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Why is Karachi armed to its teeth?

Pakistan on 28 October 2013
Location : Karachi, Pakistan | Source : The International News. Image Source: Flickr User Defence Images

A single death is a tragedy, a million deaths just another number—the long debated quotation which many attribute to communist leader Joseph Stalin holds true for Karachi, where turf wars are claiming several lives.
 
As violence continues to grip Karachi, politicians, lawyers, journalists and human rights activists sat together at a hotel on Saturday to discuss the de-weaponisation of the city — believed to be the elixir to the metropolis’ woes.
 
No one knows how many weapons there are in Karachi, but Naeem Sadiq, a concerned citizen, columnist and activist who tweets @saynotoweapons, estimated them to be around 20 million.
 
“Only seven million of them are licensed. If this is how things remain, our children will hold guns instead of books,” he said.
 
Asad Butt, a representative of the Human Rights Commission Pakistan, placed the figure at several hundred thousand. “There are 39,000 cases registered against unlicensed guns. If this is the number of cases registered, imagine how many guns are actually present in the city,” he pointed out.
 
Sadiq said under the freedom to information act, the federal and the provincial governments were asked as to how many gun licences had they issued.
 
“No one replied. Some said they had lost the records,” he added. “But giving out licences is the most common method of bribing used by parliamentarians. One commissioner of Karachi [who he did not name] issued 5,000 licences. Parliamentarians formally issued 6,900 licences.”
 
Butt blamed it on the “establishment”. “It is easy to criticise the politicians. But it was Zia’s government that gave us weapons as a ‘present’. Clerics of various seminaries were provided with hundreds of weapons to train young jihadists, and once the weapons were available in the city, anyone could have them.”
 
De-weaponising Karachi
 
The 13-day campaign launched by the police for arms to be voluntarily surrendered came under much criticism as only five or six weapons were handed over.
 
“Karachi will remain full of weapons as long as political parties refuse to let them go. Political parties need weapons to get votes. Democracy is not about votes through weapons, it is votes without weapons,” said Gandapur.
 
Sadiq said for people who had formed independent parties, monetary stakes were involved.
 
“In many countries, de-weaponisation has become possible after the government offered compensation for handing over weapons,” he added.
 
Ammar Shahbazi, a young journalist, said weapons could not be done away with as long as the government “chose” which criminals to prosecute.
 
“Some relief was witnessed during Eid-ul-Azha, when citizens were able to give the hides of their sacrificial animals to whoever they pleased. This means if there is a will, things can improve,” he added.
 
Erum Farooqi, who was representing the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, criticised how her party was always targeted when there was talk about violence. “Try organising this seminar in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and you will realise how open-minded the MQM is.”
 
Other politicians who spoke included the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf’s Samar Ali Khan, the Awami National Party’s Bashir Jan, the Jamaat-e-Islami’s Muslim Pervez and the Pakistan Muslim League-Functional’s Shahid Soomro. But their session turned out to be merely a repetition of the usual blame game.
 
What the constitution says
 
Under the Constitution of Pakistan, the duty to protect the lives of the citizens lies with the State. Article 256 of the Constitution states that no citizen has the right to own a private army - a private army means more than three armed men.
 
“But Pakistan has thousands of private armies, many owned by political parties,” said Sadiq.
 
The first legislation against arms was formulated in 1965, and it was borrowed from the British.
 
Salahuddin Gandapur, a member of the Supreme Court Bar, said according to the Arms Ordinance Act, any person who was wealthy and had property could own a weapon.
 
“In case some one has an unlicensed weapon, he had to pay Rs50 as penalty and face imprisonment for a year. The imprisonment period was later increased to 14 years,” he added.
 
“Compare this with the law in Japan, where just being seen with a gun may land a person in jail for 10 years.”

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