Weapons and information

By Zubeida Mustafa

IT is exactly 12 weeks to the day when Perween Rahman, director of the Orangi Pilot Project (OPP) Research and Training Institute, was gunned down in Orangi when she was returning home from work.

Two months later, another activist of the OPP who ran a school, Abdul Wahid Khan, was killed outside his home. A few days later on May 18, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf leader Zahra Shahid Husain was assassinated by armed men.

These were not the only people who were victims of target killing in Karachi. Approximately 259 other people met a violent death in the city in the same period. We mourn them all. Above all, we mourn our own helplessness to save these precious lives.

Zohra Yusuf, the chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, was spot on when she once commented that in Karachi a person championing a human rights cause, who dies a natural death, is indeed lucky.

no-weaponsWhy has Karachi, once described as the Queen of the East, descended into this abyss of savagery? Many reasons — ranging from demographic changes, ethnicity, factional in-fighting, sectarianism and clashes between land and bhatta (extortion) mafias — have been put forward. A very significant one given by none other than the inspector general of the police before the Supreme Court bench looking into the Karachi violence in August 2011 was “the easy access to illicit weapons and misuse of arms licenses”.

It was also disclosed before the court that in the previous five years 180,956 licenses of non-prohibited bore were issued by the Home Department, Sindh, whereas 46,114 licenses of prohibited bore and 1,202,470 licenses of non-prohibited bore were issued by the Ministry of Interior in Islamabad.

But ministry sources cite higher figures. According to them, 69,000 licenses for weapons of prohibited bore were issued to MNAs alone whereas the Sindh government confirmed issuing 400,000 licenses for non-prohibited bore.

Many are dismissive of licensed arms floating about because they claim that criminals use un-licensed weapons as that gives them anonymity. This is unbelievable. The authorities know this too. Had this been the case why should the government want to fuddle information about arms licenses?

That is how I see the reticence of the Interior Ministry and the four provincial home departments of Sindh, Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan in disclosing information about weapons’ licenses. Five of us, all citizens of Karachi, had written to them on Jan 22, 2013, under the Right to Information law. We had requested, I quote from our petition:

“Please provide year-wise record of all types of weapon licenses (prohibited as well as non-prohibited) issued by the … government to all categories of individuals in Pakistan from Jan 1, 2001 to Dec 31, 2012.”

Our move was significant in two ways. First, it was a test of the right to information the citizens of this blighted country are said to have been granted under the Right to Information Ordinance 2002 and later by Article 19-A of our Constitution. Naeem Sadiq, who has been pursuing the matter with untiring persistence, has been telling us how frustrating it is to get information out of the government, notwithstanding citizens’ rights. The 34 applications for information he has sent in elicited no answers.

Secondly, the data generated would help us “research into issues of good governance, public awareness, violence prevention … effects of licenses on violence, and making suggestions for improvement of laws”. I may add here that such data will allow us to make comparative studies on the weaponisation status of the city.

And what did we learn? When we did not hear back for three weeks — the period in which the reply should have been sent under the law — we dispatched letters of complaint to the federal and provincial ombudsmen on March 5.

Balochistan’s ombudsman never responded. The KP ombudsman informed us that the province had no relevant law. Punjab’s ombudsman pushed the Punjab home secretary who wrote to us on May 21, providing information on 24 out of 36 districts. Sindh’s ombudsman said he had written to the home department but not received a response so far. The federal ombudsman received a reply from the interior ministry which he passed on to us saying that the ministry needed two more months.

Then followed another letter to the federal ombudsman pointing out that government departments are not doing their job. Section 4 of the Ordinance states: “Subject to provisions of this Ordinance and in accordance with the rules that may be prescribed, each public body shall ensure that all records covered under clause (i) of section 2 of this Ordinance are properly maintained.” This requires every public body to computerise its records and make them available through a network all over the country to facilitate access to them.

In other words, our democracy has been reduced to a farce. Without information can citizens exercise their rights, such as the right to life and security as in this case? Moreover, should the government have the authority to issue gun licenses at its own discretion if it cannot protect the lives of its citizens?

