Proliferation and Smuggling of Light Weapons Within the Region

- Tara Kartha, Research Fellow, IDSA

Light Arms proliferation - a global problem

Less than a decade ago , few countries saw any reason at all to discuss the issue of light arms proliferation in all it’s many facets within the ambit of national security. The term itself was somewhat unknown within most policy making structures, or at least barely understood in all its scope for violence. Even as scholars and policy makers alike pored over the problems of missile threats and nuclear imbalances, the incidence of intra state conflict continued unabated, caused primarily by an unprecedented spread of light weapons in the hands of non state actors . These wars have extracted a heavy toll in terms of human life and the socio-economic development of entire regions, costs which can never be adequately computed, since the damage to society at large has been both extensive and mulitfaceted. Obviously it is difficult to judge the damage these wars have caused to value systems, Asian or otherwise, or to gauge the effects on the new generation of children who have grown up familiar with the cult of violence. However, even a far from complete "body count" is horrifying - in Afghanistan the death toll has crossed a 100,000 and is still rising, while Cambodia, Sri Lanka and states around South Africa continue to see conflict related deaths in their thousands. In countries like the Philippines and India ( Kashmir and Punjab) , militancy claimed less in terms of a "body count" , but the threat to the stability of the state was considerable, and caused governments much heartburn and resources wasted. All these wars were essentially "light weapons wars" where the state attempted to overwhelm a few hundred militants with sheer numbers, while the militants used inventiveness, surprise, and better weaponry to deadly effect, making them practically invincible. Since they often retreated into the territory of another state, low level militancy sometimes threatened to flare into conventional war. Even as the government hurried to suggest "political solutions" it was a fact that either a section of the militants continued to hold out, or that the conflict itself degenerated into a dangerous criminality, sustained by an increasing availability of weapons of increased lethality. The transition from the .303 to the AK-47 was a bloody one, as most states were to find out

Elsewhere, as in some South American countries, drug barons had allied with insurgents ( like the Shining Path ) in a response to reciprocal needs. While the former needed the "protection " of hired guns for his activities, the latter used them to keep himself and his cause in good condition. A similar situation persists in Afghanistan, where drug production continues to climb even as cultivation thrives under the Taliban. In Myanmar, the "protection" once offered by Khun Sa and his Mong Tai army is now hopefully at an end, but the problem continues aided by the proliferation of illicit guns in the region in the hands of other groups.

At another level, terrorism in Asia registered a huge rise , with such incidents in Southern Asia marked by the movement of huge quantities of explosives by land and sea , as militants used it in macabre suicide attacks on leading personalities, or in massed attacks against strategic or commercial targets . In Sri Lanka, militants used rocket launchers, grenades and guns to force open a barricade and ram a truck filled with explosives into the side of a Bank in Colombo, resulting in an explosion that killed hundreds and almost destroyed an entire block. India’s commercial centre Bombay , suffered one of the worst terrorist attacks in the world in a series of twelve blasts which led to the death of 236, with 1,200 injured and immense commercial loss. In both cases the explosives used had come from outside the state. An assassination of a Prime Minister and a Chief Minister (Punjab) have been other incidents in this chain in India, while in Sri Lanka an entire level of leadership at various levels seems to have been targeted.

Across the world there seemed to be a "globalization of violence" as crime levels soared, and citizens sought the right to arm themselves against a threat that was invading their very homes. If in parts of the US, motorists were given more freedom to use weapons against armed car thieves, wildlife wardens in India were demanding better weaponry to combat poachers armed with automatic weapons. In South Africa, armed crime spiraled with a murder rate about five times that of the USA , while even China has reportedly seen a massive rise in armed crime as weapons flow in from neighbouring conflict areas. . The White Book of the Russian special services estimated that there are more than 200,000 automatic weapons in the hands of more than 3,000 criminal structures and their paramilitary formations. Other sources assess that there may be 1.5 million illegal weapons in Russia.

As Chinese arms turned up in Columbia, Afghanistan, and Sri Lanka, and American weapons turned up in South Africa, Mexico, and Columbia, it was obvious that not only was the phenomenon of weapons proliferation a global problem , but also that the trade was equally far flung in its scope of operations. Clearly globalization was as relevant to gun running as it was to the sale of any other commodity. In short , the present problem for law enforcers , anti narcotics agents, anti terrorist squads, customs agents, militaries or any body that seeks to implement the law arises from :

Þ an immensely increased availability of weapons outside state control,

Þ an increased lethality.( from the .303 to the AK),

Þ A global trade .

