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A weapon-free Karachi?

Published Jan 16, 2013 12:20am


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ACCORDING to media reports 2,500-3,000 people fell victim to violence in Karachi in 2012.Ironically, the same year in September UN member states adopted a treaty pledging to rid the world of the scourge brought upon it by the illicit manufacture, transfer and circulation of small arms and light weapons, and their excessive accumulation in many parts of the world.

They also committed to mobilising the necessary political will and resources to implement this programme. By not working for the deweaponisation of Karachi, Pakistan is moving in the opposite direction. Have we resigned ourselves to living on the edge with bullets flying around us?

The scale of violence is stunning. But what is more astounding is that the killings continue to take place in brazen disregard of the concern expressed by the Supreme Court which had taken suo motu notice of the crisis in Sept-Oct 2011. Declaring the violence to be “not ethnic alone” but “a turf war between different groups having economic, socio-politico interests to strengthen their position/aggrandisement, based on the phenomenon of tit-for-tat with political, moral and financial support or endorsement of the political parties”, the court had specified some measures to end the violence in the city.

The October 2011 order had “directed that a committee be constituted by the provincial government … to supervise and ensure that law enforcement agencies take action indiscriminately, across the board against the perpetrators involved in causing disturbances in Karachi. The chief justice (of Sindh) shall convene the meeting at least once in a month to review the implementation of this judgment and copy of the proceedings shall be transmitted to the registrar of this court.”

We are told that these reports were filed, but the intensity of the killings just grew and grew. In continuation of the 2011 hearings, last October the chief justice constituted an expanded bench with five honourable judges to hear the Karachi unrest case. Their interim order, issued on November 3, was very explicit and clearly identified people responsible for the violence.

Strangely, the interim order has moved no one. Statements by judges have fallen on deaf ears, as when one of them observed “no one among the senior officers of the police seems to have shown concern”.

We know that political parties which have armed wings are all involved in the violence that has engulfed the city. Since the interim order was issued ten weeks ago, 633 people have been killed in the city. The parties in the ruling coalition bear a greater responsibility since it is the administration’s duty to provide security to the citizens. Take the case of the 35 under-trial and convicted prisoners who were unlawfully released on parole. They are said to be hardened criminals and must have used their freedom to kill several more people. We do not know yet if they have been picked up again as directed by the court.

Other criminal elements are taking advantage of the breakdown of law and order to promote their own nefarious interests. They may be the land mafia, the tanker mafia, the drug smugglers or petty street criminals who want to make hay while the sun shines. Those suffering are the common people whose only interest lies in law and order.

In this ghastly scenario, can one hope for any form of deweaponisation of Karachi which is the basic need of the hour? The SC had observed in October 2011 that “Karachi is full of arms and ammunition of prohibited and non-prohibited bores including licensed and illicit, therefore, Karachi has to be cleansed from all kinds of weapons by adhering to the laws available on the subject”. It had suggested that new laws be enacted if the need is felt. It had also sought an end to “unnecessary display (of arms) at ceremonies or elsewhere for aerial firing”.

Although it has been argued that generally, unlicensed arms are used to commit crime, it doesn’t justify the huge presence of licensed arms in the city. The SC was informed in 2011 that the Sindh Home Department had issued 180,956 licenses of non-prohibited bore and 46,114 licenses of prohibited bore in five years. The interior ministry in Islamabad had issued 1,202,470 licenses of non-prohibited bore.

The interim order asks for the computerisation of all arms licenses within three months and the cancellation of all non-computerised licenses. This is just the first — even though tenuous — step towards the deweaponisation of the city. Hence it must be taken seriously. Computerisation will reveal the identity of persons holding several arms licenses.

It is now very clear that without a deweaponisation exercise there is absolutely no way of ending the violence in the metropolis. There are many peace activists who would want to push for ending the killings in Karachi but they cannot do much when they face criminals armed to the hilt.

The key question is, who will implement the programme? It has to be the police which must be freed of political interference. It is time to revisit the police reforms proposed over the years but never carried out. Only a police force accountable to a non-partisan public safety commission manned by members of the public can undertake the exercise of deweaponisation effectively. The political parties should understand that the people are weary of their shenanigans and if they don’t fall in line, the political consequences will not be good for them.


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The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (14) Closed

Agha Ata (USA) Jan 16, 2013 02:12pm
.I fully agree with Ms. Zubaida. Police has a mindset of its own. It is the result of long history of having been politicized. The experience and the stories influence their thoughts. Senior police men or officers continue to think in the old way. I think a totally new police would be the answer, with a new name, new uniform new thoughts and trained by new instructors, at new training centers. The last not the least
Ash Mirza (USA) Jan 16, 2013 03:25pm
Well we all love to see weapon free Karachi and other part of Pakistan. "But we can't teach OLD DOG NEW TRICKS, but we can start teaching school kids not to use weapons, and teach them to live in PEACE. It will payoff 20yrs from now. As we all know education is key to seccess. God bless you all. Hope Pakistan get Honest and hard working leaders to keep people happy.
Z. Jan 16, 2013 10:59am
Over the past couple of years, the police force of Karachi/Sindh has already called for deweaponisation programmes within Karachi. Unfortunately, political interferences overshadow, undermine, and often ignore such programmes and any efforts made to implement them. Karachi is in dire need of a revamp of its law and order situation, which needs to begin from the top of the hierarchy, to ensure any trickle-down successes on grassroot levels.
BEA Jan 16, 2013 05:08pm
More like hell will freeze over before they get rid of weapons in Karachi.
farhan Jan 16, 2013 11:43am
Why not a weapon-free Pakistan ? Everyone knows 90 % of arms come from barra and darra Adam khel..
mazharuddin Jan 16, 2013 01:16pm
Very narrow perception to large scale killing. Need to address root causes i.e. encouraging influx of large groups on political ground involved in robbing, land grabbing etc. that causing deprivation of law abiding citizens of their assets and property and citizens deprived of their due share in government jobs, no consideration of their homelessness. Large number of citizens in old areas and in district central suffering with different ailment and diseases. Government's negligence towards their plight.
G.A. Jan 16, 2013 12:48pm
To the best of my knowledge, Right to Bear Arms is not in the Pakistani constitution. U.S. and Pakistan cannot be compared. Karachi and entire Pakistan can be de-weaponized. It's the will that's needed.
Whats in the name Jan 16, 2013 03:32am
Intentions are good. But asking for weapon free Karachi is like asking USA to be for weapon free too. Neither of it could be true. Those who believe in the ideology of violence and destruction cant help but be in the company of guns.
Canadian Jan 17, 2013 07:14pm
Weapons Free Karachi may not be possible but there is a dire need to reduce and control gun ownership.
Kami Jan 16, 2013 04:10am
Well this was tabled last year: It seems that the so called major political parties are not interested. It could have got a mention in your article.
Cyrus Howell Jan 16, 2013 04:21am
A weapons free Karachi? In a word - impossible.
indian Jan 16, 2013 09:03pm
dats d need of d hour...brothers stop dis violence n join hands for a progressive pakistan
mohammad shafique Jan 16, 2013 02:46pm
the populations of karachi and hyderabad were armed by general ziaulhaq for a specific purpose and this weaponisation is being maintained indefinitely by followers in his footsteps
Azhar Hussain Jan 16, 2013 02:31pm
Lets start with Karachi, where on the average ten people ar shot daily.