By Zia Ur Rehman
Nov 30-Dec 6, 2012
On November 19, the Senate adopted a resolution moved by the Awami National Party (ANP), asking the government to take measures to de-weaponize Karachi to control the worsening law and order in Pakistan’s largest city. Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) opposed the resolution.
The next day, the National Assembly passed a similar resolution presented by MQM demanding de-weaponization of the entire country. The ANP, JUI-F and PML-N opposed the resolution.
“We must adopt a common line of action because the city is on the verge of destruction,” said ANP Senator Shahi Syed, who presented the bill in Senate. “Without a stern operation against weapons, peace is impossible.”
“Even if Karachi is made weapon-free, the arms will once again be smuggled into the city in six months,” MQM senator and former Karachi mayor Mustafa Kamal said. “Cosmetic surgery is not the cure for cancer,” he said in the Senate.
Political and religious parties, civil society organizations, journalists, traders and other stakeholders in the city have been demanding a campaign against illicit arms in the city, but anti-gun campaigners and political analysts say the two major parties in the city have politicized the issue.
“De-weaponization is the need of the hour. An average 13 people are killed in Karachi every day,” said Farhat Parveen, director of the National Organization of Working Communities (NOWC), a Karachi-based NGO which runs an anti-gun campaign in the city. She said thousands of innocent people, a majority of them apolitical, have been killed in gun violence in the city.
Several policy reports have shown that the availability of unregulated arms fuels instability and undermines development initiatives. Proliferating small arms is known to spur insurgency, terrorism, and the formation of urban gangs and militias. This is something Karachi residents have experienced on a first-hand basis since the 1980s, when Kalashnikovs poured into the city as a side effect of the anti-Soviet Jihad in Afghanistan.
According to a study conducted by the Small Arms Survey, the estimated total number of guns held by civilians in Pakistan by 2009 was 18,000,000. The rate of private gun ownership in Pakistan is 11.6 firearms per 100 people. In a comparison of the number of privately owned guns in 178 countries, Pakistan ranked at number 6. The rate of licensed firearm owners in Pakistan is 4.37 per 100 people. In turn, for each licensed firearm holder, there are nine who possess these arms without a license -this presuming the Small Arms Survey may not have been able to find exact figures from Pakistan’s rural areas, where the possession of at least one firearm per capita would not be an inappropriate assumption, and also not accounting for the wide possession of assault rifles, a restricted item which is used and traded in large quantity.
The proliferation of weapons is a major source of violence and instability in Karachi, police officials and security analysts say. The federal and provincial governments argue that the influx of weapons in Karachi is from multiple sources: via the sea and also from the tribal areas and Balochistan.
With continuing violence involving political, sectarian and religious groups, gangs and street criminals, demand for weapons ranging from TT pistols, 9MM pistols and AK-47 rifles, to LMGs and hand grenades is very high in Karachi. During a debate in the Senate on January 18, 2011, it was revealed that there were an estimated two million weapons in Karachi alone.
Small arms – including automatic rifles and handguns – are readily available on the black market and find their way into the hands of various political parties and militant groups, according to anti-gun campaigners. About 95% of hit-and-run shootings in Karachi were carried out with 9mm and .30 calibre pistols, a senior CID official said. In sectarian killings, the assassins typically use 30 bore pistols. TT pistols are used in over 90 percent cases of street crimes.
Officials in the Sindh Home Department said illegal weapon traders were making the most of the deteriorating law and order in Karachi. They said 6,000 to 8,000 organized groups having connections in the weapons markets of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan were running the thriving illegal business.
Karachi has 36 entry and exit road routes which are policed by a short-staffed and poorly resourced police department. Even if pickets are set up on these routes, the criminals are tipped off by their informants and opt for other off-road paths to bypass the pickets. In contrast to the coast guards, the authorities policing the highways have a higher priority on keeping a check on stolen cars being taken out of the city.
Anti-gun campaigners say various governments have taken several steps in the past to disarm the city, but they failed because those campaigns were politically motivated or targeted only a rival political group or ethnic community.
Civil society organizations also initiated a disarmament drive -Campaign for Peace – in which professional organizations, traders, political parties and peace activists were also involved. Farhat Parveen says de-weaponization should be across-the-board and all over the city.
“Criminals involved in targeted killings and lawlessness have taken refuge in political parties, and it is time for the government to take concrete measures to curb violence,” said Syed Bachal Shah, a PPP parliamentarian who introduced the de-weaponization resolution in Sindh Assembly last year. He urged the Law Ministry to ensure that those convicted of possessing illegal arms spend at least three months in jail before they can be released.
In August, 2011, in the middle of a wave of escalating violence, Interior Minister Rehman Malik had claimed that Karachi would be de-weaponized in phases, and that all arms licenses issued by the Ministry of Interior would stand cancelled with effect from September 1, 2011. He also added that no arms licenses, except those issued by the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA), a federal government department, would be valid. But nothing really happened.
A 2004 report on the security impact of small arms by the Community Appraisal and Motivation Programme, a Peshawar-based NGO, shows how successive governments facilitated the spread of firearms in the society by implementing liberal licensing policies and waiving built-in checks, such as mandatory police verification that would allow authorities to monitor citizens who possess small arms.
The courts operate a turnstile system, quickly releasing a majority of those arrested, and law enforcement agencies often fail to build an effective case against the suspects. Under the current law, offenders who possess illegal arm get less than seven years in jail and are eligible for bail, according to a lawyer. A person charged with a crime that carries a 10-year term is not eligible for bail.
The government should amend Arms Rules of 1924 and Pakistan Arms Ordinance of 1965 to increase the penalty for possessing illegal arms to 10 years in prison, anti-gun campaigners say.
The writer is a journalist and researcher and currently writing a book titled ‘Karachi in Turmoil’. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter: zalmayzia