The highest common factor - a massive availability of weapons

While there appeared to be a chasm of sorts between domestic crime, and conflict situations, closer analysis reveals that commonalties and linkages rather than differences. Both, as noted above, owe their persistence to the massive and unprecedented availability of weapons at a global level that flows from diverse sources - excess weapons of militaries, state stocks under poor control, deliberate arming etc. - all of which are usually the result of either discriminate state action, or the failure/inability of a state to exercises it’s functions.

Secondly, and arising from the above, criminals and "independent " militant groups alike access a newly invigorated black-market that can offer a variety of technologically superior weapons at competitive prices, the only difference being that the one buys in terms of hundreds while the other buys in one’s and two ‘s further along the chain of arms trade , that is, from the dealers and smugglers who thrive on the fringes of almost every democratic or undemocratic country. For instance, while Egyptian or Algerian militants may buy their weapons from the arms bazaars of Pakistan, the same bazaar also supplies the city dealers, who in turn supply the private militias and criminals within Pakistan itself.

Thirdly , weapons are intrinsic to all illicit activity in different degrees - thus smugglers of all hues, the flesh trade, common hoodlums, thieves or poachers, all need weapons of varying lethality to carry on their chosen trade. The seriousness of crime and conflict arises from an increasing capability for destruction inherent to the weapons now available.

Fourth, the movement of weapons itself spawns all manner of criminal activity on it’s own, or as more apparent , leads to a pattern of cooperation between the criminals, terrorists, militants smugglers, and narcotics traffickers across entire regions. This has important connotations for conflict resolution and indeed affects the nature of the conflict itself. In Kashmir, the criminalisation of the "jehad" following the rise of extortion, smuggling and bank robberies, has been acknowledged and condemned by the leadership of major militants groups.

Fifth, and most important , recent research has suggested that the state is the main proliferator of the weapons which feeds both the gray and black markets. Thus the proliferation chain has the state at one end and the criminal at the other . When the horizontal chain forms a loop, the state becomes dominated by criminal organizations, or many dissolve into a series of petty gangland turfs (Somalia). In short, the twin phenomena of rising crime as well as armed conflicts and terrorism are indissolubly linked to a global proliferation and movement of weapons. To address one is to address the other. This underlines not only the seriousness of the problem but also the "across the board" direction any form of controls should take.

The following analysis serves to underline the above on a regional framework . This does not at all mean a dilution of the importance of the global aspects. The fact that weapons infusions outside the region, immediately translates into increased proliferation in surrounding countries is one that must be constantly kept in mind. Regional classifications, however convenient , tends to blur the fact that transnational criminal activity respects no such boundaries . Having said that however, a considerable quantity of weapons seem to move within certain geographical limits through a complicated process of diffusion. In this paper ," Proliferation " implies a great and rapid increase in numbers (of weapon capabilities ) into a given area and "diffusion" implies a lateral dispersal of weapons by design ( covert war by state intelligence agencies ) or accident ( theft, loss, individual sales) - in fact the process that is set in motion by geographically limited proliferation and ends with a global proliferation. As may be seen, there are various levels of arms trafficking within this region, and this paper discusses this transnational traffic with the aim of evolving realistic controls on their movement, and evolving some cooperation between the countries identified.

Arms smuggling and trade in APR

The primary question that confronts us, is whether the APR has a weapon proliferation problem and if so it’s nature and extent. Since a quantitative analysis is impossible , the following table may prove to be useful as a broad indicator (TABLE .2)

 

 

TABLE - 2

COUNTRY GUN RUNNING MILITANCY/

TERRORISM

NARCOTICS

TRAFFICKING

CRIME*
AUSTRALIA Ö X Ö Ö
CAMBODIA Ö Ö Ö Ö
INDONESIA X Ö Ö --
INDIA Ö Ö Ö Ö
JAPAN   Ö   Ö
MACAU Ö X Ö Ö
MALAYSIA Ö - Ö ?
MYANMAR Ö Ö Ö Ö
PHILLIPINES Ö Ö Ö -
SRI LANKA Ö Ö Ö Ö
TAIWAN Ö X Ö Ö
THAILAND Ö X Ö -
LATIN AMERICA Ö Ö Ö Ö
CENTRAL AMERICA Ö Ö Ö Ö
UNITED STATES Ö Ö Ö Ö
VIETNAM Ö X Ö Ö

 

Sources: Patterns of Global terrorism ( US State Department), International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, IDSA Data base,

* Since figures are not available for armed crime for all countries , the author has used the country press to evaluate where a country feels that it has a problem with armed crime.

