Interior Minister Senator A Rehman Malik talking to the media persons after chairing a high level meeting on law & order at Ministry of Interior on Tuesday. – Photo by APP

ISLAMABAD: The government has decided to reactivate a 20-year law and offer amnesty to those who voluntarily surrender illegal arms in a phased campaign to “de-weaponise” the country.

This was disclosed by Interior Minister Rehman Malik while talking to reporters after presiding over a meeting on law and order here on Tuesday. Home secretaries, provincial police chiefs and other authorities concerned attended the meeting.

Mr Malik said the government would soon issue a notification asking people to surrender illegal arms to get indemnity against any legal action for possessing such weapons. He, however, said a person who had used arms for committing a crime would not be exempted from criminal liability for such an offence.

The minister said the provinces would decide on the area of notification and deadline for surrendering the arms and after the deadline the federal and provincial governments and other agencies would launch a coordinated campaign for recovery of illegal weapons.

He said any citizen of Pakistan could acquire an arms licence, but possessing illegal weapons was not fair because it showed negative motives behind the move. He appealed to people to avoid keeping illegal arms and asked them to pursue the legal way if they needed a weapon.

Mr Malik said the purpose of de-weaponisation was to help curb incidents of lawlessness.

He said the provinces had agreed that the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) should be asked to computerise arms licences and a drive in that direction had already been launched at the federal level. The computerisation would help eliminate fake licences and illegal weapons from the country, he added.

Answering a question, the minister said the de-weaponisation drive would be country-wide and not city or area specific.

He said a cell would be established at district headquarters to renew or issue licences on behalf of the federal government. The cell would also entertain the licences issued by the provinces. “Basically, the objective behind the move is to computerise each and every arms licence to ensure transparency.”

The first-ever de-weaponisation campaign was launched in the country by the government of Gen (retd) Pervez Musharraf in June 2001. The interior ministry had recalled licensed weapons for re-registration and announced amnesty for people who surrendered their illegal weapons.

At the end of the amnesty period on June 20, the Surrender of Illicit Arms Act, 1991, was enforced and the crackdown phase commenced the following day. Within two months, about 25,000 illegal weapons were recovered and 9,663 people were arrested.

Tuesday's meeting decided to de-weaponise the country in two phases. In the first phase, arms licences issued by the provincial governments would be computerised. Nadra would establish its offices in provincial capitals and district headquarters by Sept 15.

After ascertaining that the necessary logistic arrangements were in place, the provincial authorities would ask people to approach Nadra to get computerised arms licences after surrendering their licence booklets.

In the second phase, a crackdown would be launched against illegal weapons and penalties for possession of such arms would also be enhanced. The federal government has delegated such powers to the provinces under the Surrender of Illicit Arms Act.

The provincial authorities expressed concern that in large number of cases, people carrying unauthorised arms were released on bail on easy terms. Concern was also shown that the proposed amendments to the Anti-Terrorism Act, Evidence Act, Money Laundering and Cyber Crime laws were still pending.

The meeting also decided to have a complete record and data of arms dealers and requested the provincial authorities to carry out periodical inspection.

The interior minister said he had directed the law-enforcement agencies to gather information for taking action against 'bhatta mafia' as was taken against target killers in Karachi.

He said the issue was discussed in detail and it was decided to draw a strategy to achieve better results. Action would also be taken against those who threw grenades and delivered 'bhatta slips', he added.

The minister said the government was focusing on internal security and was holding dialogue with all stakeholders.

He said the meeting also discussed other issues such as money-laundering and cyber crimes. The centre was supporting the provinces in combating the crimes, he said.

Answering a question, he said: “We respect each and every order of the Supreme Court and will continue to do this in future.”