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Citizens’ Commission for Equality and Human Rights
July 11, 2024

Peace or weapons?

Naeem Sadiq  Dawn, July 4, 2024  

On 28 February 2013, the then Interior Minister Mr. Rehman Malik, in a written reply informed the National Assembly that his ministry issued 11,776 prohibited bore arms licences in 2008; 27,551 in 2009; 5,789 in 2010; 8,369 in 2011; and 15,988 in 2012, thus empowering our parliament with 69473 prohibited bore weapon licenses.  A simple calculation suggests that on an average every member of the assembly got 203 prohibited bore weapon licenses over a period of five years.  This must easily be the world’s most well-armed parliament, whose assets could make any member of the National Rifle Association (NRA)drop dead with envy.

On 21 August 2019, the government issued S.R.O (1)/ 2019, lifting the ban on issuance of prohibited bore weapon licenses for nine specific categories of individuals, i.e. President, Prime Minister, Chairman Senate, Speaker NA, Governors, Chief Ministers, Federal Ministers and Judges of Supreme Court and High Courts. They were now free to purchase or receive as gifts, lethal weapons of “prohibited” bore category.  The notification was strongly objected to by an Honorable judge of the apex court who wrote, “the judges’ code of conduct did not permit receiving such gifts. What moral authority will the government exercise in tackling the spread of weapons by encouraging the spread of yet more lethal prohibited bore weapons?”

On September 25, 2021, the federal government announced a yet more crazy and classist notification extending the list of existing beneficiaries of prohibited bore weapons licenses to also include all members of Senate, National and Provincial assemblies, and all Grade 21 and 22 Officers. Generously the notification also clarified that they all were now entitled to not one but two Prohibited Bore arms licenses.

In 2024, information received under RTI revealed that the KPK Government had issued 689510 weapon licenses in the last 10 years, while the Sindh government blessed its citizens with 115467 licenses in the same period.

It is beyond comprehension that a nation in such utter need for peace and tolerance would engage in such insane proliferation of the very instruments that are used in crime, violence and militancy. One can safely say that every gun license in Pakistan was issued without a single mandatory verification, training, background check or a written test.  They were either issued as an act of appeasement or through political connections, status, power or bribe.  Perhaps, Pakistan could have met greater success in combating terrorism if instead of the wishy-washy ‘20-point National Action Plan’, it had chosen just a single-point agenda of eliminating all weapons. Here is how it could still be accomplished.

The government must be made to understand that the burgeoning crime and militancy in Pakistan has been because of its own criminally flawed weapon-promoting policies, its legal and illegal gun licensing facilities and its total failure to monitor the sale, smuggling and spread of weapons.   The possession of arms must be declared as the exclusive domain of the State and no citizen, regardless of his/her status, wealth, influence or political party, must be allowed to possess, carry, store, buy, sell or display any weapon of any kind – licensed or otherwise.  In compliance with Article 256 of the Constitution, all private militias operated by militants in urban, riverine and mountain areas, regardless of their size and patrons be totally disbanded by using the full might of the state.  An immediate ban be placed on the import, sale, purchase, transportation, delivery and possession of all kinds of weapons – except those in use by the law-enforcing agencies.

Issuance of all types of gun licenses be completely banned and those already issued must be declared null and void.  The discriminatory and discretionary Arms Ordinance be struck down.  Starting with unlicensed weapons, all citizens must be made to surrender their weapons through an incentivised buy-back scheme. The private weapons manufacturing in areas like Darra Adam Khel ought to be regulated and directed towards export rather than home consumption.

The ‘Small Arms Survey’ (Geneva, Switzerland), in its 2018 report Estimating Global Civilian-Held Firearms Numbers”, estimates 43.9 million guns held by civilians in Pakistan – far more than the combined number of guns held by all the law-enforcing organisations of Pakistan.  We could learn much about gun control from Australia, UK, New Zealand, Japan, China and Vietnam, who have successfully and smartly tackled this menace.  Successive governments in Pakistan, on the other hand, have actively contributed to violence and militancy by generous and uncontrolled gun licenses, by creating special provisions of PB weapons for its militant elite (violative of Articles 25 and 256), by using weapons as an instrument of political bribe and by neglecting the mushroom smuggling and sale of illegal weapons.  Pakistan must log out of its NRA mindset and ‘once for all’ decide between pursuing peace and progress or forever staying embroiled in militancy and armed militias. The time to make this choice is now.