Successive governments have promoted violence and militancy by legislating pro-gun laws.
For the past two decades, Citizens Against Weapons, a citizens’ group, has been demanding that “the government in compliance with Article 256 of the Constitution must ban all private militias regardless of their size and patrons and declare possession of arms as the exclusive domain of the state. It must demand the surrender of all illegal weapons and ban the issuance of new weapon licenses. In the middle of a major war against extremism and militancy, dismantling over 500 private militias and eliminating over 40 million guns in the hands of civilians ought to be the priority for Pakistan.” The group has been working for a peaceful and weapon-free Pakistani society. Unfortunately, every political party that is elected to the government chooses to do just the opposite.
Successive governments have promoted violence and militancy by legislating pro-gun laws and by selling, importing, smuggling, licensing, and proliferating weapons. In September 2021, Pakistan introduced a detestable and discriminatory amendment to its Arms Rules that especially provide for the acquisition of prohibited bore weapon licenses to its already much pampered and protected elite. The list includes such distinguished beneficiaries as President, Prime Minister, Chairman Senate, Speaker of the National Assembly, federal ministers, senators, MNAs, MPAs, and all Grade 22 officers.
From urban violence to deadly insurgencies, from the dacoits of Rajanpur to TLP zealots, and from the barbaric carnage of innocent schoolchildren to the targeted killing of thousands of soldiers, Pakistan has learned absolutely no lesson. There is talk, followed by more talk; and there are plans, followed by more plans. Loaded with platitudes, the old (unactioned) National Action Plan and the new National Security Policy fail to address the core issue of the rampant spread of weapons. This has often resulted in the state losing its writ as seen in the recent TLP protests. Pakistan could reverse its self-created cycle of violence by implementing the following measures:
Proactively disarm all private militias, as a starting point; demand surrender of all illegal weapons, and completely prohibit further issuance of gun licenses; strike down the discriminatory amendment to Arms Rules that ‘pampers the pampered’ by the luxury of two prohibited bore gun licenses to each of the beneficiaries; and ban the ownership of “prohibited” bore weapons for all citizens, as these are meant exclusively for military use.
The Government of Pakistan has an incomplete and doubtful record of how many gun licenses it has issued. Most of the so-called “licenses” are fake, fabricated, given as bribes, or obtained by under-the-table deals. The Punjab government has itself admitted to having no record of about 1 million gun licenses. Others describe equally horrifying tales of missing, stolen, or burnt gun license records. It is therefore essential to recall and verify all “ostensibly” valid gun licenses — an exercise that must also result in NADRA creating an authentic nationwide database of gun licenses.
While voluntary surrender of illegal weapons may be encouraged by declaring no punitive actions, those with valid licenses ought to be given an attractive buy-back option. Those who wish to retain a non-prohibited bore gun must be mandated to qualify a revised process of tests and verifications. This must include background checks, not having been convicted, not having been a member of a banned or unconstitutional organisation, not having supported activities deemed a threat to Pakistan’s interests, not having been into police custody in the last ten years, and not being dependent on alcohol, drugs, or being mentally ill.
Most importantly, every applicant wishing to own a gun license must obtain liability insurance for personal injury and property damage of at least Rs10 million. The applicant must pass a recognised test for mental aptitude and pass an examination/training course to demonstrate ‘specialised knowledge’ of weapon handling. Pakistan could have been a safe and prosperous country if only it had promoted family planning with the same penchant that it has for promoting weapons.