A recent cabinet meeting was revealing in that how gun culture has become synonymous with social status. The first item on the agenda was Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi’s proposal to streamline arms licencing regime and placing a ban on automatic weapons, but it did not go very far. Although a majority who spoke was in favour of prohibiting licencing of automatic weapons, many others raised objections. Unsurprising, almost all the objectors belonged to Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where tribal traditions remain strong and guns are commonly described as ornaments of brave men. At issue, however, was not possession of ordinary firearms but automatic ones, normally used by members of the security forces and law enforcement agencies. And the excuse was that people in the two provinces needed them due to the prevailing security situation. “We have survived terrorist attacks,” protested one of the dissenting ministers.
The argument is untenable for reasons more than one. First of all, terrorism is a clear and present threat all over the country. Lahore, for instance, has repeatedly been targeted by terrorists. And the crime situation in the megapolis Karachi is a lot less than satisfactory. Second, there is no guarantee that such sophisticated weapons will not find their way into wrong hands. That can undermine the already under-equipped law enforcement agencies’ ability to take on terrorists, target killers, and other criminal elements making already bad law and order conditions worse. Third, regular weapons are good enough by way of safety measures. The truth of the matter though is that the elites have to come to see automatic weapons-wielding guards as status symbols. It is a dangerous trend that must be checked. Lincencing regime for regular firearms also needs to be tightened as a first step towards total de-weaponisation.
In the past, several attempts towards that end have come to naught. Two years ago, the then prime minister Nawaz Sharif had announced his resolve to go for complete de-weaponisation of Karachi so as to purge the city of teeming millions of the menace of terrorism. Civil society activists too have been calling for it. Yet no progress could be made mainly because of the fact that the scope of the proposed campaign was city-specific, not province or country-specific. And as the deliberations of Federal Cabinet show, many federal ministers are opposed even to a ban on automatic firearms. It is good to note, nonetheless, that PM Abbasi has not given up on his plan he announced in his first speech in the National Assembly to cancel all licences for automatic weapons. Following objections from his cabinet colleges, he has constituted a committee to hold further discussions on the issue and arrive at a consensus decision. It is hoped the committee’s chief consideration would remain restoration of peace and security, and a way will be found to rid the country of the gun culture. Such an effort, needless to say, can bring down the crime level to a significant extent.