Our war on terror is much like trying to fill a bucket without first plugging its numerous holes. Instead of eliminating weapons (the primary instruments of violence), the state continues to facilitate or remain unmoved by their proliferation. Hence a need to resort to Zarb-e-Azb on the mountains and the Rangers in towns. But these are exceptional measures and cannot be sustained forever. How has the rest of the world come to grips with their private militias, terrorist gangs, militant political wings, Kalashnikov-brandishing ‘Vigos’ and the 9 mm pistol-toting street muggers? What would be a sane response by a country whose 5000 citizens and 250 policemen are gunned down in 23 months in just one city? A rational approach would have been to take proactive steps to de-weaponise and work towards a weapon-free society. To reactively fight an enemy every time an act of violence has already been committed is neither wise nor efficient.
Citizens of Pakistan have a right to be protected by the state. This right has been eroded by the complacency and complicity of the state. While there are 12 million illegal weapons in the hands of civilians, the state has generously and recklessly added another 8 million to the list. Acting proactively, the government could have nipped the problem in the bud many moons back. It ought to have declared the possession of arms as the exclusive domain of the State, prohibited all citizens from possession, carriage or display of weapons, banned their import and sale and disbanded the scores of patronized private armies (prohibited by Article 256 of the Constitution) that frequently challenge the writ of the state.
While non-implementation of laws is often cited as a reason for many of our ills, Pakistan’s Arms Acts and Ordinances take the cake for having remained immaculately untouched. How come we have 12 million illegal weapons and not one person has received a jail term for 7 years as suggested by the Punjab Arms Act or for 14 years as made possible under the Sindh Arms Act 2013? How come the police and the National Action Plan (NAP) tasked to crack down on terror do not see this as a problem? Can one not interpret this to be as patronage of violence?
So, the Stage 1 for the battle for de-weaponisation must begin by eliminating all illegal weapons. Needless to say that we must ask for surrender of all unlicensed weapons and follow the Australian buy-back approach to compensate those who surrender voluntarily. In the second phase, which should include intelligence-based search operations, those found with illegal weapons must receive the maximum punishment prescribed in our ‘unused’ law books. No new laws are required and the existing laws are adequate to eliminate all illegal weapons.
The Stage 2 of deweaponisation, which ought to begin in tandem, must focus on scrutinizing records for establishing the validity of the ‘licenses’ issued by the government. The scrutiny ought to be carried out by independent people and not those who issued the licenses or maintain their records. The law requires a gun license be issued only to a NADRA verified CNIC holder, who is also a tax payer, has no criminal record, has a security clearance from police, and who is not of unsound mind. Evaluating the existing licenses against this strict criterion would eliminate a very large number of spurious licenses.
The fraudulence of the gun-licensing system can be judged by the fact that the Sindh government recently had to cancel 595,146 gun licenses that had no claimants, while the Punjab Government confirmed that half (0.9 million) of all its licenses had no records and were not traceable to any individual. It is a well known fact that gun licenses have been indiscriminately used as bribes, quotas, and political appeasement. Even Malik Ishaq of Laskar-e-Jhangvi had been issued 11 licenses for prohibited bore weapons. Hence a rigorous evaluation of this porous and clueless licensing process should identify and eliminate almost 60-80 percent of the weapons erroneously termed as ‘licensed’ weapons.
Within the existing law, the government has the authority to stop issuing any further licenses or to cancel any or all existing licenses. Under any circumstances, the prohibited bore weapons must be neither possessed nor licensed. Finally the ‘peaceful’ parliamentarians, in the larger interest of the country, must be willing to part with their 69743 prohibited bore gun licenses as a proof of their commitment to the cause of Peace and deweaponisation.