KARACHI: Civil society representatives have called upon the Election Commission of Pakistan to withdraw the election symbols representing weapons in order to change the culture of society and reduce dependence on weapons.

They were discussing Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi’s pledge of weapon-free society at a seminar organised by the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) in collaboration with Aurat Foundation at a hotel on Friday.

Mahnaz Rehman of Aurat Foundation said: “Presence of weapons all around us at all times portrays an ill image of the society. We should make our society weapon free by all means and leave no stone unturned it that regard.”

Associate Professor at the Institute of Business Administration Huma Baqai said, “Our destruction began the day we stopped looking towards the government for protection and started taking measures by ourselves for protecting us.

“We started buying guns and started putting barbed wires around our streets and houses.

“The next phase was witnessed during the military regime of Gen Ziaul Haq when student unions were banned and the healthy competition of student elections was thrown out of colleges and universities. In place of it, religion was brought in.

“Saad Aziz who was involved in the killing of Shia-Ismaili community members some years ago was my student and I could not have imagined him getting involved in such a barbaric act. His surroundings must have moulded his brain for the bad. Instead of bringing our education system at par with international standards, the governments promoted madressahs which proved counterproductive.

“Gorbachev rightly said ‘backwardness is the breeding ground of terror and that is what we have to fight. Force is not the solution to terror’.”

She said that human trafficking and drugs trafficking fuelled arms trafficking and the government should focus on curtailing all kinds of trafficking.

“This is a bitter truth that no political party can survive in Karachi without a militant wing,” she added.

“We must realise that power is self-destructive and we should look for order and justice.”

Throwing light on the negative role of arms exporter countries, she said the White House officials were found to have been involved in promoting violence and war around the world when some secret White House documents were declassified.

“The US is destroying one country after another in order to maintain the unipolar world,” she said.

Rumana Husain, who is a co-founder of I Am Karachi movement and the writer of several books for children, said: “I am a part of Citizens Against Weapons (CAW) campaign. We encourage children to drop guns and pick books. The business of toy guns runs in millions of rupees.

“During the last 10 years, the federal government issued 1.2 million gun licences, KP 3m, Punjab 1.8m and Sindh 1.5m while Balochistan’s figures are not available.

“According to a survey 92 persons out of 100 have guns in the US while in the UK this figure is quite low at 6.3.

“Those who advocate guns for self-defence should get their facts right that only one person gets killed in self-defence in every 41 firearm-related deaths.

“If other countries can ban guns, we can too.

“It sounds like a joke when the government says it issues licences only after thorough verification of a person. In my opinion, wealth, land and political patronage is the qualification for any person to acquire a licence. Article 256 clearly prohibits private militia but those who have resources, easily violate it.”

Member of the National Assembly Shahida Rehmani said: “Dictator Zia promoted the gun culture in the country. He banned the student unions and put an end to academic culture and activities.

“The right-wing parties were somehow allowed to function while the progressive parties were totally banned.

“Weapons were deliberately penetrated into the society in the name of sectarian and ethical issues.

“In my views, education is the best weapon and we have to empower our kids with it.”

Rana Asif Habib, who is the president of Initiator Human Development Foundation and a member of the Sindh government’s task force for street children, said: “Unfortunately the symbol of prestige in our society is guns. The more security guards and guns you have around you, the more respect you get in society.

“Some feel proud by roaming around with security guards. This portrays the sick mindset of our society.

“Our children are watching and observing weapons all the time. When they leave for school from home, they observe security checkpoints at all major roads and when they reach schools they find another battery of armed security staff protecting their schools.

“Saad Aziz and Naureen Leghari must have witnessed violence and weapons around them in their childhood.

“The government is even promoting art and culture based on security threats the children are facing and how they [children] are responding to them.

“Uniforms of security agencies are available for children at all shops but you will never find a ‘uniform’ of a social or charity worker at any shop. Students are being encouraged to make security agency personnel their role models.

“Colour schemes of most of the universities and colleges resemble the colour schemes of security agencies.

“Our own toy gun industry is worth Rs500 million. And we import toy guns of the same worth.

“We also have to improve our curriculum and have to send more than 20 million children who are out of schools to schools.

“One of the biggest real estate groups in Pakistan uses the name of Bahria to attract investors.

“Even election symbols of political parties are based on weapons. Weapons have unfortunately been made part of our society.”

Karamat Ali, the head of Pakistan Institute of Labour Education & Research (Piler), said: “Pakistan is the third highest weapon buying country in the world. We are spending massively on weapons and not on welfare of the masses.”

CSJ Director Peter Jacob said: “We must acknowledge we have failed to de-weaponise the society. Before starting the de-weaponising campaign, we must find out how many licensed and unlicensed weapons are present in the society.

“According to an estimate, there are about 20 million small arms, out of which only 10 per cent are licensed.

“A number of countries, such as Australia, have taken back weapons from citizens. We have to follow their strategy.”

Throwing light on the effects of guns on children, he said: “Video games based on violence and toy guns are affecting the psyche of our children. We have to immediately say goodbye to them.”

Published in Dawn, September 30th, 2017

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