 

As can be seen from this table, there are few countries that can claim to be impervious to gun running or any of the allied activity that goes with it. Where one country suffers from militancy , a neighbour may suffer from a lethal crime rate, or a simmering localized militancy /terrorist attacks.

Within this region lies one of the world’s most debilitating conflict areas , and one of the largest narcotics producers in the world (Cambodia and Myanmar). Along the periphery lies Afghanistan which is assessed to have weapons worth around $8 bn within, and must be factored into the study of any arms trade in the APR region, since the movement of weapons from this "weapons warehouse" is considerable. It must be noted that light weapons flows from Afghanistan to other countries if anything are likely to increase as and when peace returns to that unfortunate country. This can be taken as a given, unless measures to counter this are taken well in advance. While figures for weapon infusions are at best guesstimates, one may safely say that Afghanistan stands foremost in the world, in having within its borders the largest numbers of weapons not produced by itself. An indicator in Cambodia is the extremely cheap price of an admittedly old Kalashnikov (around $8) which may serve to underline the availability of weapons in that area.

It is difficult to arrive at a precise figure on the actual quantum of traffic in small arms , with at least one source putting the covert trade at roughly $5 - 10 billion worth at the global level. While such figures would include Bosnia , it must be noted that most of the conflict areas are in developing countries in Asia and Africa, which makes these the main "market" for weapons. The main weapons types within this region which are fueling conflict and crime fall squarely into the light arms bracket -- assault rifles, LMG’s UMG’s rocket launchers, mortars, landmines, shoulderlaunched anti tank and anti aircraft weapons, and lower calibre guns . Since China and the USA represent the largest arms producers in this region, and were once the patrons of various groups, it is hardly surprising that the vast majority of weapons are of this origin. Also available are the weapons being produced by regional actors ( under license) like the G-3 and Pakistani made AK’s, and RPG’s. However, since the 1990’s weapons from former Soviet and East European countries are also available in some areas.

Direction of traffic

The direction of traffic at present in the region seems to be rather a curious one, and flows in the following pattern

a) Weapons moving out from former conflict areas t - feeding regional militancy and crime, which are mostly purely commercial transactions . i.e. they form the black-market trade in weapons.

b) Weapons from ongoing conflict areas (Afghanistan) moving into distant areas of rising discontent/ militancy ( non commercial)

c) Fresh infusions of weapons from international gray markets (commercial and non commercial ) mainly from excess stocks of weapons within countries.

d) Movement of weapons from major producing countries due to poor controls, feeding the black market.

By and large, it has been seen that incidences of the large movement of weapons from ongoing conflict as part of a commercial transaction seems to be rare. However, the diffusion in small lots occurs regularly. A brief review of the trade in this part of the world may illustrate this .

Weapons from former conflict Areas

Several countries in this region, like Myanmar( the then Burma) , Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam have all experienced immense infusions of weapons through various actors. In Myanmar and Laos , this became intermingled with the narcotics trade, thus ensuring that weaponisation continued well after equations had changed within this area. Thailand, being the main supply route for weapons into Cambodia has suffered not only from the diffusion which followed this process, but also from the fact that she is still home to some 90,000 displaced persons , ( many of whom are armed) as well as prey to a booming trade in narcotics. Thailand is still a transit area for weapons, but in the reverse direction. Over the years, her border towns have become strongholds of narcotics and gun smuggling gangs . Financial necessity of major militant groups along both borders had led to what might be called a "cooperative pyramid" , with the militants at the bottom, and various high ranking officials of the state at the top. Typically, weapons may pass through a small dealer who sets up shop in Bangkok or any other location , or a middle man who has long held "contacts" with the big time buyers, and who delivers on demand. These consignments are brought from Cambodia, and then pass through Thailand to the "shipping agent" who then may deliver off a country’s coast, or alternatively the consignment may change hands at mid sea. Today, Thailand , due its basic stability, and due also to a strong push to stop such activity, has not seen the kind of "Gun culture" that Pakistan has, and the state is still a strong one, with the ability to impose controls if it so wishes..

While Rangoon has signed a series of cease-fires with major insurgent groups, nonetheless Myanmar is assessed to have around 20-30,000 armed personnel who are still not under any governmental control . While the cease-fires may genuinely have helped in reducing the demand for weapons, nonetheless it appears that these groups are not averse to weapons trafficking to other insurgent groups in the region. Both the Kachins and the Karens have been important arms agents for India’s north eastern groups, while Khun Sa was once a known arms dealer. Myanmar’s lagoons and islets are often used as harbours by militant groups. During the time that the Indian Peace Keeping forces were operating in Sri Lanka, at least one consignment of weapons arrived via Myanmar at a critical juncture of the operations, allowing the weakened militants to rearm. The port of Twanthe was being used by the Tamil Tigers, as a rest and recuperation area, as well as a transit point for shipments from Singapore or Thailand. The Cambodian source which sold Khun Sa four SAM-7’s is alleged by Sri Lankan sources to have sold these weapons to the Tamil Tigers as well. The Tamil Tigers have used surface to air shoulder fired missiles on at least 3 occasions, (with an unconfirmed fourth later) with devastating effect.

