Living with his parents in a village near Sialkot, Qasim Ali was everyone’s favourite child. On most afternoons, he played cricket outdoors with his best friend, Saqlain.
One afternoon, a neighbourhood wedding procession began to make its way down the same street that Qasim played cricket in. The two best friends, along with two others watched the bridegroom and his family and friends as they celebrated with dhols. Then suddenly, a member of the wedding party began firing in the air — an apparent act of celebration.
As bullets flew, one hit Qasim straight in the chest and he died. Two other bullets hit his other friends, one was seriously injured but the third did not survive.
Across the country in Lahore, Hamza Elahi was a second year A levels student at Lahore Grammar School and was his teachers’ favourite student.
On June 2, 2012, Hamza was out on a drive with one of his close friends, when he was killed. Shaan, the young man who shot him, claims that it was an accident but Humza’s family believes there was some form of jealousy that led to this incident. Whatever the reason, Hamza’s family no longer has a loved one. Hamza’s father Shiekh Fazal Elahi says,
I regret not being able to see and hear Hamza speak one last time. My life is full of darkness without him.
We may not realise it but our lives are in danger — with the world population being between seven and seven and a half billion — while over 12 billion bullets get manufactured yearly across the world. There is definitely a bullet out there with our name on it.
Festive occasions are a gory reminder: in many homes across Pakistan, there is at least one weapon and a willing weapon wielder.
The facts about Pakistan, as per the website GunPolicy.org, are alarming: We are placed sixth out of 178 countries, the number of citizens who keep private firearms. We are the third largest importer of firearms in the world. And it doesn’t just end there, only one out of 10 guns is licensed in Pakistan.
When the Supreme Court took suo moto action in 2013, some vital information was presented to citizens. We found out that the federal government issued over 46,000 prohibited bore licenses. And over 122,000 non-prohibited bore licenses. In its five-year tenure, the Sindh government issued 400,000 licenses. The National Assembly gained 59,000 licenses, which means almost two licenses per member.
Undoubtedly, the city to be most affected by this rise in arms is Karachi.
The exact number of legal and illegal weapons in Karachi is uncertain. But one thing is certain — it is a dangerously high number and only a few are campaigning to end this culture.
“Nobody should have a weapon,” says Naeem. He often quotes Article 256 of the constitution, which states that ‘no private organisation capable of functioning as a military organisation shall be formed and any such organisation shall be illegal.’
Naeem Sadiq, an activist based in Karachi doesn’t mince his words when he talks about gun control and who is at fault. “My message is not for the people, it is for Pakistan’s parliament, which is the only parliament in the world that possesses over 69,000 prohibited bore licenses,” he says.
“The Pakistani government is the single largest promoter and patron of weapons in the country thus it has created, promoted and patronised violence; and now violence has gotten out of their hands. This shouldn’t have happened. But since it has happened, we must find a way to control and eradicate this.”
He believes that the parliament needs to take the first step. “The government should announce a ban on keeping, using, carrying and displaying weapons, whether licensed or unlicensed. This law should apply equally to all — from a common citizen to the prime minister. Nobody should have a weapon,” says Naeem.
He often quotes Article 256 of the constitution, which states that ‘no private organisation capable of functioning as a military organisation shall be formed and any such organisation shall be illegal.’
Every day we pick up a newspaper and read about the senseless killings that take place in the cities and towns across this country. We read about Qasim and Hamza, shake our heads and we put the paper down and go back to our lives.
De-weaponising Pakistan will not be easy. It will require planning, a strategy and passionate advocates. Fundamentally there can be no major change unless the government takes the first step.
Given the apathy that exists in Pakistan, those affected will probably have to take the first step. In the village where Qasim lost his life, aerial firing is now frowned upon and no wedding parties have dared to fire in the air since that fateful day.
“There’s so much that I miss about Hamza, especially when he used to be studying and I would go to him, and hold him. I can never forget that. There’s nothing about him that I can ever forget,” says Shabana Elahi, Hamza’s mother.
Her younger daughter Iqra has started a Facebook page and is campaigning to end gun violence in the country. “Maybe somebody could be saved in the future because of our efforts,” she says.
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, July 19th, 2015