KARACHI: The rising incidents of gun violence in the country is an alarming trend, said civil society members gathered at a PMA House seminar on Sunday to raise their concerns. The event was titled ‘Peace and deweaponisation’.

With gun-related injuries and fatalities becoming a norm in the media and hundreds and thousands of gun-violence victims confined to the emergency ward, the organisers, Citizens Against Weapons [CAW], called for “a complete ban on issuance of all licences, surrender and buy-back of all weapons and elimination of all private militias”.

CAW member Naeem Sadiq spoke about how gun licences were being handed over to people on the “basis of favouritism, who are in a position of influence, status, power or price. Without any medical or mental test, without any training or background checks, gun licences are being given and these are obstacles in the way of de-weaponisation.”

Addiction to weapon and power was also a recurring problem, with some citizens of the country, and even parliamentarians, being unable to survive without these arms. “There are hundreds of militant private armies in Pakistan; most are powerful enough to capture small cities while some are powerful enough to capture the capital of Pakistan,” he said.

‘First step towards de-weaponisation should be that we go for public interest litigation’

He deplored that the government was not taking its due responsibility for security related situations and as a result there was an increase in the number of armed individuals.

Former senator Javed Jabbar made a case for galvanising all those organisations working in the domain of human rights and to form a coalition for achieving the cause of de-weaponisation. That included politicians, he said.

“Don’t write off politicians. If you engage in dialogue with them, they are actually going to listen to you. We need to indulge the political element of this country, which itself encourages the use of licensed or unlicensed weapons, to become part of this coalition. We need to engage the state, the civil and the military. The real challenge is how do we do it?”

Dr Seemin Jamali, executive director at the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre, recalled her decades-long experience in which she has witnessed innumerable cases of trauma and death in the hospital’s emergency department. “Our society has seen a surge in violence and it is about time we do something about it. At an average the JPMC witnesses five to six gunshot wounds. Firearm deaths come in daily, too, which is a separate number.”

She also spoke about the need to question how poor communities also had access to firearms. “The poor man no longer studies, has left the book and taken up the gun for easy money. There is a state of anarchy and people are taking the law into their own hands. How can we talk about formulating laws for de-weaponisation when the very people who are to form these laws are themselves taking the law into their own hands and use guns to do so,” she said.

Dr Mirza Azhar Ali, secretary general of the PMA, spoke about how the doctors’ community had suffered greatly at the hands of armed individuals, with scores being shot dead around the country. For him the losses of his colleagues went unnoticed by the government until the doctors went on strike. Then, too, despite pledges to compensate the grieving families, the government went back on its promises.

Ubaidullah Gilani’s death is an example of how victims of gun violence must face an untimely end and that the families they leave behind also suffer. His father was present at the seminar and shared how after the loss of his son the family had still been unable to find its bearings and their grief was endless. He appealed to the authorities and government institutions to offer unlimited support to such families as they had a tough journey.

AMI School teachers Zakia Kirmani and Bareen Khan offered a unique perspective on how to raise young children in schools with regards to the fascination they had for firearms. Both were of the opinion that instead of rebuking children for asking uncomfortable questions, they should be told to think creatively and come up with solutions for conflict resolution as violence to solve problems was never the answer.

Nazim Haji said weapons gave people an additional power to sort out issues. “Weapons are not a need for a peaceful society. To mobilise such a movement everybody needs to take part. The first step towards de-weaponisation should be that we go for public interest litigation and all the points highlighted at this seminar should be compiled in a very strong and winning case to the high court or the supreme court.”

Speakers at the seminar appealed to all those who have a stake in the city and the country to take inspiration from the seminar and start taking practical steps towards de-weaponising society.

A performance by Ahsan Bari of Sounds of Kolachi was also part of the lineup.

Published in Dawn, December 18th, 2017