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ISLAMABAD: Speakers at a conference on ‘De-weaponisation in Pakistan’ urged the government to adopt a comprehensive policy to introduce results-oriented and broad-based reforms dealing with weapons control.

Hosted by the Centre for Social Justice and the Pak Institute for Peace Studies (Pips), the conference discussed how to carry forward de-weaponisation in the country in light of a recent statement by Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi.

Speakers noted that developing an understanding of the subject could be facilitated by the availability of up-to-date data on weapons in Pakistan. Different provinces have separate data on licensed firearms, which should be consolidated and made available for policy research, they said.

Centre for Social Justice Executive Director Peter Jacob expressed concerns about gun-related crime, weapons smuggling and sales and the promotion of hatred under one pretext or another, which ultimately condones violence and facilitates the spread of lawlessness.

He said the spread of weapons promotes a climate of coercion and fear, and therefore society should stand firm against terror and violence.

“The PM’s voice represents the conscience of peaceful society and a great potential for a paradigm shift, therefore civil society supports a comprehensive policy dialogue on de-weaponisation,” he said.

Conference participants called on the government to take measures to de-weaponise the country, including presenting data on illegal and legal weapons, introducing effective laws and policies dealing with weapons control and a complete ban on automatic and illegal arms in the possession and control of citizens.

They demanded that the government make the possession of illegal weapons a non-bailable offence and consider becoming party to the UN Arms Trade Tready to control the smuggling of arms and ammunition.

Security analyst retired Lt Gen Talat Masood argued that the availability of arms should be reduced by cracking down on smuggling, which is a key source of arms in the country. He stated that ideally, only the state would have weapons and be able to provide security to the people.

Pips project manager Mohammad Ismail Khan said one of the debates emerging is whether de-weaponisation should be carried out first and peace restored after, or if it should be the other way around.

He said this dilemma arises from the “demand side” of weaponisation; without a sense of security, there are fewer incentives to revoke arms.

Child rights activist Sadia Hassan said children are the most affected by the display of arms. Development practitioner Amjad Nazeer agreed, saying it was currently trendy to flout toy guns at festivities.

Dr A.H. Nayyer, a peace activist, said weapons are generally acquired by four categories of people: the state, private security, individuals and militants.

In terms legitimacy, the state has the most and militants, the least. Yet, the more weapons militants have, the less efficient the state appears. He added that the presence of militant groups with higher ambitions is another dimension of the ‘demand side’.

Published in Dawn, September 29th, 2017