Weapons and militancy: The Golden Bird case

The nature of the market in this region can best be illustrated by a brief evaluation of a particular case of transfers.

One operation that was studied in considerable detail reveals the considerable quantities that seem to be available from the Cambodian bazaars, as well as underlines the "business contacts" between groups. In February 1993, the self styled `Foreign Secretary’ of an Assamese militant group ( the United Liberation Front of Assam) traveled from Bangladesh to Bangkok, and then on to Chiang Mai and Mae Sot (a border town) entering Manerplaw - the Karen stronghold in Lower Burma. His request to Gen Bo Mya for around 100,000 assorted weapons could only be fulfilled some six months later ( at a cost of around $ 200,000). The first consignment supplied by the KNU from the Cambodian arms bazaar ( suspected to have been accessed via the Khmer Rouge) included 775 AK-56 rifles, 65 GPMG's. 10 rocket propelled guns with more than 100 anti tank and anti personnel shells, 50 pistols and rifle ammunition.

To get these in was another operation. The Arakan Liberation Party, another rebel group and a known carrier group for weapons, were coopted to bring in the weapons to a location on the Burma -Bangladesh border for a staggering Rs 1.5 million. As they returned with the weapons, one group fell into a trap set by the Indian Army and the Myanmarese Army,(Operation Golden Bird) with the result that some weapons, and militants were caught, while many escaped with their weapons. Thus , four different ethnic groups liased across four countries with considerable success ( since only a part of the consignment was caught). The arrangements required for the delivery and payment of the weapons however, could have included at least two more countries in the region.

It must be noted that Indian north east groups in the late 1980’s had access only to what a few Burmese insurgent groups chose to give them, or alternatively were dependent on a fitful route for weapons from the border trading towns. While the above case is one aspect, many other groups have chosen to go directly to the source . Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tigers, and at least four separate insurgent groups of the Indian north east, and possibly Philippine rebels are known to purchase arms through Phuket, and Ranong. Specific instances of seizures are many, with the most recent being a 12 member fishing vessel carrying a cargo of around 600 assault rifles, and a large quantity of explosives impounded off Cox’s Bazaar. Yet another was seized by vigilant Thai navy personnel, bound for Manipur . The vessel , again caught off Ranong, was carrying four personnel of the Indian north eastern secessionist group the PLA ( People’s Liberation Army ), while another six were apparently from Myanmar’s Arakan state. Authorities seized around two tons of weapons, though a large part of the consignment was dumped overboard. Weapons seized included two RPG launchers, two recoilless guns, 20 assault rifles, and around 10,000 rounds of ammunition.

Weapons for crime

As noted above, crime levels have jumped in China as weapons move in from former conflict areas like Vietnam and Myanmar ( where the intensity of the conflict may be said to have come down). The "100 day" Strike Hard campaign in Inner Mongolia for instance, captured 7,350 illegal weapons, 38545.6 kg of explosives and amazingly more than 76,000 detonators. Interestingly , the operation also targeted drug refining and trafficking centres in this area. While the type of weapons seized were are unknown, it has been reported that Type 54 (automatic pistol) landmines, grenades, have flowed into Pinguyuan (which in turn supplies weapons for criminal activities to other states) Following previous patterns, a raid in 1996 on organized crime led to more than 100,000 weapons seized . Sources point to corrupt officials and political bosses on both sides of the border with Myanmar ( Ruili ) and in towns along the Vietnam border. . Nanning, once the staging point for the weapons pipeline into Vietnam has also seen a return of old army issue weapons.

