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A raid on licensed gun dealers in the bazaar of rural Kural area of Islamabad early this month revealed something more to the authorities than illegal weapons: guns in the bazaar were available for hire also.

It was a disturbing thought for the officialdom that criminals could come from outside unarmed, carry out their missions in Islamabad and Rawalpindi with hired weapons and vanish.

More worrisome is the fact that police were unaware of the goings on in the bazaar. The raid itself was organised on the strength of intelligence reports.

It yielded the raiders eight 12-bore double barrel rifles, six 12-bore single barrel rifles, 19 pump action rifles, nine repeater guns, 13 7MM rifles, 14 30-bore pistols, a 9MM rifle, two 32-bore pistols, two 30-bore short guns and 21 38-bore pistols along with over 23 rounds of different bore.

This, then, led them to search the houses of some dealers, where they found more illegal weapons. The majority of dealers were also found keeping more weapons in store than their inventory record showed.

Senior police officers admit the police do not even have a record of weapons people hold legally in their precinct. The Police Rule 1934, though, does provide a mechanism to local police to collect the data for weapons held legally by people living in their precinct. But it has not been followed for years, encouraging the misuse of even licensed arms in the cities.

In fact the Police Rule 1934 requires a police station to maintain 21 registers – FIR, Roznamcha, standing orders, proclaimed offenders, correspondence, character verification, finger prints and pendency of cases, sector book, surveillance of convicts, history of proclaimed offenders, record of persons arrested, inspection book, book of senior officers’ opinions, official property, licenses and permits, case property, arms and ammunition of people, road certificate, police gazette of crime detection, police rule - and lastly a secret register.

Register No 17 deals with arms and ammunition, according to police sources. In it details of holders of licensed weapons are registered. “The Police Rule binds these people to register details of themselves and their weapon.”

However, the rule was implemented only till the reign of its British framers lasted. One police officer said: “British colonialists introduced it to deal with native freedom fighters and bandits.”

“Our police have been fighting sectarianism and terrorism for decades but neglected making use of the register. It is a costly neglect,” he added, recalling that campaigns launched by Pervez Musharraf to persuade people to voluntarily turn in their illegal weapons failed miserably. Why should an arms holder have bothered because there is no punishment in the law for withholding the information?

Police can neither force people to submit information about weapons they hold nor take legal action in the cases of their misuse, according to policemen. “If Register 17 had been maintained, the police would at least have information about legally held weapons,” most police officers agree.

“Absence of such details makes it difficult to trace misuse of even legal weapons, especially in rural areas where they are frequently used to settle personal scores,” they said. In the cities, henchmen of influential people use them to grab land and bully and terrorise rivals.

“If the police have details for licensed weapons, the license holder would think twice before misusing his weapon.”

Register No 17 is still found in all the police stations of the country, but in name only. Not a single entry is found in them, not even in the police stations of Islamabad, the federal capital.

Inquiries revealed that Register No 17 is kept in the record room and gathers dust. According to some officers extra demands on the capital police force also come in the way of observing the police rule in letter and spirit. Islamabad’s Inspector General of Police Tahir Alam Khan, however, disagreed: “It is negligence on the part of senior officers that the rule is not followed.”

Indeed, Superintendent of Police Sadar Zone Rizwan Gondal has tried to implement the rule in three police circles of the city, containing six police stations. “Yes, there is no punishment or fine for the people found violating the rule,” he told Dawn. “But, we have decided to ask the issuing authority – that is the Ministry of Interior and Deputy Commissioner Office – to cancel the arms licenses of those who don’t register their details with their area police station.”

Published in Dawn, September 28th , 2015

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