The recent ‘deweaponisation’ ads by the Sindh government provide a classic case study of how one could ‘appear’ to be executing a task, without actually wanting to or intending to do so. Spread over 12 days, these quarter page ads consuming some 30 million rupees, resulted in surrender of less than 12 illegal weapons. Most first year business management students would not indulge in this ridiculous ‘Return on Investment’ exercise – 1.8 million rupees for every weapon surrendered.
Deweaponisation has been at the centre of a non-serious, ill-informed, partisan and often ‘playing to the gallery’ debate for the past 2 decades. One must admit that the views of lone crusader, Mr. Jameel Yousaf, have been a rare exception to this rule. How come every one considers deweaponisation as the ultimate solution and yet nothing is done about it? This article attempts to explain the myths and realities of deweaponisation and suggests approaches that ought to be taken as opposed to those that must be shunned – if ever a serious attempt is made to solve this problem.
Myth: The weaponisation of society is a result of our traditions and our involvement in the Afghan war. The truth is that the proliferation of weapons in Pakistan is a direct result of government’s planned, persistent and wild distribution of gun licenses as an instrument of political bribe. The scale of this uncontrolled and destructive charity can be judged by the Supreme Court suo moto case 16/2011, which concluded that the Federal government had issued 46114 licenses of prohibited bore and 1202,470 licenses of non-prohibited bore during the past 5 years. Not to be left behind the Sindh government admitted to having issued another 400,000 gun licenses. The 342 members of the national assembly topped the list of bribe takers by receiving 69473 prohibited bore licenses in the last 5 years.
Myth: We need more laws to contain the spread of illegal weapons. The truth is that the gun control law has existed in the subcontinent since 1877, which prescribed imprisonment up to 3 years for possessing an illegal weapon. The 1965 Pakistan Arms ordinance enhanced this punishment to ‘not less than 3 years’. The Arms and Ammunition Act 1991 raised the bar to life imprisonment and confiscation of property. The law allows the government to not just punish illegal weapon holders but to also cancel or withdraw the licenses already issued. Alas these laws have served no other purpose except to be quoted in newspaper ads every few years.
Myth: A licensed weapon is a legal weapon. The truth is that almost half of the licenses cannot be traced to any records and almost 70% of them were issued without any mandatory security checks. Many thousand fake licenses were issued fraudulently or simply sold illegally by officials and middlemen. Recent newspaper reports reveal that 3.5 million licenses issued in KPK are not traceable in official records. In Karachi, just one Assistant Commissioner issued over 5000 fake gun licenses in 9 months and pocketed the fee. The Federal and the four Provincial governments appeared completely clueless when asked to reveal (under the FOI law), the number of licenses issued in the last 10 years.
Myth: Illegal weapons can be surrendered without compensation, while legal weapons can be retained simply because they can be attributed to real or fake papers called licenses. The truth is that people acquired (often purchased) illegal weapons and will not surrender them without reasonable compensation and not without the assurance that the rich and the powerful too would be made to surrender their weapons. Can the world’s most militant parliament retain its own 69473 prohibited bore weapons and expect its citizens to let go of theirs ?
Myth: The government can make deweaponisation happen. The truth is that government machinery is dysfunctional and cannot perform this task even in a small street, leave aside any major town or city of Pakistan. It simply does not have the understanding, the competence, the will and the skill to plan, coordinate, execute and control anything of this scale. Deweaponisation is not a linear function which can be sublet to an SHO. It requires intricate coordination, planning and management of ground intelligence, arms manufacturers, dealers, carriers, sellers, informers, mafias, militant wings, militias and subject experts.
The deweaponisation debate has reached a dead end. The state can at best place half-hearted newspaper ads or hold meaningless press conferences. It is time for the citizens of Pakistan to raise their voice for a National Commission for Deweaponisation. Overseen by prominent citizens, the Commission should be composed of urban commando units of the Rangers and elite police force (to be created hopefully, not under political control). The survival of Pakistan may well be dependent on controlling the killing machines of its own creation.