KARACHI: The government must ensure compliance with Article 256 of the Constitution and ban all private armies regardless of their size and patrons and declare possession of arms the exclusive domain of the state. Pakistan is currently home to over 500 militias and 43 million gun-owning citizens.
This demand was put forward by Citizens Against Weapons (CAW) — a citizens’ group working for a peaceful and weapon-free Pakistan since 2003 — at a presser organised at the press club on Wednesday.
Highlighting how growing weaponisation is negatively impacting people especially children, they said the situation regarding growing possession of firearms needed urgent attention as indicated by the recent gathering of a militia in Islamabad.
They questioned the role of the federal and provincial governments under the Constitution which bound them to ensure protection of all its citizens and ban establishment of private armies.
“The state’s responsibility to protect the life and property of all its citizens cannot be sublet to prohibited bore gun-brandishing private individuals, militias or private security agencies,” said Naeem Sadiq representing CAW, adding that the number of privately owned guns by civilians had risen from 18 million in 2007 to 43 million in 2017.
He regretted that the governments at the federal and provincial levels had taken steps in the recent past which promoted spread of weapons and proliferation of militias.
“In December 2018, the [federal] government lifted ban on issuance of non-prohibited bore arms licences and restored the licences previously issued for automatic weapons, which had been earlier suspended in 2017,” he recalled.
Citing the Aug 2019 notification, he said the government issued another “highly discriminatory” SRO (Statuary Regulatory Order) to allow the president, the prime minister, the Senate chairman, the National Assembly speaker, governors, chief ministers and senior bureaucrats to obtain prohibited-bore arms licences.
“These officials already have a large army of guards. Second, it’s discriminatory (as the government deprived rest of the citizens from getting licences of prohibited-bore arms).
“Not to be left behind, the Sindh government two weeks back lifted the ban on issuance of arms licences,” he noted.
Mr Sadiq also referred to the recent declaration of assets by parliamentarians and said each of the 99 legislators who did declare weapons confessed possession of arsenals valued in millions of rupees.
Responding to a question, he said citizens had written letters to all top federal and provincial officials on this matter but no step was taken.
“Peaceful citizens of the country had thought the government would declare arms’ possession as the exclusive domain of the state after the Army Public School Peshawar tragedy, the Raddul Fasaad operation or the 2011 judgment of the Supreme Court. But, unfortunately, nothing could move us into action against private armies,” he said.
The activists shared their concern over the display of firearms by private guards, aerial firing by armed groups and increasing number of shooting incidents, at times, resulting in death.
They demanded that issuance of new arms licences be banned and the already issued licences must be declared null and void.
All illegal weapons must be surrendered or seized followed by a planned buy-back programme for all licensed weapons, they said.
“Often, we see schoolchildren coming to school with armed guards. This practice should be banned as well as exhibition of weapons in the entertainment industry,” said activist Sheema Kermani, emphasising that increasing weaponisation of society had been having a profound impact on people’s mental health.
Dr Yasmin Qazi, senior paediatrician, spoke about how display of guns and watching violence on television affected children’s minds and said studies suggested that exposure to such things created aggression.
Senior journalist Zubeida Mustafa urged the media to take up the matter as protection of life and safety were among the people’s fundamental rights.
Asked about the veracity of the data on guns, Mr Sadiq said the initial data was obtained from GunPolicy.org [a web source for published evidence on armed violence, firearm law and gun control] and later corroborated with relevant information available locally.
“The data includes numbers of both licensed and non-licensed weapons. Both are closely interlinked as studies show that number of illegal weapons increase in societies allowing easy access to licensed firearms,” he said.
Writer Rumana Husain and Asad Qazalbash also spoke.
The citizens’ group is backed by 10 non-governmental organisations: Citizens-Police Liaison Committee, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Pakistan Institute of Labour, Education and Research, Shehri-Citizens for Better Environment, Shirkat Gah, Tehrik-i-Niswan, Pakistan Medical Association, Citizens Trust Against Crime and Children’s Literature Festival and National Organisation for Working Communities.
Published in Dawn, December 5th, 2019