One must appreciate the Punjab Home Minister for exposing the ugly truth that the government has been hiding for all these years. “50% of all gun licenses issued in Punjab are fake, while 900,000 licenses have been issued without keeping any record of who they were issued to”. These figures stated by the Home Minister are just a tip of the dysfunctional iceberg of Pakistan’s gun-licensing scam, a system entirely based on fraud, bribes, appeasement, absence of any background checks, discretionary approvals and missing records. The truth is that both the federal and the provincial governments have very little clue of the millions of licenses that have been distributed, gifted, stolen or sold in the last 10 years.
Let us attempt to piece together some of the publicly known facts relating to proliferation of state-sponsored gun licenses in Pakistan. Punjab has finally admitted to 900,000 fake licenses out of 1.8 million gun licenses that it churned out. Newspapers have revealed that 3.5 million licenses issued in KPK are not traceable in official records. Supreme Court suo moto case 16/2011, concluded that the Federal government had issued 1202,470 licenses while the Sindh government issued 400,000 gun licenses during the previous 5 years. The ex-Federal interior minister, Mr. Rehman Malik officially confirmed issuing 69473 licenses of prohibited bore weapons to parliamentarians alone, while a Sindh minister publicly admitted to having issued 300,000 licenses to his supporters.
The truth is that more than half of the gun licenses, like the 80% pre-paid phone SIMs in Pakistan, are not traceable to any individual. Almost 90% of these were issued without any mandatory security or background checks. A gun license is essentially an instrument of political bribe and appeasement – typically issued to those who wield power, money or influence. The rest pay bribe, obtain under-hand or buy fraudulent licenses, often facilitated by officials and middlemen. In Karachi alone, just one Assistant Commissioner issued over 5000 fake gun licenses in 9 months and pocketed the fee. Fake gun dealers , using fake documents, procured thousands of prohibited bore gun licenses and sold them in the open market for up to Rs.100,000 each. (Islamabad High Court case). The bankruptcy and corruption of the system can be best understood by the fact that even Malik Ishaq, head of banned LeJ, managed to receive 11 prohibited bore gun licenses from the federal and the provincial governments.
The greed for weapons is insatiable. There are some 20 million weapons in the hands of civilians. The Wah Ordinance Factory has placed ‘ads’ to attract yet more civilians to buy automatic weapons. The Sindh government is promoting guns by holding shooting competitions and the Punjab government has announced reopening of licenses from February onwards. Considering that we are already in the midst of a civil war, this mad race for collective suicide is completely beyond reason.
Article 256 of the constitution of Pakistan explicitly forbids the formation of private armies. The state has grossly violated this law by actively promoting the spread of weapons – resulting in the formation of some 5000 armed outfits belonging to individuals, mafias, religious or political parties. That is material enough for another 500 ‘Zarb-e Azabs’. The rulers however refuse to see the lethal link between weapons, violence and the war called Zarb-e-Azab. This link ought to be completely dismantled on pro-active basis for Pakistan to expect any peace in the years to come.
Begin by striking down the highly discretionary and discriminatory Arms Ordinance which enables licenses to be issued at district level. No individual in Pakistan must have the authority to issue arms licenses to any one. Withdraw all gun licenses and announce a phased program for surrender of all weapons – licensed or otherwise. Tough options must be readily available in stock for those who do not comply. No individual , regardless of rank, status, political, tribal or religious affiliation must be allowed to use, possess , carry or display any weapon or explosive of any class. This law must be equally applicable from Waziristan to Lyari.
There are two huge hurdles in the path of deweaponisation. A weapon-greedy ruling elite and a government that has neither the will nor the capacity to implement such a program. Deweaponisation is essential to victory in any war against terrorism. A ‘zarb-e-azab’ in Waziristan could have been avoidable had we prevented the inflow of weapons to militants. Having repeated the same mistake in urban areas another ‘zarb-e-azab’ may not be far behind. It may therefore be best to make deweaponisation a component and objective of the current ‘zarb-e-azab’, to prevent another protracted and painful conflict. The survival of Pakistan may well be dependent on controlling the killing machines of its own creation.