“There are already a number of people who have arms licences but street crimes continue to rise, people are murdered and extortion complaints are increasing with each passing day.”– AP (File Photo)

KARACHI, March 24: As Interior Minister Rahman Malik announced a quick and easy process for the issuance of arms licences to traders amid growing extortion threats, critics said more than 16,000 arms licences issued during the first six months of Sindh Home Minister Manzoor Wasan in office hardly helped bring down the crime rate but definitely increased the number of arms in Karachi.

The data acquired by Dawn showed that the home minister had been generous enough to give a nod for the issuance of 16,631 arms licences between July 2011 — when he took charge of the office — and mid-January 2012. By now the number of licences would definitely have gone above 20,000, said officials.

“I assure you a quick and easy arms licence process,” Interior Minister Rahman Malik told a group of traders the other day.

“Please don’t go for strike calls but fight the extortion menace along with the government. For this purpose, I assure you of all possible assistance — whether it’s arms licence or police security.”

The announcement lifted the hopes of traders a little. They say the extortion threats in every part of the city has jumped manifold over the past couple of months. Yet they believe that rather than arming the traders, the government and the law-enforcement agencies have a role to play to cap the incidents for once and all.

“There are already a number of people who have arms licences but street crimes continue to rise, people are murdered and extortion complaints are increasing with each passing day,” said Ateeq Meer of the All Karachi Tajir Ittehad. The traders’ alliance had given a strike call against extortion activities bringing the city life to a standstill on March 17. The strike was also backed by political parties, including the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, a partner in the PPP-led coalition government.

Mr Meer said: “It’s a good gesture on the part of the government to allow traders to have arms licences in a quick and easy way, but it’s certainly not a permanent solution. After all traders are not supposed to pull out pistols and start a gunfight with extortionists. It can be a part of the solution but not the solution.”

His analysis appeared to be in line with home department figures of crime and arms licences as both went up in recent months.

In July last year when Mr Wasan took charge, the home department issued only 20 licences. However, the number of arms licences applications accepted the following month jumped to 542. It dropped a little in September when 426 licences were issued, but there was an upsurge in the figures the following months with 1,426 arms licences issued in October, 3,987 in November and 6,565 in December. During the first half of January, as many as 3,665 licences were issued and the figure was expected to increase further.

Thousands of arms licences being issued every month shows that there is already an ‘easy and quick’ process in place that doesn’t come as a ‘healthy sign’ for many critics.

“Arms, licensed or unlicensed, should be discouraged,” said Nazim F. Haji, the founding chief of the Citizens-Police Liaison Committee (CPLC).

“We have a real issue of criminal justice administration, which needs overhauling reforms and basic improvements.

“Free and easy arms licences to traders or any other segment of society will not work. Fix the real issues with the police, the judiciary and jails rather than finding shortcuts or makeup arrangements,” he said.