The growing discontent within the Senate Standing Committee on Interior over the suspension of licences for automatic weapons is hardly surprising — given the ambivalence of parliamentarians towards the issue. This week members of the committee again argued in favour of overturning the interior ministry’s restrictions on automatic weapons which was imposed late last year. The head of the standing committee pointed out that more than 100 parliamentarians supported the decision to lift the ban as if the clamour for its withdrawal would automatically make it redundant. It doesn’t and it won’t.
Pakistan, it must be pointed out, is one of the few countries that allow ordinary citizens to own such weapons. Automatic weapons as such are hardly used for defence purposes, they are intended for assault. The current prime minister, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, however supports the cancellation of licences for automatic weapons — a subject that is close to his heart and one that he chose to speak about in his inaugural speech following his installation as premier. Months later, his government introduced the ban — much to the consternation of his colleagues in parliament and in the ruling party.
We have seen a number of indiscrepancies and inconsistencies over the issuance of arms licences and in many instances the relevant authority — the interior ministry — did not seem too thorough while handing out such licences. More than half of such licences were issued without verification and a good number of those were handed multiple licences. These are clear violations and one can see more evidence of laxity on the part of the authorities.
If that is not bad enough, consider the actions of the interim government that preceded the PML-N government. Some 25,000 licences were handed out within just a few months. And there are no records of the identities of those allowed automatic weapons in that period. Pakistan as a result is awash with weapons of all sorts. It is time that effectives measures were taken to stop automatic firearms from ending up with ordinary citizens.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 22nd, 2018.
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