Pakistan - A Gun-Slinging Nation?

Pakistan - A Gun-Slinging Nation?

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Pakistanis have developed a markedly predatory character on an individual, community and national level. Democracy is neonatal yet, so scores are not settled in the ballot box; bullets are so much more efficient it seems.

We do not have an effective population control program and it seems to me sometimes that people at large know this for they are doing their bit in subscribing to the Malthusian theory of population. Political economist Thomas Malthus theorized that population growth is stemmed by famine, disease and natural disasters. Taking the law into their own hands and gunning down tens to hundreds at a time, Pakistanis have added predatory practices to the Malthusian theory.

Listening to the news, especially anything related to Pakistan , is an exercise in adrenaline surges. Rarely does a day go by that some sort of violence does not occur at a significant scale in Pakistan. On individual levels one hears of revenge killings or the calm motorcycle murders in Karachi in which one or two walk into a medical clinic, empty their revolvers into a doctor’s head, jump back on the motorbike and vaporize into the crowd.

Assault rifles are used when vindictive families clash and after all is said and shot, dozens lie dead on both sides. And of course the ever present sword of Damocles, terrorism, in which suicide vests combined with assault weapons, wreaks havoc in one part of the country or another.

Time was that one saw rifles on shoulders of soldiers. With the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, tanks on street corners of Pakistani cities became commonplace and Kalashnikovs proliferated to the shoulders of chowkidars. And now it is not a status symbol to have rifle-wielding guards, Pakistanis feel that it is as necessary perhaps as food and water.

With poor governance, rampant corruption, a collapsing economy and an extremely high-strung nation, the chicken-or-the-egg theory applies. When a government is entirely incapable of providing security to its citizens it takes up arms to protect itself, and when the going gets tough those arms are used. And now that the population is armed to the teeth, disarming it is going to be a mammoth project and one that the government is not only unprepared to undertake, it seems to see no need to.

This mind-boggling disinterest on the part of the government is borne out by a de-weaponizing plan that is as ineffective as the redundancy in which it is described. This is not a time for bureaucratic retardation and lines and points of methods and plans none of which have even been given semblance of shape.

The “Government of Pakistan , Ministry of Interior, National Crisis Cell of June 2010” states in minuscule part: “Production, import, export, transit and transfer of all weapons, including SALW (small arms and light weapons), is strictly regulated under law. The laws and regulations are kept under constant review in order to ensure their relevance to new developments. Very well defined and effective national system of export, import or authorization of SALW exist in the country. Production of weapons for export is totally government controlled and falls under the purview of a specialized Ministry, i.e. the Ministry of Defense”. This is just a sample of the government’s tall claims and one wonders what the author was smoking while writing it, knowing of course that perverse corruption and unbridled power serve as the opium of the government for it to be so out of touch with the ground reality.

While winding up the budget debate in Parliament, Finance Minister Abdul Hafiz Shaikh said that ministers with six cars ought to be ashamed. Though he got desk-rapping applause for this, the Speaker Fehmida Mirza appeared markedly uncomfortable and one wonders with what conscience parliamentarians applaud when many probably hit the six-car mark with ease.

Light arms and small weapons in Pakistan are produced firstly by state-owned enterprise, second by private manufacturers who operate under state license and regulation and lastly the Darra Adamkhel/Bara gun- cottage industry, which is not under any state supervision. Weapons manufactured in Darra Adam Khel and Landikotal closely mimic the original, be they AK47s or M16s with apparently only the weight of the gun setting the lighter-weight original apart. The gunsmiths in Darra Adamkhel manufacture guns hidden in ballpoint pens and walking sticks as well!

Production and availability are not the problem anymore; proliferation is vast in all segments of society. The Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf website makes an effective suggestion about tracking gun-ownership by linking it to the NADRA locator. But that time is now sadly passed and probably has future importance when only very limited security agencies should be allowed to possess weapons.

The urgent need of the hour is to create a simple, viable and rapidly effective program to disarm the civilian population. All arms of the government, the executive, legislative and the judiciary, must get on the same page now. Immediate brainstorming sessions must be held at all levels to develop and execute a plan that disarms and at the same time provides effective security to the population. This is certainly easier said than done, but it must be done or else our fall threatens to be precipitous and collectively fatal.

Prosecution for gun-ownership and uniform application of punishment should be announced, dependable and harsh. Only the police and armed forces need to possess weapons.

Presidential and Prime-Ministerial bullet-proof limousines and their security details could feed and clothe entire villages with ease. They also belie the hoarse screams of “the day of death is fixed, that is our faith, and we do not fear death”. Really?

There must be an equalization of yardsticks. We cannot apply one to the widowed teacher who walks warily to school, wrapped in layers in the searing heat to avoid leering male eyes and another to the air-conditioned vroom of ministers with their fake degrees.

In a recent television discussion commentator Javed Jabbar calmly spoke of the inevitable according to him: peaceful revolution or violent revolution. “ Peaceful revolution is the better way, but the way things are going we are now walking toward the violent one”. I dread to think what would happen if civilian guns turned on their perceived oppressors. So let us de-ostrich ourselves and de-weaponize the citizenry now; maybe we can keep that inevitable change a peaceful one.