The Digital Journalist
The Gun Village

by Veronique de Viguerie

May 2006

Dara Adam Khel, one of the wildest places I have ever been, is located in the Khoat province on the lawless border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, where the entire village is living off the fabrication and sale of arms and munitions. Anything can be purchased here without a permit.

Bullets are fabricated in Dara, Pakistan, on Thursday, March 30, 2006.

(Veronique de Viguerie/WpN)
I have been fascinated by the idea of a gun village and desperate to go for the two years I have been based in Afghanistan. I'd heard, however, that it was impossible for foreigners to go there and with my camera I thought I'd stand out too much. Could I go there and take photos without getting noticed and perhaps arrested? I didn't think so.

I then heard from a friend, a French journalist based in Pakistan, that he had a Pakistani friend who could take us. The friend was originally from South Waziristan, one of the most dangerous and lawless places in Pakistan. Because he was a descendent of the prophet, his presence would make the visit easier. We had our guide and believed that if anyone could get us in and out without trouble it was this man. We quickly nicknamed him the 'Godfather.'

Rafiq manufactures guns in Dara, Pakistan. Rafiq only knows this way of life and he does it well.

(Veronique de Viguerie/WpN)
We met the Godfather in the nearby town of Peshawar, where we were staying and we organized the trip for a few days later. In Peshawar the Godfather introduced us to some more locals from Dara, one would come with us to smooth the way and act as our greeting card.

When we arrived in Dara after an incident-free journey I was amazed to see all the markets with gaudy billboard signs advertising all kinds of guns and ammunition. The real gun lovers could even design their own machine gun, rifle or pistol! The shops also had copies of all the most famous guns, from an AK-47 to an M-16. I was tempted by a Rambo-type machine gun!

A man works on a rifle barrel in Dara, Pakistan.

(Veronique de Viguerie/WpN)
It was hard to photograph and avoid the police and militias on the streets. I thought they would probably not be too happy to find me taking photos. I ventured further on, though, into the labyrinth of shops. There were all kinds of little factory shops deep in the town; some only make the ammunition, some the barrels, some the gun bodies.

What shocked me most about Dara was the constant barrage of gunshots. Before the guns were sold, each buyer fired a few rounds into the air to try them out. This is not only deafening but dangerous. What goes up must come down and according to shop owners, it was common for people to be killed or injured by falling bullets.

Apparently everyone is an arms specialist--the very young to the very old-- making their living off guns. It seems there is no moral objection.

Unfortunately a policeman noticed us and the Godfather whisked us into his house and gave us tea and naan bread. We waited, hoping, in vain as it turned out, that we could go back out and work. The Godfather, whose judgment by this time we trusted completely, said it was time to leave. Not wanting to get him into trouble, we left. I was pleased to have had the chance; I had wanted to go for two years and finally I had seen the market if only for a few hours.

© Veronique de Viguerie

French photographer Veronique de Viguerie has been covering events for World Picture News in Afghanistan and Pakistan for the past year. De Viguerie covers all types of subjects, ranging from hard news to reportage. She has produced a wide array of features for WpN, including the "Madrassas of Pakistan," "Afghanistan's Fiercest Policewoman," and "Daily Life in Kabul's Most Dangerous Neighborhoods." Based in Afghanistan, de Viguerie narrowly escaped death last year in a Kabul café when caught up in a suicide bomb blast; the man next to her was killed. She has been published in Newsweek, The New York Times, LIFE, The Daily Telegraph, The Times, Le Figaro, Le Monde and Libération.

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