ISLAMABAD, March 20: The government has continued issuing permits for both prohibited and non-prohibited bore weapons despite a ban, according to documents.

In all, 239 licences for prohibited bore arms and 100 for non-prohibited bore arms were issued over the past year in relaxation of the ban.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani had placed a ban on new licences on Jan 1 last year after a minister of state in charge of the interior ministry endorsed issuance of thousands of permits for prohibited bore weapons in 2009.

Yet, “339 PB and NPB arms licences have been issued since January 2010 in relaxation of the ban,” the documents said.

But the papers don't carry the names of the persons who got these licences, nor do they describe the circumstances under which the government had to relax the ban to issue the permits, including the ones for sub-machine guns.

An official said the moratorium was mere eyewash because behind the scenes the government continues to entertain special requests.

In late 2009, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) revealed that thousands of licences for prohibited bore weapons, including sub-machine guns, had been issued in an irregular manner and in violation of rules.

During an investigation ordered by the prime minister, the FIA found that fake bank receipts, forged signatures and fictitious stamps had been used by middle-ranking and junior officers at the interior ministry to issue the licences.

According to the record placed before the National Assembly's Standing Committee on Interior, the ministry issued 28,527 licences for weapons of prohibited bore between March 28, 2008, and June 26, 2009, and 6,000 of them had been approved by the former minister of state for interior, Tasneem Qureshi, in May and June 2009.

Though the prime minister alone was authorised to issue licences for prohibited bore weapons, he had delegated the power to the minister in 2009.

After receiving complaints from various quarters, including parliamentarians, the prime minister ordered an inquiry. Three section officers were found involved in the scam but they challenged their indictment and the case is pending in a court. Some sources in the ministry claimed that the officials had been made scapegoats to save the skin of some powerful figures.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik has informed the National Assembly that the government is scrutinising all licences and those issued in violation of rules will be revoked. Such an action is yet to be taken.

According to a list available in the National Assembly library, legislators from both the treasury and opposition benches have obtained licences for prohibited bore weapons over the past two years. As per normal practice, the licences are issued on the recommendation of legislators, assuming that they personally know the people who would be carrying automatic weapons.

However, the provision appears to have been misused because in many cases a legislator recommended issuance of dozens of permits for prohibited bore arms.

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