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LAHORE: Members of civil society organisations (CSOs) have expressed concern at meagre punishment available in laws for keeping illegal weapons and also the weak regulations for arms licence urging the government to introduce drastic reforms to deweaponise society.

At a seminar titled ‘De-weaponisation of Pakistan’, organised by the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) and the Peaceful Pakistan Initiative on Thursday, the participants urged the government to adopt a comprehensive policy to introduce result-oriented and broad-based reforms for de-weaponisation.

Advocate Sarmad Ali criticised the provincial and federal laws pertaining to the possession of legal and illegal weapons and said it had become fashion to get a weapon because it’s a bailable offence with a minimum of two to maximum seven-year imprisonment.

He suggested that the government should take steps to improve the law and make possession of illegal weapons a non-bailable offence with a minimum of five to 10-year imprisonment.

He said the people, who were arrested for possessing the illegal weapons, should also have to go through rehabilitation by setting up a centre in prisons.

Sharing the data on licenced weapons, he said over all 1.2 million people had got licences from the federal government, 1.8m from Punjab and 1.5m from Sindh government. “There is no record of people possessing illegal weapons in the country.”

Human rights activist I.A. Rehman said record of weapons used to be maintained in the country in the past. “There was a time when policemen were not allowed to carry weapons without permission. They had to give [some] reason for carrying weapons.”

Mr Rehman said: “However, the situation has now changed altogether. Criminals and policemen appear to be in a competition for sophisticated weapons. As the law-enforcement agencies started arming themselves with deadly weapons, the criminals too armed themselves as if it was a competition.”

He stressed that the government must ban licenced and unlicenced weapons from the country. “It’s the need of the hour that changes be brought about in the mindset of the rulers so that they won’t use force against the people and respect their freedom.”

Simorgh Director Neelum Husain said the [education] curriculum promoted warriors as heroes of the country. “If a dictator can succeed in fanning militancy by arming a peace-loving society then it can also be reversed with the efforts of the social and political activists.”

She criticised the [easy] availability of toy guns in the market.

Awami Workers Party spokesperson Farooq Tariq said the government should not allow anyone to obtain licenced or unlicenced weapon. He rejected the supposition that people posses weapons for defence purpose.

Journalist Wajahat Masud said proliferation and easy access to weapons increased crime and militancy in Pakistan. He said the state must restrict possession of arms and explosives and that no one should be allowed to possess, carry or display any kind of weapon licenced or otherwise.

He stressed that democratic regimes should play a positive role in disarming the society. “The writ of the state cannot be established without disarmament of society and the country.”

Published in Dawn, September 1st, 2017