The recent ‘deweaponisation’ advertisements by the Sindh government provide a classic case study of how one can ‘appear’ to be executing a task, without actually wanting or intending to do it. Spread over 12 days, these quarter-page ads, which cost some 20-25 million rupees, resulted in the surrender of merely 20 illegal weapons. Most first-year business students would not indulge in this ridiculous ‘Return on Investment’ exercise – a million rupees for every weapon surrendered.
Deweaponisation has been at the centre of a non-serious, ill-informed, partisan debate – which often played to the gallery – for the past two decades. One must admit that the views of lone crusader Jameel Yousaf have been a rare exception to this rule. Why is it that everyone considers deweaponisation as the ultimate solution and yet nothing is done about it? This is an attempt to explain the myths and realities of deweaponisation and suggest approaches that ought to be taken – 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 the government’s planned, persistent and wild distribution of gun licences as political bribes.
The scale of this uncontrolled and destructive charity can be judged by the Supreme Court suo motu case 16/2011, which concluded that the federal government had issued 46,114 licences of prohibited bore and 120,2470 licences of non-prohibited bore during the past five years. Not to be left behind, the Sindh government admitted to having issued another 400,000 gun licences. The 342 members of the National Assembly topped the list of bribe-takers by receiving 69,473 prohibited bore licences in the last five years.
Myth: We need more laws to contain the spread of illegal weapons. The truth is that the gun control law, which prescribed imprisonment up to three years for possessing an illegal weapon, has existed in the Subcontinent since 1877. 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 only punish illegal weapon-holders but also cancel or withdraw the licences 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 licences cannot be traced to any records and almost 70 percent of them were issued without any mandatory security checks. Many thousand fake licences were issued fraudulently or simply sold illegally by officials and middlemen. Recent newspaper reports reveal that 3.5 million licences issued in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are not traceable in official records.
In Karachi, just one assistant commissioner issued over 5,000 fake gun licences in nine months and pocketed the fee. The federal and provincial governments appeared completely clueless when asked to reveal (under the freedom of information law), the number of licences 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 will be made to surrender their weapons.
Can the world’s most militant parliament retain its own 69,473 prohibited bore weapons and then 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. It simply does not have the understanding, competence, will or the skill to plan, coordinate, execute and control anything of this scale.
Deweaponisation is not a linear function that 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 an elite police force (to be created hopefully not under political control). The survival of Pakistan may well be dependent on controlling the killing machines it created itself.