“Nothing will happen to you as long as you are in this car!”
Born and raised in Karachi, I take great pride in my city of lights. You’ll always find me in the middle of a heated argument (mostly with Lahoris) about why Karachi is the best city in Pakistan. What’s not to like about this place?
Karachi has the best food, the best malls, the best people and we also have a beach. Take that Lahore!
But it took me four years of living in Lahore to realise that Karachi, as ideal as it was in terms of food and other attractions, wasn’t the safest place to live.
Karachiites know the rules of living in Karachi. Do not use your mobile phones in public places, attempt to hide any jewellery you’re wearing whenever you step out of the house, keep your doors locked at all times, always be aware of your surroundings when driving (look out for motorbikes), do not poke your nose into anyone’s business and so on and so forth.
Having followed these rules for the longest time, they stopped feeling like rules since we internalised them. Thus, when I was going to Lahore for university, I automatically carried all these rules with me there as well.
I followed the same routine when I would step out of my room, not because it wasn’t safe in Lahore but because it was natural instinct. Soon, my friends grew tired of me refusing to use my mobile phone in public, which made me realise that Lahore isn’t Karachi and I’m allowed to break some of the rules here.
To be honest, it was quite strange for the first few days because I was still paranoid about getting mugged in broad daylight, but luckily, no such thing happened in the four years that I lived there. However, when I came back to Karachi, I had to start following the same rules again and that is when I realised we had a major problem.
The numerous Rangers’ operations that took place in recent times have led to the arrests of numerous individuals possessing illegal firearms. According to the 2014 Rangers’ report submitted to the Senate Standing Committee of Internal Affairs:
- 2,251 criminals were arrested due to the raids and operations conducted in Karachi
- 373 raids were carried out on Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) offices in which 560 MQM-P workers were arrested and a large cache of weapons were confiscated
- Eighteen raids were carried out on the offices of Awami National Party (ANP) where 40 people were arrested and 21 weapons were recovered
- 539 people were arrested from the banned Amn committee and 591 weapons were recovered from 396 raids
- Raids on the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), 403 to be specific, led to the arrest of 760 alleged terrorists and the confiscation of large amounts of weapons and explosives
- 159 raids on other banned outfits resulted in the arrests of 352 suspects and the recovery of 463 weapons
These are staggering numbers.
After the Rangers’ operation in Karachi, residents started believing that the crime rate has drastically decreased and the security situation has improved. But in reality, it hasn’t. We often see news channels reporting on arrests made and weapons seized, but are these facts and figures really authentic? If they were, crime in Karachi would not be as rampant as it is. I feel the only difference is that the muggers have now begun to adopt smarter techniques.
My uncle was recently mugged near Baloch Colony, twice in two weeks. Since he took the same route to work every day, the muggers observed his timings and mugged him when they thought was a suitable time. They knew his car would slow down near a certain speed breaker and that is when they pointed a gun at him and robbed him off of his belongings. Reporting to the police did nothing for him except cause him further inconvenience. According to him, the only other alternative was to get a firearm himself.
But my uncle is just one of the countless victims.
Last year, a bakery owner was gunned down when he tried to resist a robbery in Sharifabad.
A senior official at the National Bank of Pakistan was also shot dead while resisting a robbery in Gulistan-e-Jauhar; the thieves tried to snatch his car and when he did not comply, they fired at him and fled with the stolen vehicle.
A bakery situated on a busy street in Karachi was robbed in what looked like a planned heist.
Another horrific incident took place at an ATM. A man was withdrawing money when thieves barged in and threatened the victim with a gun and stole all his belongings. The CCTV footage showed the entire incident, including the victim’s helpless state.
I came across yet another terrifying video of mobile shop in Karachi being robbed. The footage of the video showed a thief stealing numerous mobile phones at gun point and how the helpless shopkeeper put the mobile phones in shopping bags for the convenience of the mugger.
It doesn’t stop here, as the list keeps getting longer day by day. An office in Federal B Area was stormed by three men who mugged the people at gun point and also stole all the office belongings.
