In the backdrop of fresh violence in Karachi, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) submitted on Monday an elaborate and ambitious draft bill in the National Assembly Secretariat seeking to rid the country of weapons.
The ‘Deweaponisation of Pakistan Bill of 2011’, filed as private members’ bill, calls for banning the production, proliferation, smuggling, import and use of firearms and ammunition and explosives “to restore public order in the country”.
Yet, experts and analysts are sceptical about the fecundity of the bill.
MQM’s parliamentary leader in the National Assembly Dr Farooq Sattar said that his party would also introduce the bill in the Senate on Tuesday and contact other parties to secure endorsement for it.
The bill provides “measures for banning the unauthorised production, illicit trafficking, possession and use of arms and weapons, so as to eradicate killings, kidnapping for ransom and extortion by terrorists, criminals and anti-social elements for waging guerrilla war against the state, indulgence in vandalism, mass destruction, suicide bombing, desecration of places of worship, killings of innocent citizens, and to restore peace, tranquility, sanity and public order in the country,” the MQM leader said reading from the bill.
Highlighting statistics, he said that between 2006 and 2009, terrorists and criminals had struck 6,894 times using illicit arms across the country, killing 9,643 people, injuring 18,788 more, besides kidnapping thousands of citizens for ransom.
The bill, if passed, will be applicable in four provinces, Gilgit-Baltistan and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) but it would not apply on arms, ammunition in the possession of armed forces and law-enforcement agencies working under government control.
Reaction by experts and analysts
The Express Tribune contacted analysts and experts for comments on the bill, and its possible outcome.
Ejaz Haider, Contributing editor for The Friday Times and columnist for The Express Tribune: “Officially, Pakistan goes by the UK framework, that no one except authorised personnel of the military or police can carry weapons. The other paradigm is the US where everyone can. So while formally Pakistan follows the UK model, de facto we’ve allowed arms to proliferate. You have MNAs, MPAs and senators with quotas to buy weapons and you can also get illegal arms here. In the US, they do not allow people to buy automatic weapons. In Pakistan, you can find Uzis or Kalashnikovs, which are essentially used by armed forces.
“The funny thing is that the last time I checked, the interior ministry had three different figures for the number of arms licences issued. So if you don’t have an exact figure that’s a problem. It’s difficult to have a guesstimate but whatever the number of legal weapons is, multiply it by at least 10 and that’s the amount of illicit weapons. I had also suggested to the interior ministry that one way to check this is to start tracing the ammunition. It gives you a trail to what kind of ammunition this was and where it was produced. If illegal arms are coming in then obviously the law enforcement officials are also involved.
“The last three to four times they tried to do this deweaponisation plan they badly failed. It also has to be evenhanded. You can’t target specific people or areas – the whole idea of prosecution becomes lopsided.”
Imtiaz Gul, analyst, author of The Al Qaeda Connection: “This is a very complicated matter and it is not in the hands of the government, but of the political parties. The PPP, ANP, MQM and Jamaat-e-Islami all have militants in their fold – any law you bring about would be ineffective if it is not enforced on them. The parties don’t seem to have the political will. Even if they did have the political will, it would take quite a lot of time for the weaponry that has been amassed to be dug out.”
Mosharraf Zaidi, analyst: “Deweaponisation programmes haven’t been that successful in Afghanistan – which is geographically closest to us – and that was a sponsored, funded campaign. The top line issue here is that in a society where laws do exist and are misused or not used at all, what value does a new law have.
“So a new law is a probably a good first step, but a miniscule step. The idea of deweaponising Karachi – let alone Pakistan – is a big deal. It is ironic and interesting that the MQM is the one to sponsor the bill. If implemented, this would be the first time since in the mid-1960s that Karachi would be free of weapons. It is a good initiative, but there is a bigger structural problem in Pakistani society – a lack of respect for existing laws. Traditionally, where we’ve seen deweaponisation programmes work is not really on a national level but on a smaller one – towns and villages and so. The other key issue is finances – it is a really expensive programme to run and the only incentive you can offer people is to give them an above market value for the arms. Given the quality of public policy in the country, I doubt that this is a consideration for the interior ministry and any of the provincial home departments. Will the government have the wherewithal to challenge political interests that have weapons – to go after stores that supply to political parties? That’s a big question - so if it happens, hallelujah, but it doesn’t seem possible.”
Former interior minister Moinuddin Haider: “There is already a law in the country to deal with weapons. Now if you can’t implement that, then what use will it be to have a new law? In Pakistan there is a huge proliferation of arms right now, everyone from the security guards with women shopping to policemen are armed. Whether it is the UAE or the UK, it is hard to find police officials who are armed like they are here. You need to create a culture to carry out a programme like this. When we implemented it during General Pervez Musharraf’s time, there was a lot of resistance. We ran campaigns for the general public and educated policemen on it as well. The idea was that, till 15 days after the campaign was initiated, people could hand in their weapons to the police and there would be no questions asked. It was so successful that we received 80,000 illegal weapons and we were asked by the provinces to extend the deadline by a few months but we refused to because it would mean we would go back on our word. After the deadline, we carried out raids and implemented the law very strictly. I do not think anyone in Pakistan is serious about deweaponisation right now. These look like political tactics to show that ‘we are peace loving’ etc.”
Propositions: Salient features
Ban on issuance of licence:
No arms licence shall be issued by the government to any person with effect from the commencement of this act.
Whosoever contravenes, such arms will be seized and forfeited by government and he shall be punished with imprisonment for a term not less than seven years and not more than 12 years and shall also be liable to fine up to Rs5 million. In case of default, he shall be liable for a further imprisonment period of three years.
Surrender and seizure of arms and weapons:
All persons who are in possession of arms, ammunition, and weapons without any authorisation or valid licence, would be required to surrender them to the authorised person or agency designated by the government in the district where they ordinarily reside, within three months.
The licences of all arms and ammunitions issued to individuals, companies and dealers by the government prior to the commencement of this Act shall stand cancelled without any notice after three months from the enactment of this law.
Prohibition on illicit manufacturing of weapons:
No person shall manufacture, produce and assemble arms and ammunitions illicitly anywhere in Pakistan after three months from the commencement of this Act.
Contravention of illicit manufacture:
Whosoever contravenes the provisions of Section 10 shall be punished with imprisonment for a term of not less than twelve years and shall also be liable to fine not less than ten million. In case of non-payment of fine he may be punished with further imprisonment up to a period of three year.
Prohibition of illicit trafficking in arms and weapons:
Whosoever indulges in the illicit trade or trafficking in firearms, ammunitions, weapons and their parts and components within the territories of Pakistan shall be punished with imprisonment for a term not less than nine years and shall also be fined not less than rupees seven and a half million and in default of such payment shall undergo imprisonment for a further period of three years.
Prohibition of display of arms:
Whosoever displays new, operational, old or ancestral non-operative arms or weapons in public shall be punished with imprisonment not exceeding seven years and fine not more than rupees five million only.
Disposal of arms, ammunitions and weapons deposited by licencees:
All licenced arms, ammunition and weapons deposited under Section 8 of the act shall be sold to government agencies at market price and the proceeds so received shall be paid to persons who had held the licence and owned the said arms and weapons.
Committee to supervise whole process
An 11-member committee headed by a retired judge of a High or Supreme Court will supervise the whole process of implementation of the law and give its recommendations to fulfill the objectives of the law.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 18th, 2011.