Strike down the Arms Ordinance
Parliamentarians in Pakistan are often economical with the truth when it comes to their degrees or declaration of assets. The one notable exception is the Sindh Minister of Food. His long list of illustrious assets includes 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. The law only requires declaration of assets and not how and where you use the bullets.
In the same league as the Sindh Food Minister, there are scores of other parliamentarians who also maintain private armies and possess equally large inventories of prohibited and non-prohibited bore weapons. However most of the other members have not declared their costly weapons as a part of their assets. If there was a genuine, efficient and non-compromised Election Commission, many of such parliamentarians could have been easily disqualified, if not sent to jail.
It is estimated that some 500 private armies of different shades and sizes are being operated by the rural and urban ruling elite of Pakistan. Some of these, equipped with rocket launchers and anti aircraft guns could easily compete with regular infantry or artillery battalions. The weapons held by these private gangs are either illegally acquired or bestowed (through formal licenses) by the government of Pakistan. De facto the state supports and patronises the creation of such private militant gangs. De facto it is also an endorsement that a small group of powerful and influential people are licensed to use violence to control their lesser fellow beings.
We need to examine how the state contributes to the crime, lawlessness and murder of its ordinary citizens. Article 9 of the constitution states “No person shall be deprived of life and liberty save in accordance with law”. However this right has been circumvented by introducing another law called the Pakistan Arms Ordinance 1965. This Ordinance is designed to do just the opposite. This law enables the powerful and influential people (often with shady criminal backgrounds) to receive hundreds of licenses for prohibited and non-prohibited bore weapons. While in a lawless state nothing stops an individual to form a private army with illegal weapons, the grant of formal licenses brings a measure of legitimacy to this state-sponsored tribal tradition. These militant gangs or mafias, in their respective territories use violence, killing and kidnapping of those who disagree with them, not vote for them, not pay “bhatta’ or not succumb to other unethical demands. The life and property of citizens is thus rendered hostage to either the state licensed or the self-made militant war lords.
The Pakistan Arms Ordinance is a highly discretionary, discriminatory and arbitrary law. It can be used to give any number of arms licenses of any type to any one – depending upon his power, influence or nuisance value. On January 25, 2010, a list of such high powered beneficiaries was submitted to the National Assembly. It revealed that the Minister of State for Interior issued 255 prohibited bore licenses to himself , while the Information Minister was granted 130 licenses, the Railway Minister 143 licenses, Minister of Power 69 licenses, Senator Rahat Hussain 85 licenses, MNA Malik Azmat 65 licenses and the Defense Minister 51 licenses. Scores of other ministers and parliamentarians conveniently distributed some 7200 ‘prohibited’ bore licenses between themselves. The ex-Sindh Home Minister has repeatedly claimed to have issued 300,000 arms licenses. The Supreme Court in its Suo Moto case 16/2011 concluded that in the past five years the Sindh Home Department issued 180956 arms licenses whereas the Federal Ministry of Interior issued 46114 licenses of prohibited bore and 1,202,470 licenses of non-prohibited bore weapons. 38,800 licences of prohibited weapons such as Kalashnikov, MP5, G3 and Uzi, were issued on direct orders of the Prime Minister and minister of state for interior.
The arms ordinance is nothing but a discretionary instrument of political bribe, appeasement and violence. When the state grants arms licenses to its own cronies it creates an arms race and forces others (not as influential or rich) to acquire them illegally in order to maintain a balance of power and ‘thuggery’. By permitting (invariably) incompetent and corrupt state officials to grant unlimited arms licenses, the Pakistan Arms Ordinance has become an important root cause of creating militant urban and feudal warlords. It needs to be struck down so that no one in the country could have the authority to issue an arms license to any one. Security of citizens is a responsibility of the state and it cannot be sublet. The only way to stop Pakistan from becoming an “Emirate of Private Armies” is to ensure that no citizen regardless of his/her status, power or designation is allowed to own or carry a weapon – licensed or otherwise.
The Supreme Court in its Suo Moto case 16/2011 has categorically directed that Karachi be cleansed of all kinds of weapons, even if it requires promulgation of new legislation. There is perhaps no need for new legislation. Strike down the existing Arms Ordinance, declare all previously issued licenses as cancelled, and organize a total de-weaponisation programme. Begin from Karachi and extend this to all cities of Pakistan. Will the citizens of Karachi and the captains of industry come out of their artificial cocoons to lead the struggle for protecting the life and liberty of all citizens. Their only other option is to keep sulking privately and await their turn to be mugged, killed or kidnapped.