Deweaponisation – our only option
“Violence — and the threat of it — is a pre-political manner of communication and control, characteristic of undemocratic organizations and hierarchical relationships. For the ancient Athenians who practiced an incipient, albeit limited form of democracy, violence was characteristic of the master-slave relationship, not that of free citizens.” ~ Firmin DeBrabander, professor of philosophy at the Maryland Institute College, Baltimore.
While polio vaccine may prevent future crippling disabilities, the more urgent problem for Pakistan is to manage its already deranged section of society. In a span of 24 hours, 8 female health workers were shot dead by 2nd century zealots armed with 21st century weapons. Massive proliferation of firearms has reduced Pakistan to a society where pressing of triggers has replaced logic and dialogue as the preferred mode of conflict resolution. The government stands dysfunctional and helpless – its role limited to announcing compensations for the victims, almost like a sordid incentive for an untimely death.
Freedom and the right to life, liberty and speech are often the first victims in an armed society. Girls in Swat erased Malala’s name from their school walls, not because they respected her any less, but because they did not wish to be killed by the fanatics. Pakistan has chosen to be a violent society where the private militias patronized by political parties, religious fanatics and criminal gangs actually call the shots. The control of towns and cities seems to be with the groups that own the most weapons.
United States, our needless role-model, often on matters superficial, is already having serious difficulties on its ‘right to own’ gun policy. About 30,000 people are killed by guns in USA every year. On the contrary in the UK this number averages 40. Japan recorded an astoundingly low figure of two gun-related deaths in 2006. Of the world’s 23 ‘rich’ countries, the US gun-related murder rate is almost 20 times that of the other 22. But for the powerful NRA (National Rifle Association), Americans would have discovered a saner alternate to guns a long time back.
Pakistan stands at the awkward end of the spectrum. The word ‘gun control’ is not a part of our vocabulary. No one really knows how many licenses were issued or to whom. Each time the figures are different and there is a footnote of missing records. The Supreme Court in its suo moto case 16/2011 concluded that the Federal government had issued 46114 licenses of prohibited bore and 1202,470 licenses of non-prohibited bore during the past 5 years. Not to be left behind the Sindh government admitted to having issued another 400,000 gun licenses. The Sindh Minister of Food declared (rather nice of him) that his assets include an armoury of weapons costing Rs. 7.5 million (enough to equip a small army) and an expense of Rs. 2.5 million for the bullets consumed.
Weapons are also a key component of the class struggle in Pakistan. The rich and the powerful wish to have an exclusive ‘right to kill’. While Article 9 of the constitution provides the right to life and liberty to every citizen, it is defeated by the hugely discretionary Arms Ordinance 1965. Using this law, the powerful and influential (often with shady criminal backgrounds) receive hundreds of licenses for prohibited and non-prohibited bore weapons. Their abhorrence for any form of arms control is thus well understood. This forces the lesser citizens to resort to unlicensed weapons, which are easily and freely available.
No peace is possible in Karachi or elsewhere if we continue to advance our reasoning through the barrel of a gun. While peaceful political solutions are pursued, it is inconceivable that peace can be sought without eliminating the primary tool that is used to manufacture violence. No citizen, regardless of his rank or status, rich or poor must be allowed to possess, carry or display any weapon of any bore – licensed or otherwise. Providing security is the responsibility of the state and it must not be sublet to private armies.
The reforms for peace must begin by repealing the discriminatory and discretionary Arms Ordinance. No one should henceforth have the authority to issue any license to any one. The already issued licenses for all kinds of weapons must be cancelled. A Deweaponisation Commission should be established to create and implement a phase wise deweaponisation strategy to take back all weapons from every citizen of Pakistan. Weapon smuggling, transporting and selling must be eradicated. The private weapon manufacturing factories can be regulated and placed under strict government controls. Their stocks can be purchased by the government and sold for export purposes only. A nationwide data base of weapons must be created to record every weapon manufactured, stored , transported, sold, exported, etc to create traceability for every serial number.
Banning all Guns is absolutely necessary but not sufficient. We need a fundamental transformation in the way we live our lives, in teaching tolerance in schools and in our leaders making less militant appearances. If we value freedom and wish to remain as free citizens, we must be willing to charter this difficult course.
Dec 21, 2012