Weapons appear to have diffused into the hands of criminal gangs who operate across the region. In the United States, weapons once supplied to allies ( like the Philippines, South Korea) have in 1995 and 1996 been traced to more than 1, 800 crime sites and killed at least 10 police officers according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms ( the old M-1 carbines can be converted to automatic firing and the rifles into illegal assault weapons) If the National Rifle Association has it’s way, a lot more of these weapons would sold at subsidies rates to weapons dealers in the US, leading to an estimated 2.5 million more guns at large within the country. The US market supplies Mexico and Latin American criminals with Chinese and American weapons or all kinds, which has prevented these countries from taking effective measures to combat drug trafficking and terrorism. Elsewhere, states like Sri Lanka have suffered a rapid diffusion of weapons into society, one that is more noticeable due to its small size, due in part to the ongoing conflict within. In India, diffusion into criminal hands is apparent in states bordering Pakistan, which is itself a major weapons holding area. Recent figures indicate that Pakistan’s one small town Liaz Beg is believed to house 20,000 weapons besides being a sanctuary for criminals of all hues . Pakistan has suffered an immense increase in sectarian and ethnic violence, as well as armed crime, since the Afghan conflict escalated. In Japan , this rise in crime is relatively less, but mafia gangs are known to be armed, with various types of guns and pen pistols. In the US , crime has jumped due to the most liberal gun laws in the world which creates a domestic market which is fed by Chinese and Russian weapons. (see below) In Cambodia, crime is simply a function of the loss of control of the state over it’s many functions.

Terrorism has also received a fillip across the region. A typical case of transnational terrorism is that of Aimal Kansi , a Pakistani who on 25 January 1993, flew into the US, bought a weapon, and shot three CIA employees outside CIA Headquarters, and then flew back to Pakistan. His arrest nearly four years later, was only possible due to a huge ransom and a reported political pressuring of the Pakistani government. India’s serial bombing case in Bombay was also a result of cooperation between organized crime bosses, while in the north east, oil pipelines have been targeted by militant groups using explosives smuggled in through neighbouring countries.

Weapons from ongoing conflict areas

An example of weapons flowing in from a continuing conflict area to fuel dormant ethnic unrest is that of China’s region of Xinjiang, The most recent incidence of violence was at the end of Ramzan in 1997, when at least a hundred people lost their lives in sustained ethnic violence. Separatists are said to have been well armed , and are suspected to have been part of the Tableegh -e Jamaat based in Lahore (Pakistan) an extremist grouping that is part of many such in that country. Bomb blasts followed killing seven and injuring sixty seven . Since Uighurs were seen at various rallies led by the extreme religious groupings, and the chief of the Jamaat -i-Islami of Pakistan had publicly declared his party’s assistance to "jehad" the world over, the weapons movements is understood not to have been a commercial one.

The religious factor may have been a factor in the case of the Abu Sayyaf group of the Philippines, which is believed to have received help and training in Afghanistan, where Filipinos fought under the aegis of the extremist Rasool Sayyaf. Back in Manila, the chief of the group Abujarak Janjalani ( or Abu Sayyaf ) , is alleged to be linked to the breakaway Moro Islamic Liberation Front, who’s chief was also said to have trained in the volatile conflict in the 1980’s. In October 1994, the MILF is said to have brought in arms for the terrorist group ,which is widely believed to have been involved in the Ipil massacre (April 4, 1995) which left over 52 people dead.

The Afghan connection was also apparent in Myanmar, where the dreaded Pakistan based Harakat-ul Ansar, an organization identified as a terrorist one by US authorities, trained Arakanese Muslims in handling weapons and guerrilla warfare (It has already been noted that Arakanese groups are prominent in facilitating arms smuggling to other groups). This training is done through funding from various sympathetic organization, and hence again is non commercial.

It may be noted, that while the Sri Lankan conflict continues to rage with the Tamil Tigers able to field some of the best weaponry available, no large movement of weapons has yet occurred into neighbouring Indian states in the past eight years or more, or into any other conflict spots. While it is suspected that Tigers may have passed on explosives to some factions, it is understood that the group offers "training" but no weapons.

Movements of weapons from the international grey markets

Poor controls over weapons stocks has also led to the spread of weapons into countries far afield. These are again highly unlikely to be commercial transactions, since the amounts involved have been far out of proportion to the costs of the weapons themselves.

The Purulia case

Since late 1994, the Indian north east has once again been hostage to a rising spiral of violence, with figures for 1996-97 showing a 256% increase in four states . From the days when militants from this region had to trek through inhospitable terrain to Kachin territory for a few dozen weapons, today’s militants are equipped with a range of weaponry that come in through circuitous routes. One such was the attempt on 17 December 1996, when an Antonov-26 aircraft dropped over 300 AK-47/56, 20,543 rds of ammunition, Dragunov sniper weapons, rocket launchers and around 70 boosters, and curiously, night vision glasses, over a village in the Indian state of West Bengal.

