It was the New Year’s Eve of 2011, as Rebecca Kerubo, a female security guard, assumed her duty at an upmarket shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya. As part of her routine security check, she was required to frisk all incoming visitors to the mall. The person next in line for a search happened to be Kenya’s deputy chief justice, Nancy Baraza. As Kerubo sought to search her bag, the judge refused to oblige. After all, she was the Deputy Chief Justice of the Republic of Kenya and not a chicken thief in the small village of Vihiga. When Kerubo insisted that the bag be searched, the judge pulled out a pistol from her bag as a threatening gesture towards the guard. The incident resulted in the suspension and subsequent resignation of the deputy chief justice of Kenya.
There are at least two important lessons that Pakistan can learn from this incident. How the highest judge of the superior court of Kenya was held ‘accountable’ and ‘equal’ before the law and how a nation adopts strict gun control measures and implements them across the board.
Fast forward 2019. The Ministry of Interior Government of Pakistan, on August 21, 2019, issued an SRO (1)/2019, lifting the ban on issuance of licences of prohibited bore weapons for nine specific categories of individuals. Of these the first seven are constitutional office holders i.e. president, prime minister, chairman Senate, speaker NA, governors, chief ministers, federal ministers and judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts. These constitutional office holders can now acquire lethal weapons of prohibited bore category, provided that the weapons are either ‘gifted’ to them or procured from the Pakistan Ordnance Factories.
Article 25 of the Constitution mandates that all citizens are equal before the law and entitled to equal protection by the law. Here is an SRO, specifically manufactured to blatantly violate this principle by discriminating citizens on the basis of the position or office that they hold. Sadly, the SRO is designed to favour a special category of already highly protected and privileged individuals.
The discriminatory SRO now makes it possible for, say a gun smuggler, to gift an illegal weapon to any of the seven constitutional office holders and the same will become ‘kosher’, as the SRO permits receiving of weapons as gifts. The SRO therefore opens a huge window of opportunity of legal ‘favours’ for these office holders, who can now receive weapons of dubious origins as gifts and legalise them under this SRO.
Using weapon licences as an instrument of appeasement and bribe is endemic in Pakistani politics. By 2013, parliamentarians had been gifted 69,473 licences for prohibited bore weapons. The estimated total number of guns (both licit and illicit) held by civilians in Pakistan has risen from 17 million to 43.9 million in the last 15 years. This is certainly far more than all the guns held by law enforcing organisations.
Protection of life and property is the responsibility of the state. With such massive proliferation of weapons, Pakistan has become an increasingly ungovernable state. Hundreds of private armed militias (forbidden by Article 256 of the Constitution) now dictate and challenge the writ of the state from foreign policy to school curriculum to encroachment of tents in DHA. It would be absolutely sane and desirable for the government to withdraw SRO (1)/2019 and to stop further issuance of all types of weapon licences. Instead of awaiting another tragedy like that of APS Peshawar, the government should direct the armed forces and the police to implement a pro-active nationwide de-weaponisation programme to recover all illegal weapons that are held in the public domain.
Express Tribune, 16 June 2021