One may well ask, why has no deweaponisation programme been attempted in Karachi? The simple answer is that this can be undertaken meaningfully only if the government — that includes the administration and the police — is not involved in violence itself and wants to cleanse the city of weapons. Without integrity, impartiality and statesmanship, deweaponisation remains a pipe dream.

Source: Dawn

8 thoughts on “Weapons and information

  1. Great article. May be you needed to mention that the state itself is the biggest proliferator of weapons and violence. Why does every PM only a few hours before his final departure distribute the ultimate goodies – weapons.

    In a move that raised several eyebrows, Caretaker Prime Minister (PM) Mir Hazar Khan Khoso approved one prohibited bore and four non-prohibited bore arms licences for himself and all his cabinet members.
    A summary in this regard was moved by the outgoing Interior Minister Malik Habib some days ago. Khoso approved the summary on Tuesday morning, hours before he was awarded the guard of honour at the PM House. – See more at: http://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2013/06/05/news/n

  2. how awful; receding into the great outback from a city of great humanist accomplishments;
    those that sell guns have their tentacles in every power structurel just th ink of the national rifle association in america.
    they make no distinction between democracies and totalitarian regimes/polities, and they never smell the blood they help shed.

  3. Had this article been published in the 50’s and 60’s, I would have agreed with Ms Zubeida Mustafa, but not now. Just wake up and smell the coffee….. The overwhelming majority of our security forces are dishonest, corrupt to the core and extremely unreliable. On top of that they are politically influenced. Please remember, it’s not Guns that kill people, unfortunately, its people killing people, whatever the means…. Knives, cars, bombs to name a few… cars also kill people, so you will ban them next? You expect me to play good citizen, handover my legal weapon and be at the mercy of these cold blooded killers and expect the cops to take care of my life and property? Seriously you have another thing coming!

  4. I think on the contrary, the government needs to step aside and let the public take care of the law and order…… every able man and women should have a firearm after going through a proper safety course. I would then see how a “bhatta kor” with a bhatta parchi leave a building with a 100 shops (Armed) alive? And the next target killer would not make it alive to the end of the street after firing a single shot? This model existed in the northern areas and petty as well as other similar crimes were virtually nonexistent until the advent of the Taliban.

  5. The polity in sindh is essentially feudal.Others are fighting for survival.A shift from feudal to egalitarianism will change the scenario and sanity will then prevail.How long this will take is anybody's guess.

  6. Arshad, I would humbly disagree there with you. To begin with, the society in the interior of Sindh is rather tribal then feudal (two not the same) and I think feudalism in essence is not more than a conviction, prevalent in the urban area then the interior. I mean after all, if you’re not in line with the feudal, you don’t live to see the daylight, when the feudal says day, the suppressed say day and when the feudal says jump, the suppressed say “how high”. Forceful payments to the feudal funds in the name of charity or in the shape of extortion, forceful voluntary work and the lack of freedom to vote are some of the classic characteristics of feudalism, and I think Karachi fits the classic description of a feudalistic society. So if you dare to prove me wrong, Please try to keep your shop open when there’s a strike call, or perhaps refuse the “bhatta parchi” if you run a business and go and try to cast your vote if you live outside Clifton and Defense. Let’s try and work on bringing some “egalitarianism” to Karachi before we proceed further up in Sindh!

  7. Excellent plug for deweaponisation. The murders of gentle souls like Parveen Rahman and the human rights activists named in the article are a blight on Karachi's conscience. The creation of armed wings and harboring of criminal elements by every political party has put the city at risk. Civil society needs to mount pressure to take guns from all and sundry, starting from the law-makers cum law-breakers.

  8. In Switzerland, there is a mandatory, I repeat, mandatory and compulsory Swiss law according to which each male citizen of age 20 requires military training, drafted in the peoples militia and is given a military spec fully automatic assault rifle to keep as part of the militia. After duty, the militia men/officer keeps the weapon at home as part of the militia obligations. Upon end of service, each militia men have an option to keep the weapon and the gear. This particular arrangement is due to the fact that Switzerland does not have a standing army. Switzerland has the world’s 3rd highest private gun ownership per person after the US and Yemen.

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