The aircraft was bought from Latvia for $ 2 million, and chartered by a Hong Kong registered company Carol Airlines. Payments were made mostly through foreign bank accounts, and the aircraft was ferried to Karachi, where it was registered through Shaheen Airlines ( which has the Pakistan army as the largest shareholder) . After a dry run over the air drop area, the aircraft moved to Bulgaria from where the consignment of arms was picked up using a false end user certificate of a neighbouring country. The aircraft returned to Karachi, and then flew on to the air drop area, parachuted the arms , and then flew on to Phuket (after being denied landing in Rangoon) . On the return flight via Madras, the aircraft was forced to land at Bombay, where most of the crew and persons concerned were caught. The possibility of such an operation being a commercial transaction on the part of the patron agency is slim. While each of the persons caught were obviously being paid well for their efforts, one theory holds that bringing weapons into the north east had become difficult due to increased control by both sides, leading to desperate measures.

The above is used only as an example of many such instances. It is well known that the Tamil Tigers have regularly accessed the black and grey market . Greece, Cyprus, Ukraine, and perhaps Turkey are reported as having been ports of call for Tamil tiger ships. India’s north eastern rebels attempted to get to East European markets, and indeed their "diplomats" visit these locations in search of cheap buys.

Movement of weapons due to loose controls

While most Chinese see the inflow of weapons referred to above as a function of the opening up to neighbours, ( before 1980 China had one of the lowest crime rates in the world) there is clearly an internal dimension as well. Recent reports confirm that some part of these weapons come from within the country itself. One recent case in Lianoning illustrated that part time workers in an ammunition depot had been responsible for the disappearance of ammunition grenades, night vision devices, and telescopes. Typically , the culprits tried to ignite the ammunition storehouse to hide the theft, but were unable to resulting in the arrest of those concerned. Such "ammunition depot" accidents , are rife around the region, with both Pakistan and Vietnam experiencing such accidents, as well as Russian depots in the Far East. Typically these ammunition "accidents" are usually near conflict areas, where state factories are either non existent or non functional . ( as in Afghanistan)

Lack on control over Russian and former Soviet States’ weapons stocks are now common knowledge with the only difference in opinion being on the extent of the problem. Between 1992 and mid 1994 for instance, the Russian armed forces lost 14, 400 hand guns, submachine guns, and machine guns, and 17 shoulder launched anti tank weapons. Additionally 2,300 firearms were stolen from the Ministry of Internal Affairs stocks in the first six months of 1994 alone.

Australia had a similar problem , with fringe groups mostly armed with weapons from pilfered government stocks. One source points out that there are some 2 million gun owners in Australia, ( out of a population of 17 million). Gun controls were tightened after the Port Arthur massacre, when a lone gunman killed 35 people.

In India, theft of stocks of police, paramilitary forces or army weapons ( especially in transit ) are known to happen, but rather ironically these weapons ( SLR’s and .303’s) are not of any interest to the militants who view the AK as a status symbol ( India does not produce any of the AK series ) besides which it remains the ideal close quarter weapon for a relatively untrained militant. The carbines are in some demand. The need for high technology and better gear was illustrated when an alert Police officer warned Calcutta authorities that an arms dealer linked to certain north east groups were planning to buy bullet proof jackets and metal detectors ( these items are banned for civilian circulation, as are semi automatic weapons ) Attacks on armouries were common, but have since appeared to tail off.

In the US, the glaring problem is one of gun laws that are hardly regulatory. To an outsider, it appears that anyone can own a gun in the US and does. The demand for heavier weapons was best illustruated by the reported import of 75 million rounds of 7.62 ammunition (Soviet round) by a private importer for commerical purposes. Recently , the Mexican Government had asked the US Treasury Department to trace 4, 300 firearms recovered in crimes . The flow of arms is seen as a by product of the hemispheric drug trade, since nearly all were seized during drug raids. Argentina has seen the use of the AR-15 ( American ) Ak-47 ( Russian ) Uzi machine guns( Israel) and Glock pistols ( Austria) leading many to suspect that European organized crime is also a factor in bringing in weapons.

Envisaging controls

The above data underlines certain basic points which needs to be reiterated

Given the above, it is clear that the possibility of success of any single state in controlling the weapons trade is bound to be slight.

In evolving controls, the trade has to be viewed at the various levels of trade identified at the beginning of this paper.

The problem of retrieving weapons from former conflict areas is obviously the most difficult, and disarmament schemes even by the UN Peace Keeping forces have not proved to be of much help. In Cambodia, it may be recalled that the disarmament mission was jettisoned very early on due to the impossibility of getting major groups to sign on .It is also a fact that disarmament schemes have been inconsistent, and ill funded, with few mandate’s giving it the importance it deserved. In war torn areas, clearly only a return to security, and a climate where a gun is no longer felt to be necessary will such schemes work. In the last reckoning , no exchange - either for food, land or money- will be considered a fair one if a weapon holder’s very survival is at stake.

