"Many sons and a lot of guns."
The tiny Toyota pickup sent a cloud of dust rising behind it as it crawled its way through the sandy mountains of the Khyber Pass. The three gunmen in the back, members of the local Afridi tribe, all sat on the edge of the pickup's bed nonchalantly, as if the dramatic scenery all around them was old news. A few lazy clouds frolicked in the morning sun, providing little shade and even less hope.
In the passenger seat, a tall man in his early 30's was smoking a cigarette with the window open. Lazily, he checks his watch: 9:30 AM. This heat isn't going to be letting up any time soon. For him, heat was the enemy. It spoiled food, caused dehydration and burns and made running through the desert with 25 pounds of equipment pure hell. Luckily, he wouldn't be doing any running today. He was a friend of the Afridi tribe, and was thus allowed free passage through the Pass into Durra, his final destination. To get to this point, he had to take two 11 hour flights, one smaller 2 hour flight and a 5 hour drive. Luckily, his journey was almost over.
The road straightens out and a stone structure becomes visible in the hazy distance. As the pickup approaches, the structure is identified as a gate. The driver of the pickup lowers his window and flashes a badge at the two armed guards standing outside the gates. The guard closest to the drivers side recognizes the badge and nods his head. The pickup is allowed to pass through.
"Welcome to Durra, Khan sahib," the driver says to his passenger, who smiles in return.
The city itself is small, crowded and very third world. The surrounding mountains trap the entire valley in a perpetual cloud of dust, which is only worsened by the noxious fumes of old 2 stroke engines. The population is mostly Pashtun Muslims, and claim to have roots in this area dating back 2000+ years, and understandably so. The surrounding mountains would make any kind of assault on these people a suicide mission, especially considering the local economy.
When the pickup stops outside a cramped 2-story house, Mr. Khan is the first to get out. From inside the house, a skinny Pakistani man walks out in black suit. His hair is slicked back and he is wearing a pair of thin, edgeless glasses that exaggerate the width of his face.
"Greetings Mr. Khan! I hope your travels were comfortable?" he says cheerfully.
"Yes, I'm much obliged. Everything was excellent." Mr. Khan replies.
"Good. I understand you are on a tight schedule and plan on flying out tonight. Though I understand your hurry, we would be more than happy to have you as our guest for a night."
"Thank you, but I really can't. I have strict orders to get the guns and get out. My superiors would rather not have me linger here longer than is necessary. I'm sure you understand. Now, shall we get right to business?"
"But of course."
The man in the suit leads the way out of the front yard of the house and across the street. Here the group walks into an alley and up to the side door of what looks to be a storage facility of some kind. An intricately designed steel lock holds the bolt in place. The Pakistani man removes the lock with a key, and opens the door. After letting Mr. Khan in first, he enters himself and hits a switch to turn on the lights. From some 30 feet in the air, the sound of hundreds of pulse-start metal halide lights humming to life echoes across the warehouse.
The sight before Mr. Khan takes his breath away. Aisle upon aisle of Kalishnakoffs, AR-15s, MP-5s, P-90s, and every other automatic rifle and sub-machine gun known to man. Hundreds of rows, thousands of guns, all well-oiled and brand new. To the far left, hundreds of crates of ammunition, hand grenades and portable explosives sit, undisturbed.
"Everything you've asked for is in here somewhere, all built by hand here in Durra, tested and oiled for your use. I can assure you, these weapons are of the highest quality, and you won't find a better price anywhere in the world. I'll give your men a few minutes to get everything together, and we can be on our way."
"By hand? How can you make guns with your bare hands?"
The Pakistani man laughs, shrugs his shoulders and says, "My people have been doing this for a very long time, Mr. Khan. For over 70 years, this small city has produced over 1000 guns a day, every day. There is a reason this is the largest gun market in the entire world; this is what we do. I can show you if you'd like."
Strapped for time, but incredibly curious, Mr. Khan half-heartedly agrees. While the gunmen from the pickup start packing the weapons, the two men walk out of the warehouse and down the street.
For the first time since he has arrived, Mr. Khan gets a chance to look around. The city is small and dusty; the buildings are old, but solid. All around him, people hustle from building to building, some carrying weapons, others simply wandering. A bit down the street, a smaller vendor is teaching another man how to properly shoot a 12-gauge shotgun. He points it in the air, loads it, and fires live ammunition into the air, silencing the street for only a moment. The people in the streets keep walking, as if nothing has happened.
"All of these shops sell guns. Some of them are privately owned, most are run by the Afridis. Some of these buildings are curing centers for the marijuana and hashish that is grown all around this area. From this very city, thousands of tons of opium, hashish, marijuana and heroine are smuggled into other countries."
"What about the police? Don't they care?"
The Pakistani man laughs and shakes his head, "No, they don't bother us very much, at least not the local police. Your American military might be dropping in on us soon, though." He chuckles as he says this last bit.
"You aren't afraid?"
Again, the Pakistani man shrugs. "War isn't something we fear, Mr. Khan. War is a way of life for us."
Taking a small alley out of the larger street, the two men walk towards the outskirts of the city. Here, the buildings are open-air workplaces. Old men and children sit behind what look like simplistic pottery-wheels with hammers and bits of metal, pounding and chiseling and sanding. The further Mr. Khan walks, the more people he sees.
"Here is where we make the guns and ammunitions. You can see this man over here is pounding the markings into .9 mm bullets, and this man is welding together a few bits for some kind of rifle. These are only a few of our smaller operations, though. The bigger ones are all underground."
"Amazing. How do these people know what to do?"
"Our business first started when a few curious men starting taking apart guns they found and tried figuring out how to make them. Needless to say, they figured it out. Do you want to try shooting one of our guns?"
"Sure." The Pakistani man leads Mr. Khan up a few steps to the roof of a small building. Empty shell casing litters the floor and a small ledge faces the outside of the city and the mountains. The Pakistani man grabs an AK from downstairs, loads it, thumbs the safety and hands it to Mr. Khan. "Here you go, I've loaded a few rounds in there for you."
Cautiously, Mr. Khan accepts the weapon, feeling the weight and the smoothness of the cold metal. His left hand gripping the magazine, he lines his eye up to the sight and aims at the mountain. Testing the weight of the trigger first, he thumbs off the safety and tightens his stance. With one last glance at the Pakistani man, who nods his encouragement, he pulls the trigger. The sound of the automatic rifle pierces the warm air as somewhere on the mountain a few bullets ram headfirst in to the age-old rock, causing no more damage then a small cloud of dust.
His heart pounding in his ears, Mr. Khan hits the safety and hands the weapon back to the Pakistani man. From the roof of the building, he looks out at the dusty city. He sees the shacks, the poverty, the indifference. He sees little boys making bullets and old men hammering bits of metal. He sees the mopeds and the mules, the beggars and the homeless. For miles and miles, this is all he can see.
Taking it all in at last, Mr. Khan looks to the Pakistani man and says, "It's no wonder this place has never been conquered."