Few appeasements entice a Pakistani politician more than a prohibited-bore weapon license. Needless to say that the massive proliferation of these disgusting instruments of death is also a leading cause of violence, intolerance and killings that define today’s Pakistan. The critical link between the politics of prohibited-bore weapons and the militancy in Pakistan has been grossly and intentionally underemphasized.
All weapons perform the same function but prohibited bore weapons are a cut above the rest in their capacity to kill. They typically include automatic rifles, semi-automatic rifles greater than .22LR and hand guns greater than .45 caliber. Reduced to a layperson’s language, they are the ones that should lie exclusively in the domain of the law-enforcing agencies and ordinary citizens ought to have nothing to do with them. Issuances of prohibited-bore gun licenses is therefore a sure way to promote formation of private armies – an act strictly prohibited by Article 256 of the Constitution of Pakistan.
Licenses for prohibited-bore weapons are issued primarily to those who wield power, wealth or influence in Pakistan. They are one of the most attractive and preferred mode of political bribe. One of the first tasks of a newly voted-in government is to issue prohibited-bore licenses to allies, party members, friends and cronies. The Interior Minister of State in the Federal Government that took over in 2008, issued 6000 prohibited bore licenses in the first 6 months. Interestingly the last ritual before leaving the government is to repeat this vulgarity. On his last day, just a few hours before leaving the PM House, the 2013’s interim Prime Minister approved five gun licenses for himself and each of his outgoing cabinet ministers.
The prohibited-bore bribe continues unabashedly for as long as a government is in power. To keep the parliamentarians well lubricated, the Prime Minister in 2008 introduced an unprecedented quota of 25 licenses per year of prohibited-bore and 20 licenses per month of non-prohibited bore weapons for each member of the National Assembly and the Senate. In addition he had a habit of approving prohibited bore licenses for names scribbled on chits and papers which were frequently presented to him by various MNAs and senators. To understand the magnitude of these killer gifts, the PM had approved 22541 such licenses between March 2008 and June 2009.
Weapons have proven to be the least useful instruments of safety and protection. Although the honourable PM spent good five years of his tenure in the pursuit of issuing and acquiring prohibited-bore licenses, it regretfully did not prevent the unfortunate incident of his son’s kidnapping.
A country which every day witnesses brutal massacres of its children, citizens, policemen and minorities, and yet continues to dole out and proliferate dangerous weapons can only be considered intellectually challenged. In the last ten years the Federal Government issued 1.2 million gun licenses. Not to be left behind the Punjab Government issued 1.8 million and the Sindh Government issued 1.05 million gun licenses.
As most licenses are given as bribe, there is hardly ever a need for background checks. Even Malik Ishaq of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi managed to receive 11 prohibited-bore gun licenses. The Sindh Government had to recently cancel more than half a million licenses as no one turned up to claim their ownership. The Punjab Government formally announced in the Assembly that half (0.9 million) of all its licenses had no records and were not traceable to any individual. In simple words they were fake, forged or fraudulent.
‘Citizens against Weapons’, a citizens’ group working for a peaceful and weapon-free Pakistan, has recently urged all parliamentarians and law-enforcing agencies to agree to three basic deweaponisation demands. These are a) that no citizen, regardless of his/her rank or status, must be allowed to possess, carry or display any weapon of any kind – licensed or otherwise, b) that all private armies and militias be disbanded as required by the constitution and c) all gun licenses be declared cancelled, all weapons be surrendered and the law be amended to prohibit any individual from issuing any license for any kind of weapon.
Pakistan will only keep sinking deeper into a quagmire of violence and militancy, unless it undertakes the essential task of eliminating all weapons and all private militias. Deweaponisation of Pakistan must begin from its ‘peaceful’ parliamentarians (owners of 69473 prohibited bore licenses) and the militant wings of political and religious parties. The rest of the ‘petty bourgeois’ will readily fall in line.