The "Security First" approach

This has been implemented in the UN approach to the problem of weapon availability in Mali. Under a collaborative programme between the UNDP(UN Development Programme), the UN Department of Political Affairs, and the UN Centre for Disarmament Affairs (CDA) are assisting the government of Mali with post conflict peace building and development. Relatively modest amounts ( $212 million) has been used to good effect. Since the implementation of the peace accords these funds have been used to better, border control, policing, so that the development aid which had been held up could be used to allow Mali to help itself much sooner than otherwise. This is a novel approach , which has for the first time linked weapons proliferation as a direct problem facing development. However, this would first and foremost require a "peace " of sorts on the ground, and political will at the international level, which may not be available in countries with more complex challenges.

Legal Aid

Since Cambodia has been identified as one worst hit by narcotics and weapon proliferation, it may suit that country to get outside (regional) legal staff to advise her in law making . War torn states cannot hope to develop this capacity on their own for at least a decade ( at the very least ) and since development is closely tied to societal stability, Cambodia might find such a body helpful, even if it were to remain advisory . Such assistance already exists through UNDCP in the sphere of narcotics, but as with all UN agencies, it ‘s operational ability may depend on individual initiative. Similarly, a body to destroy seized weapons could be set up as a regional "trust". The urgency of immediate destruction cannot be overemphasized, since it is these weapons that continue to circulate across the region.

Getting Transnational in Approach Tackling the "Gray Market"

No peace could ever come to Cambodia or anywhere else unless the gray market in weapons in firmly tackled. This closing down of the gray market can only be done through international cooperation especially by the major weapons producing states. The EU (European Union ) is moving towards a " code of conduct" for weapons transfers (though this does not seem to mention anything about the covert trade as such) . Major weapons producers ( who at any rate usually have an economic stake in countries where their weapons are being used) might see their way to realizing that their interests would be better served through stability rather than arms. Weapons can be traced, and such manufacturers who sell weapons to non state actors, or defy an embargo should be tried as offenders. Such legislation already exists where technology relating to weapons of mass destruction are concerned. It must be noted that light weapons have proved themselves capable of more "mass destruction " than nuclear weapons ever did.

Legal conformity/ basic knowledge

Such cooperation with states would need come conformity of laws that identify a particular act as a culpable offense. Core groups of states in the Sahara-Sahel region, as well as in Central America (Organization of American States) have come together to not only harmonize laws, but also to cooperate with border and customs control. The latter group has already come out with a Convention to help control light weapon movements and proliferation. These moves implicitly recognize it as a transnational problem with the beginning to be made nationally and regionally.

Pending such a convention for the region ( which should also take into account the drug impact) visits and courses to learn about each others laws and institutions would be a help. At present while INTERPOL does help as a referral agency, it does not facilitate cooperation and a "familiarization" between the different intelligence agencies within the region. Legislation alone is not enough. Regular visits, and crash courses on each other’s problems is a necessity.

Uniform gun control laws

This is deliberately put under a separate head, since it’s importance cannot be overemphasised. It is well known that the US provides a ready blackmarket for weapons, which has traversed to various countries. The existence of stringent laws in these countries has not helped much. For instance, Japan and India have some of the toughest gun control laws in the world but continue to suffer from proliferation of weapons. States like Pakistan have the requisite laws but are completely unable to implement them due to the chaos engendered in society by armed sectarian and ethnic groups. Developing states, with poorly paid and understaffed police forces, are simply unequipped to lay down the law where high levels of proliferation exist. Border forces similarly cannot man every track and trail, even should the political will exist to tackle the problem. While even developed countries have not had much success in border control, however they can successfully institute stringent gun control laws, which would not affect their national security concerns .

Raising awareness

All of the above is only possible if there is an awareness among the bureaucrats and legislators as to the extent and seriousness of the problem . This is sadly lacking today, and only comes up on occasion when a particularly barbaric or terrible act has been perpetrated . All academics and NGO’s need to reach out to as many as possible . Much can be learnt from the ICRC campaign against landmines which has come a long way in two to three years. The media especially should be constantly sensitized, as well as students and teachers.

