On January 25 this year, 32-year-old Waqas, a garment factory employee was hit by a bullet in New Karachi and he died. The bullet was not fired from the gun of a target killer, but by friends of a bridegroom amidst late-night wedding celebrations.
Two children aged 10 and 12, died in Sialkot in a similar incident on February 20, when the jubilant brother of a bridegroom unleashed a burst of bullets.
Such accidents, almost an every-day affair in Pakistan, never make it to the front pages of newspapers or prime time news bulletins. A country where any festive occasion is often announced by the sound of gunfire, Pakistan is evidently a very gun-friendly society.
The on-going gun and arms battle in Karachi’s old neighbourhood of Lyari also serves as an example of thriving gun culture in the country.
“For the last several days, the densely populated neighbourhood of Lyari has been resounding with endless volleys of gunfire. At times the sound of gunfire is interrupted by rocket-propelled grenades, forcing most residents to either remain indoors or run for life,” states a report in this newspaper.
Arms central In a population of over 170 million, there are only 0.7 physicians and 0.6 hospital beds for every 1,000 people and less than 7 per cent of the country’s population has acquired college education; but for every hundred citizens, at least four are in possession of licensed firearms. In turn, for each licensed firearm holder, there are nine who possess these arms without a license. This, while presuming the Small Arms Survey may not have been able to find exact figures from Pakistan’s rural areas, where the possession of at least one firearm per capita would not be inappropriate assumption and also not accounting for the wide possession of assault rifles, a restricted item which is used and traded in abundance.
This micro-image mirrors a larger picture of a heavily militarised Pakistan. For the country’s defence forces, the figures go far beyond the scope of small arms. Heavy and light infantry, ammunition, bombs, missiles, tanks and even combat aircraft are among the top forms of arms. Additionally, there exists an organised weapons sector, which encompasses arms production, exports and imports. The primary production facilities in this sector fall under the ambit of the military, such as the Pakistan Ordinance Factories, Heavy Industries Taxila, Heavy Mechanical complex, and many other entities managing various aspects of defence production.
Pakistan reportedly deals in almost US$300 million worth of military exports annually, according to military officials. Majority of these exports are attributed to Al-Khalid tanks and JF-17 aircraft, while small arms exports are estimated at US$10 million.
On the imports front, Pakistan has been ranked as Asia’s third-highest weapons importer by Swedish institute SIPRI, with major suppliers being China, the United States, and Sweden. France, which was one of Pakistan’s significant suppliers, has recently halted sales after the raid to capture Osama Bin Laden in May 2011 was carried out.
Cottage production Additionally, Pakistan also houses a sizable cottage weapons industry, mainly located in its North-Western tribal belt. While the military claims to have cracked down on the unregulated activity with operations in the Khyber Agency, such make-shift manufacturing activity still continues unabated, with some of the production taking place in the largest metropolis, Karachi.
The illegal supply spreads well beyond cottage production. Pakistan’s porous Western border provides ample trafficking opportunities, with large caches of arms being smuggled into the country. In Balochistan, these markets thrive, where otherwise thousands live under poverty yet an AK-47 is a common commodity. However, the illegal arms trade is not just limited to assault rifles.