A tale of weapons and government policies

18 Jan 2018

A meeting of the federal cabinet was held recently in Islamabad in which the Pakistani federal government imposed a complete ban on prohibited bore weapons. With the exception of government organisations and security institutions, no one will be allowed to possess prohibited bore weapons. According to the plan, two options would be given to the holders of automatic arms: either convert their automatic weapons to semi-automatic and non-prohibited bore, or turn the weapons into the government and receive a Rs50,000 buyback fee.

Shortly after taking his oath as prime minister, Abbasi had said that no country in the world issues licences for automatic rifles to common citizens. According to the cabinet’s ruling, owners of automatic weapons will have to get their weapons converted to semi-automatic arms by authorised dealers within a specific timeframe and then obtain a new licence to replace the one issued earlier. Otherwise, the citizens possessing the non-converted prohibited weapons will have to deposit their automatic weapons with the government in exchange for a fixed price buyback.

According to a recent report, 20 million firearms, both legal and illegal, exist in Pakistan. Of a population of 200 million people, only seven million possess registered firearms. In Pakistan, 116 individuals out of every 1,000 possess firearms, making it sixth in the world for gun ownership. The homicide rate is 7.3 per one hundred thousand, which is higher than the United States of America’s five per one hundred thousand. A huge number of the current licences for weapons were issued during the previous tenure of the Pakistan People’s Party. At that time, the interior minister, Rehman Malik, admitted to the Parliament that 70,000 licences for weapons were issued during his tenure. Breaking this up by year, 11,776 licences for weapons were issued in 2008, 27,551 in 2009, 5,789 in 2010, 8,369 in 2011, and 15,988 arms licences were issued in 2012.

According to a recent report, 20 million firearms, both legal and illegal, exist in Pakistan. Of a population of 200 million people, only seven million possess registered firearms

The federal government is now adamant about banning prohibited bore automatic weapons. Pakistan’s security situation has not improved. Punjab particularly is facing an immense shortage of police personnel and funding. According to the Punjab home minister, there is currently only one police officer available for every 563 individuals. According to Police Act of 1934, there must be one police officer for every 450 people.

Under the Punjab Security of Vulnerable Establishments Act of 2015, the Punjab government tasked certain business firms with the responsibility of their own security. Nowadays, the Punjab government is strictly enforcing this policy. Owners and traders have been asked to arrange for their own security in guesthouses, jewelry shops, banks, and petrol pumps. This shows the government compelling common citizens to take security measures into their own hands. On one hand, the government is urging people to secure their own businesses while, on the other hand, it is weakening the capacity of these businesses to secure themselves by imposing a ban on automatic weapons. These automatic weapons provide needed protection against heavily-armed criminal elements. If this policy is implemented in letter and spirit, these citizens will become an easy target, unable to protect themselves against the superior gun power of their attackers.

Most weapons come to Pakistan through the Afghan border. It is possible to see heaps of weapons that were brought into Pakistan from Afghanistan during the war with the Soviet Union. Even today, one can very easily get a Russian or Chinese Kalashnikov rifle. Darra Adam Khel, a tribal area being administered by the federal government, is known worldwide for its black-market weaponry. Most of the weapons of Soviet-Afghan War accumulated in this area and today a booming business of illegal arms continues unabated here. While the government bans prohibited bore weapons, the black market for weapons remains functional. This new ban on weapons will create a heyday for arms smugglers while the government will face a cut on weaponry tax income. Simultaneously, there will be negative effects on weapons dealers holding licenses for prohibited bore guns.

For the last three years, the government has imposed a ban on the import of all kinds of weapons. This ban has left the weapons dealers’ business sluggish. At the same time, the Pakistan Ordinance Factory (POF), a government-run organisation, has started supplying arms to the local market. Analysing the weapons supplied by the POF, these arms are obtained from Turkish weapons manufacturers then are being branded as made and sold in Pakistan. There is no value added to these weapons by the POF. The price of a bullet of a 9mm pistol which was 35 rupees three years ago, has now risen to 55 rupees. On top of this, the availability of weapons has somewhat diminished. The people at the helm have not only failed to transfer the Turkish technology here, but they are also involved in depriving the country of precious foreign exchange by selling Turkish weapons with Pakistani labels. This practice negatively impacts the weapons manufacturers in country. The government should help these local manufacturers instead of directly competing with the local industry. Then it will be able to contribute its share to the country’s gross domestic product. The government should take steps to export weapons instead of importing them. Pakistan had a golden opportunity in the race for developing light arms. That opportunity came in the shape of the black market of Darra Adam Khel, which was wasted.

Darra Adam Khel is a semi-tribal territory that comes under the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). The majority of population there is of the Pashtun Aridi tribe. The area gained fame for its local bazar where light weapons were manufactured. The government should have extended help to the skilled manpower of the area. It should have brought in modern technology to aid this cottage industry. It should have imparted education and new skills to the arms artisans. As a result of this investment, this industry would have expanded and education would have come to the area. Doing so, Pakistan could have been able to compete in the international weapons market. With this, not only would the country’s GDP have increased and the people of the area have gained employment, but Pakistan would have gained access to the huge weapons foreign marketplace as well. There is still a great opportunity to be had if the government comes to its senses. The weapons manufacturing industry can play a pivotal role in the country’s economy. The local industry and the Darra Adam Khel cottage industry, along with the skills of home-grown arms artisans, should be aided by the government instead of importing weapons from Turkey and re-labelling them with the Pakistani brand.

Published in “Pakistan Today” on 17-01-2018.

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