It’s not just shops and offices, we aren’t even safe in our homes. We cannot even take one step out of our homes safely. Case in point: The CCTV footage below shows two men on a motorbike mugging one of two women right outside their house. They stole her bag with all her belongings in it, and fled the scene when they saw a man coming to help the women.
All these incidents occurred at different locations, which highlights the fact that we are not safe anywhere. Whether be it a residential area, an ATM, office or a shop, we have to be vigilant. What’s worse is that we cannot fight back due to the fact that they are in possession of a weapon and not afraid of pulling the trigger anymore. They have no guilt, no remorse, no fear. And even though their faces are easily recognisable in videos and CCTV footages, they roam around town freely.
After hearing about these incidents, my paranoia increased, more so because I was back from my much safer bubble, Lahore. So when I recently stepped out of my home with my friends, I was on a vigilant lookout for anyone who seemed shady. I would continuously look at every passing motorbike. My friend noticed my nervousness and asked me why I was on edge, and when I told him my reasons, he laughed and said,
“Nothing will happen to you as long as you are in this car.”
Curious to know if I had automatically landed in a magical car that was invisible to potential muggers, I asked him why? He told me that he had a gun in his car’s dashboard and he would use it if need be. This new revelation terrified me even more than the thought of getting mugged.
My friend was carrying a possibly unlicensed and loaded gun in his car and he had just informed me he would use it if need be. Did it look like I wanted to be part of a gun battle at any point in my life? Instead of watching out for the motorbikes, I now found myself staring at the dashboard and the thought of the loaded gun kept haunting me till I got home.
Possession of firearms is permissible throughout Pakistan and in various regions, specially the north western region, it is considered as a part of the culture. Used for the purpose of hunting or celebratory gunfire, firearms are handed down through generations as a mark of power and prestige.
In Karachi, 12 people were injured due to celebratory gunfire over Pakistan’s victory against India in the Champions Trophy final. We were undoubtedly ecstatic about this monumental win, but people need to realise that celebration does not require aerial firing. It is dangerous for them, as well as others around them.
Unfortunately, these horrifying stories do not end here. A six-year-old boy was killed due to aerial firing on New Year’s Eve in January. Last month, nine people were wounded due to celebratory gunfire in Karachi on Independence Day.
We are taking lives, one celebration at a time.
Over the years, the number of civilian gun possession has increased. According to Gunpolicy.org, the estimated number of privately owned firearms in Pakistan was a whopping 18 million as of 2014. And these are just licensed and registered firearms. The unlicensed, illicit possession of guns cannot even be accounted for.
Thus, it comes as no surprise that homicide rates have also increased a great deal over the years. Pakistanis have always been quick to point fingers at the US whenever an incident of school, club or road shooting would occur and love criticising America’s inability towards gun control.
What we as Pakistanis need to realise is that the same problem exists in our country as well, perhaps on a grander scale. We are in the same mess as the United States when it comes to gun control. Hence, there is a desperate and critical need for strict gun control laws in a country such as Pakistan, where its largest city is plagued with crimes involving guns and weapons are being sold as if selling toys.
Easy access to firearms is the one of the main reasons why there are countless mugging cases in Karachi. The situation has deteriorated so much that the denizens of Karachi have opted to fight fire with fire, bullet with bullet. This in no way solves the problem at hand, what it does instead is increase the chance of landing in the middle of a gun battle and losing your life.
There needs to be a strict regulation in regard to possession of guns. An individual needs to have the psychological ability and required training to handle a licensed and registered firearm. This would be the correct way to make sure that firearms are given to responsible individuals, not people who are likely to use them to commit crimes.
Security agencies and the government need to start tracking down civilians who illegally possess firearms and confiscate them. A sound legislation needs to be passed in order to impose stricter gun control laws in order to deter the usage of guns. Only licensed arms dealers should be allowed to sell firearms and should be held accountable so that they allot arms to people in a responsible manner.
Furthermore, the most fundamental problem is that guns end up in the hands of dangerous individuals and that is what we need to put a stop to.
The last thing Karachi needs is people carrying more guns. If the situation is not controlled, we’re not far from the day when mass shooting incidents become a common occurrence, just like in the US.