Afghan Guns Are Arming Regional Insurgents

Afghan Guns Are Arming Regional Insurgents

When the Afghan government collapsed last Aug. 15, Sardar, a 38-year-old Afghan major, could not believe that the institution he gave 12 years of his life to collapsed like a deck of cards. He’d dodged years of threats from insurgent groups and plenty of bullets—only to watch then-Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fly away and leave them all to the mercy of a vengeful Taliban.

The first thing Sardar (he asked not to use his full name for security reasons) did was take off the army uniform that placed a target on his back and stashed away his “Brita”—his government-issued Beretta M9 sidearm. “My pride was reduced to dust; all my dreams were gone at once. When I reached home, I couldn’t even tell my mother what I had done, stripping away my honor with the uniform,” he said.

The next three months were a blur, running from province to province to escape the Taliban’s vengeance. Meanwhile, with no income, he had no way to support his family. So he turned to the one thing he had left.

“My ‘Brita’ was the only remaining identity of my service to my country, but I had to sell it to feed my family,” he said. Through a friend, Sardar made contact with a local arms dealer and sold him the M9 for 60,000 afghanis (or about $680).

Sardar isn’t the only Afghan fighter who has put his weapons for sale on the black market, and security experts suspect that many former soldiers may have helped stock smugglers’ coffers with Western weapons and equipment. An Afghan weapons smuggler that Foreign Policy reached out to shared that never before in 20 years of black market trade had he made as many transactions with former members of the military. 

“Most of my weapons in the last few months have come from former government forces, and American weapons are very lucrative and best-selling,” he said on the condition of anonymity in a phone interview. “Especially M4 carbines with cameras can go for as high as 250,000 afghanis while the M16 is priced between 70,000 and 75,000 [afghanis]. A British pistol costs 60,000 [afghanis].”

Many of these weapons though are finding their way to militant groups across the region. Indian security officials have shared concerns that a number of weapons— including M9 pistols, like those sold by Sardar—and equipment that belonged to the recently fallen Afghan army are showing up with militants in the Indian-administered Kashmir.

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