It seems only two kinds of people in Pakistan have protection, VIPs and the terrorists. The common people are left to fend for themselves as the bulk of our security forces are deployed in front of political and bureaucratic palaces. Given the state’s failure to provide security to common citizen, we’ve seen an increasing privatisation of this critical government function. Private security companies are flourishing in Pakistan. Homes and businesses in upscale localities have contracted private actors to provide security. Unfortunately, most Pakistanis cannot afford private security and remain without adequate safety.
This was painfully obvious during the attack on Data Darbar. As terrorists massacred innocents, security arrangements seemed particularly inadequate. Interestingly, at the rally held the next day to condemn these attacks, there seemed to be no shortage of protection. This was not provided by the state but by people in civilian clothes carrying guns of all shapes and sizes. As clerics, vowed to seek revenge and urged others to do the same, it was frighteningly disconcerting to see the gunmen that surrounded them and to think of what havoc they were capable of wreaking with that fire power.
Interestingly, the police personnel present did not seem to think this was a problem. They stood by watching silently as weapons were openly brandished and fired into the air. Over the years, given the lack of security, we have become used to seeing citizens brandishing heavy firearms. But surely, in this new atmosphere of increasing terror, volatile sentiments and brutal killings, there should be an embargo on weapon ownership and their display in public.
I remember a rally led by Maulana Masood Azhar after his release from an Indian prison as a result of the hijacking of an Indian Airlines plane. This confirmed terrorist paraded around in an open jeep with an extremely heavily armed escort, to a public rally where he incited further violence and hatred. The display of arms was symbolic of his power and was used as a tool to awe and intimidate spectators.
But why blame just the bearded gent, when all and sundry in power in Pakistan are responsible for the same? Having a heavily armed entourage is symbolic of power and prestige for our politicians as well. There seems to be an arms race brewing in the circles of power which leads people to hire bigger and better guns than those around them. The only casualty is the common citizen who suffers at the hands of an increasingly armed society.
Easy access to weapons and their unchecked use in public is a major contributor in increasing levels of violence and killing. Revamping laws to suit present times is essential. There is an urgent need to de-weaponise Pakistani society. And we should begin by enacting laws that prevent the public use and display of firearms by everyone. And then we can go on to tackling the knottier issue of the sale of these arms.
In the past, de-weaponisation drives have targeted particular groups for political reasons. But for national security reasons, this drive must target all offenders equally. People should be asked to register firearms per existing laws and ownership of certain firearms should be banned. And our political leadership should lead the charge in this change by demilitarising their mustachioed entourages. Given the havoc that these politicians have wreaked on Pakistani society, I’m not sure how worthy or deserving they are of such security. The state needs to do a better job at providing security to citizens and in demonising guns as weapons of terror and ruthless killing rather than weapons of power and prestige.
So if our exalted political leadership could stop toting guns and free up some state security resources from policing and protecting their social activities, maybe we could reduce the loss of life to the common citizen.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 8th, 2010.
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