Bleeding from a thousand small wounds, the state in Pakistan appears to be receding, relinquishing and disappearing at a very rapid pace. Instead of adopting a pre-emptive and proactive approach, it has been forced by the militants to retreat behind an increasing number of barriers, bunkers and check-posts. Such a defensive, timid and inept approach is a sure recipe for surrender – which may formally arrive earlier than many of us would like to believe.
It is true that our leaders appear to be in a state of denial, unable to think rationally, recognize the threat or understand its implications. It is true that we have no one to complain, as these atrophied and intellectually calcified choices are essentially of our own making. It is also equally true that the changes and actions we expect are not likely to be readily forthcoming. To voluntarily give up a fully paid holiday, fuel-guzzling bullet-proof vehicles, private armies, international protocol and frequent ‘umrahs’, has never been a part of our tradition.
Can Pakistan reclaim its almost voluntarily surrendered writ? Can this be possible without our inane rulers willing to understand the vital link between terrorism and the two fundamental instruments that are used in its execution – weapons and vehicles. Can the parliament of a country speak of peace if its own members have acquired 69473 prohibited bore gun licenses? Can an interior ministry talk of action against militants if it has itself issued over a million real and fake weapon licenses? Can a province speak of fighting militancy if its home minister publicly boasts of having issued 400,000 gun licenses?
If the rulers of Pakistan are sincere, they would make all the 1200 or so parliamentarians to voluntarily surrender every type of weapon in their legal and illegal possession. That would be the first real anti-terrorist action ever taken by Pakistan. Only then can the state demand others to do so. It is irrational to expect peace, when the lawless rulers roam around with armed goons brandishing weapons of mass destruction. Thus the first step towards peace is to deweaponise our ruling class. No citizen, regardless of his rank or status must be allowed to possess, carry or display any weapon – licensed or otherwise. A massive program to withdraw all weapons, to strike down the discretionary Armed Ordinance and to cancel all gun licenses must be the first step in our fight against violence and militancy.
Pakistan may be the only country in the world that is happy to host 2.3 million smuggled , unregistered and non-duty paid vehicles. There is strong evidence to suggest that vehicles of this category contribute in a big way to the menace of crime and militancy in Pakistan. A recent survey conducted on green number plate (government) cars in Sindh revealed that 35% cars were either carrying fake number plates or were simply posing as government vehicles by illegally displaying their private registration numbers on green background plates. Vehicles of this category are the ones most often employed in crime, smuggling, car lifting, carrying explosives, kidnapping and militancy – for they leave behind no clues of their origin or ownership.
Despite an overwhelming evidence of the relationship between crime and illegal vehicles, we have continued to behave like an ostrich. The government fails to register every vehicle or to readily provide a standardized official number plate. It has also failed to develop an ANPR (automatic number plate recognition) system, which when linked to computer data-bases can pro-actively track criminals and their movements. Such a system would however require giving up all green, fancy and special number plates and doing away with displaying plaques and status signs such as MNA, MPA, Judge, Speaker etc. Police being too scared and too insecure to check such ‘powerful’ vehicles, it is important to remove all signs of hierarchy and use only one kind of standard number plate throughout Pakistan.
Sindh Police, CPLC (Citizens Police Liaison Committee) and CTAC (Citizens Trust Against Crime) have recently joined hands to launch a programme to check, fine and impound all illegal, unregistered and fake number plate vehicles that roam around in thousands on the streets of Karachi. It is unfortunate that the greatest hurdle to this program is likely to come from those in power. It is here that the police can command respect by emulating SP Samiullah Soomro of Balochistan.
While combating vehicular crimes is comparatively a low-hanging fruit, autonomous urban commando units of the army (to be created hopefully, not under political control) may be our only hope to execute the task of deweaponisation. A state unable to disarm its own ‘peaceful’ parliamentarians, is certainly not likely to succeed with hardened criminals.