No guns, please

June 21, 2019

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Zubeida Mustafa
Zubeida Mustafa

QAMAR Zaman is the father of an infant boy. He works in Karachi’s Defence Authority’s Phase 4 Commercial Area. He had just finished his duty at 6pm on June 10 and had stopped to purchase vegetables for his wife to cook for dinner, when he was knocked out by a hail of gunshots. For him everything went black thereafter.

He later learnt that a guard before a mobile shop close by had accidentally pulled the trigger claiming that he did not know that his gun was loaded. He had just received the weapon from his colleague who was going off-duty.

Qamar Zaman was lucky in many ways. Had he been standing in a slightly different posture, the bullets could have pierced his heart and lungs. It was his good fortune that 25 to 30 bullets hit his arm and leg from the side. The second stroke of good luck was that a car driver passing that way stopped immediately and carried the injured man to the JPMC and stayed with him until the doctors attended to his wounds and his family members had arrived there. So Qamar Zaman is alive though in bad shape, and on leave from work. We don’t know what the future holds in store for him. In Pakistan life is precarious for the poor and this gun accident has certainly changed Zaman’s life.

The question to be asked is: is it not possible to ensure that all Qamar Zamans are safe and don’t fall victim to the gun? The simple answer is that this is possible only if Pakistan is cleansed of the gun scourge that has proliferated in the country. The gun laws are so weak and the bureaucracy, lawmakers and police so crippled that these laws, weak as they are, simply cannot be enforced. Besides we as a society lack compassion and our leadership prides itself on being part of a macho culture. As a result, guns have more than doubled in the last decade. From 1.8 million in 2007 the figure has jumped to 4.39m licensed and 30m illegal guns in 2017.

It is plain that the presence of guns itself is the main source of insecurity.

These weapons of destruction have served all kinds of nefarious purposes — targeted killings to eliminate political rivals and suppress dissent, fuel religious and sectarian enmities and as a status symbol by the rich and the mighty.

In this particular case I am writing about, no evil intentions seemed to be involved. This was simply an act of crass carelessness and negligence for which the security company is equally responsible. In such situations the employers cannot be absolved of their responsibility either. After all, the company was required to obtain a licence from the government and have it renewed every year. Did it? Did it strictly observe the specific restrictions imposed on it such as the number of arms and ammunitions it was allowed, the training of guards all of whom should undergo background checks by the police for verification. Was all this done? A 2016 survey reported in the press said there are 166 private security companies operating illegally in the country. Another report published in this paper revealed: “Officials said that two years ago the police forensic experts had taken up all the records of the security guards for detailed analysis but could not go any further for unexplained reasons after they had processed accounts of 1,500 guards and found 17 of them with a criminal history.”

Considering this state of affairs, it is plain that the presence of guns itself is the main source of insecurity. But banning security companies on the grounds that they cannot be regulated is no solution when the police are so incompetent and corrupt.

It is therefore time to take the gun problem serious. The Citizens against Weapons, a small core group of people with a conscience, has been demanding the deweaponisation of the country for several years. It wants all illegal weapons to be surrendered and the licensed arms be collected in a buyback programme. Only the state (that is members of state security institutions such as the armed forces, police and paramilitary organisations) should be armed.

It must be remembered that Citizens against Weapons is not a weak voice. It represents nearly 100 distinguished citizens and 13 prominent organisations including HRCP, PILER, Shehri, CPLC Tehreek-e-Niswan and the PMA.

Deweaponisation is not an impossible phenomenon. Many states such as the UK, Australia and New Zealand have deweaponised. The process they followed could be emulated. Concurrently, citizens should also be taught the value of peace and love. Ours is a violent culture that glorifies war and takes pride in its so-called martial races. Small wonder we have few peace studies programmes in our universities and colleges. Only four out of Pakistan’s 163 universities offer peace studies in graduate-level courses.

If the youth learns about the destructiveness of war, the importance of conflict resolution and the positive impact of peace, our psyche might change.

www.zubeidamustafa.com

Published in Dawn, June 21st, 2019