to act against those possessing or training in illegal weapons at the behest of other state-parties to the regional convention.

In the short run a convention against light weapons can help bring tranquility to Kashmir so that sustainable solutions can be explored through dialogue and negotiations. Experience since 1987 shows that availability of weapons itself can raise the threshold of violence. Conversely, decline in their availability can lower the level of violence. Light arms control would not by itself solve the political problem. But a non-violent framework for a political process is bound to be much more productive than a violent one. On the other hand, some of the ISI officers might oppose the proposition if they believe that they can use illegal arms trafficking to change equations on the ground. Therefore, regional convention against illicit arms might not find ready acceptance.

In the long rurn, measures to ban illicit arms would be essential for the survival of the Indian and Pakistani states and leaders. The recent attack on Nawaz Sharief should convince him that once it is made possible for non-state actors to possess illegal weapons, there are no guarantees of how they would be used. And in Pakistan light weapons are available easily with an estimated one lakh guns floating in Karachi alone. Neighbouring Afghanistan is awash with almost 10 million illegal weapons of all kinds. Many of them are sold in Peshwar for use in Karachi and potentially Lahore. By allowing the ISI to satisfy its greed in the handling of the Afghan pipeling, Pakistan has succeeded in destroying the economy of Karachi. While allowing few ISI officers to dream of petty victories in Kashmir, it would be dangerous to let sub-state groups gain supremacy over the state structures and the change the balance of power between the state and the criminals. It is as much in the interest of Pakistan as India to contain illicit trafficking in light weapons in Kashmir in particular and South Asia in general.

**** ****


Return to the Insight Page

Return to the Home Page

This site is maintained by Mhd. Sadiq and friends.