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Bite the bullet

July 07, 2013
— File Photo
— File Photo

It was just another normal family, a husband, wife and two little girls. Content with what they had, they lived a happy life. However, as fate would have it, this happiness was short-lived. Parvez as the man was called worked at a local firm. He had few friends but there was one who occasionally visited him. “I don’t understand why I didn’t see through him,” he says, referring to the man he once thought of ‘as a brother’ and the night that changed his life. “He had a 9mm pistol which he asked me to have registered on my licence,” says Parvez adding that the friend promised to buy it from him later.

Parvez did not have the slightest clue that he was being framed. The licence too was a fake. This same man, who was also a policeman, had helped Parvez obtain it a year earlier. The same night, at around 3:30 am the house was raided. Parvez was arrested, reprimanded and interrogated. “It was the worst thing that could happen,” he says, claiming that since then, his life has never been the same.

After being held for more than 24 hours, Parvez was set free. “This seemed like a miracle,” he says, as he reveals that his family paid Rs150,000 for his release. Parvez’s life since then has been haunted by memories, “I cannot forget what happened,” he says.

Unwilling to risk his life any further, Parvez left the country. His family, however, still lives here.

A weapon that cost a mere Rs20,000 did not just shatter his life but also destroyed the family unit that was immensely dear to him. “I do not want to raise my girls in this city”, he says, adamant to take his family with him, once he settles abroad.

Parvez isn’t the only one affected by the proliferation of arms in this country, there are numerous others that fall prey to this menace. According to the South Asian Terrorism Portal, a total of 1,357 gunshot cases were registered in Karachi from January to May, 2013. This is no small number and speaks volumes for the insecurity that citizens face, giving rise to a vicious cycle whereby more and more people buy arms in an attempt to protect themselves — a means of deterrence that is obviously doomed to failure.

“It is a situation that cannot be helped,” says Mohammad Vaqas who owns a grocery store in Baloch Colony. Disillusioned by the system, he feels compelled to own firearms and hire security guards for safety. Just three months ago, he reveals, his shop had been attacked by vandals. “A security guard lost his life in the process,” he says. Vaqas believes that slum areas encircling posh neighbourhoods are the real trouble spots. He alleges that miscreant elements take up temporary residence here, observing potential targets. “Due to narrow lanes, these areas are mostly inaccessible and prove to be sanctuaries for criminals.

Mohammad Imran, who hails from Sultanabad and is currently enrolled in a youth development course, holds the failing system responsible for this. According to him, it is not just lack of education that is to blame, but in most cases the frustration that engulfs educated but jobless youth. “At this point they are at their most vulnerable,” he says, “and thus end up being thoroughly exploited.” Imran has lost two friends to a system that accepts a blatant show of power.

But is this gun culture innate to Pakistan’s social fabric or a cross-border importation? Dr Moonis Ahmar, Head of Department, International Relations, University of Karachi links it to Pakistan’s tribal history of weapons manufacturing , exacerbated by the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan when the CIA armed Mujahideen groups with millions of dollars of weapons to fight the Soviets.

An excess of these munitions consequently made way from areas bordering Afghanistan into Karachi — which during the 80s was a hot-bed for sectarian and ethnic violence. “Lack of government control was basically the main reason for this,” he says.

According to Dr Ahmar, the current ‘war on terror’ has worsened the situation, “As much as Pakistan accuses a porous Afghan border for most of its troubles, the Afghan government too, holds Pakistan responsible for the infiltration of ‘made in Pakistan’ arms within its limits.” However, in addition to the notorious Afghan border, there are other inroads through which the influx of arms takes place. Experts believe that weapons are transferred through all routes that entail the passage of drugs — the 1,050km long coastal belt that is not particularly well guarded and the Indo-Pak border near Thar are particularly vulnerable.

But is Pakistan the only country that has paid the price of the remnants of the Afghan conflict spilling over its borders? According to experts, after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Afghanistan’s Central Asian neighbours were equally susceptible to the proliferation of arms. However, as a result of strict controls, today countries like Iran have been successful in curbing this illicit trade.

“We often accuse Afghan refugees for the proliferation of weapons and drugs in Pakistan,” says Dr Ahmar, however, he believes that the permeation of the two ills wouldn’t have been possible without the amenability and complicity of the authorities. Dr Ahmar believes societal acceptance is the only reason that the weapons culture picked up rapidly in Pakistan. “We’re basically a feudal society with a feudal mindset,” he adds, which is evident everywhere. Is the latest decision to permit polio workers in Swabi to carry weapons for safety representative of this?