With a new round of target killings rocking Karachi, it is heartening to see that the political parties are finally taking a lead in proposing solutions. The MQM, which is the most important stakeholder in Karachi, has submitted a comprehensive deweaponisation bill in the National Assembly Secretariat that, if passed, would outlaw the private ownership of all weapons. On its merits, the bill deserves support. Even a bill as utopian as this one, which seeks to halt not only the future ownership of weapons but also to decommission all existing arms, is important as it begins a conversation about gun ownership and use in society.
While supporting the bill, though, it is important to acknowledge that legislation alone is unlikely to halt the distribution and procurement of weapons. For one, political parties themselves are armed to the teeth. Activists of all major political parties in the country have not shied away from using violence to defend their interests. It requires a willing suspension of disbelief to assume that they will turn in their weapons without complaint. Even if this bill, which is likely to encounter major opposition from the political parties, passes, the question of implementation will dog the law-enforcement authorities. The country’s existing gun laws, lax though they might be, are routinely flouted. Far more stringent regulations will have an even smaller chance of success. Those who use their weapons to foment political and ethnic strife in the country are not going to voluntarily give up their source of power. Without vigorous police action accompanying the legislation, the truism that if arms are outlawed only outlaws will have arms will come true.
It is also important to keep in mind that easy access to weapons is a symptom, not the cause, of violence in Karachi and elsewhere. Deweaponisation is a law-enforcement solution that has to be accompanied by a political solution. Until all the stakeholders in the country agree that they will not recourse to violence at the slightest provocation, no amount of legislation will halt the country’s downward spiral. Halting violence requires political courage and this bill is the first, small sign that we may finally have acquired it.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 19th, 2011.