Targeting the ammunition

It has been observed that non - state actors face considerable difficulty in accessing adequate ammunition for their rapid firing guns. Even though availability appears to have increased in recent years, buying ammunition is an expensive business. Even ammunition for crude country made revolvers costs Rs 6- -120 a round in Calcutta. No documented case yet exists of non state groups manufacturing ammunition for the Kalashnikov ( for instance) since the brake here is the precision and high degree of reliability that is normally available only at well established factories. Given the fact that the producers of the most popular 7.62 round ( Soviet ) are limited in the region ( China, USA) the prospects for tightening controls on ammunition production is considerable. However, this depends on the willingness of states to be party to such control measures as suggested above. The possibility of errant states producing the ammunition covertly cannot be ruled out. While an international ban would be helpful, in the meantime, a rising demand for action by states party to weapon control conventions ( even an interlocking sets of conventions between say, a Central American and APR Convention ) would contribute to pressurizing the truant state from such activity. Without ammunition, the million of AK’s and M-16’s are simply junk.

Getting the men

It is an unfortunate fact that most cross border cooperation or even single country operations results in catching only the lower most rungs of the gun running business. The US has made it a policy to nab prominent terrorists however long the operation takes. The recent capture of Aimal Kansi ( wanted for gunning down CIA operatives in the US) is an illustration of the fact that there really are not many places for a wanted man to hide, given enough money and determination . Such cooperation is lacking in the extreme between other states. Prominent gangland bosses have global networks, and some states in the region have resolutely refused to move against such offenders. Sheltering states may realize that such activity sooner or later spreads violence to their own soil. Some West Asian states are beginning to see the dangerous effects of gang wars , much to their dismay.

Many countries within the region have taken proliferation problems seriously and responded swiftly. China, for instance, has come down heavily on all such activities ( especially the coastal and southern areas) and has not hesitated with the death penalty even where the perpetrator is part of the official machinery. China has also taken active interest in all regional and international efforts to deal with transnational crime. Recently , China has amended it’s criminal laws to enhance the fight against organized and transnational crime. By the end of 1996, China had signed 32 judicial assistance agreements with 25 countries and extradition agreements with six countries according to the Deputy Minister of justice Zhang Geng Since 1993, India has also signed bilateral agreements with neighbours and with other countries to facilitate extradition and legal assistance. This includes the Russian Federation, Canada, Britain, Bulgaria, Romania and Egypt. Similar agreements are on the anvil with other countries. However, these bilateral agreements can never be a replacement for regional action. Much of the success that the Narcotics Control Bureau ( for instance ) has had is due to the fact that the trafficking of narcotics is internationally recognized as an offence, thus making joint efforts (even where bilaterals have not been signed) an easier task.

A Regional Light Arms Convention

In the final analysis, all of the above could be brought under the framework of a Convention which would address the problems faced by each country - be it crime, terrorism or militancy. As noted earlier, to tackle the one is to tackle the other. Such a Convention should have a "bottom up " approach, which seeks to tackle all three levels of domestic armed crime, terrorism, and militancy by targeting the tools of their trade - the explosives, weapons, and associated equipment . Most countries in this region are party to the relevant narcotics conventions that make narcotics trafficking a punishable offense. It must be noted that these narcotics related conventions ( especially the 1988 Convention against Illicit traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances ) already provides the basis for mutual legal assistance, and provides for investigation into money laundering and other activities. Thus states may use this convention as an umbrella agreement to facilitate cooperation where bilateral agreements do not exist. The brake is formulating a similar ban at the global level on light arms smuggling arises from different interpretation on what constitutes an "illicit " transaction. At the regional level however, a broader understanding may be crafted, once member states decide that they want to take action. The limitation is purely political, and once this is removed, considerable advantage would accrue from such structured cooperation.

Increasingly terrorism is also beginning to see a certain world wide cooperation, since most countries have realized that all are potential targets. A significant move is the merging of the UNDCP and the smaller division for crime prevention and criminal justice at Vienna. Heading it is Senator Pino Arlachhi , a former deputy chairman of Italy’s anti mafia commission and a leading authority on organized crime and drug trafficking. While moves by the UN to streamline its efforts are welcome, it must be buttressed by regional efforts since it is here that trust and mutual confidence needs to be built. This is necessarily a slow process, and needs help from NGO’s, academics, and diplomats to push the tempo. Cooperation in this will naturally foster confidence and better relations overall, since each will remain less prone to suspicion of the other’s intentions.

In conclusion, it is amazing that countries have not moved towards full fledged cooperation in an area where all are clearly vulnerable. The fact that the subject had not been put on the agenda of security threats earlier ( being seen more as one related to militancy or terrorism rather than a "stand alone" threat ) may be one reason for this lack. However, the subject has moved ahead at the global and regional levels with surprising speed, sometimes even catching national government unawares. Journalists. NGO’s, and other concerned persons have all contributed to fostering a realization of the seriousness of the threat emanating from the proliferation and diffusion of light weapons. Now it remains for the statesmen to compound that realization into law.