While Karachi is in flames, our parliamentarians are trifling over the idea of whether the call for deweaponisation should be across the country or Karachi-centric. The situation in the city seems to be slipping out of hands. The violence is drawing its lifeline from ethnic, sectarian and Taliban-inspired fault lines, coupled with the designs of extortionists and the land mafia. It is puerile to talk of a foreign hand when we have so much which is indigenously driven.
Sectarian violence is not new to Karachi. There is, however, a distinct relocation and up-scaling of such elements and their operatives in the city. The political leadership has agreed on deweaponisation, which is easier said than done. It requires a commitment which is not present and has not gone beyond the declaration of intent.
Karachi is not known as a key arms manufacturing hub. Prohibited and non-prohibited bores permeate the city from other areas. The sea line is controlled by coastguards and the upcountry long road route has umpteen intercepting points throughout its length. The major supply line of firearms can be traced back to the tribal areas. Durra Adam Khel, not very far from the provincial capital Peshawar, is known the world over for its legendary arms bazaar and weapon manufacturing units. Seasoned gunsmiths over the decades have been involved in the business, manufacturing firearms of small, medium and long range calibre, known for high quality. Some of the widely sought after automatic brands like AK47 and 7MM are replicated here with precision and perfection.
Weapons produced in Durra were a helpline to the jihadists against the Soviet Union and Kashmir wars but that supply line has dried up now and these arms are finding place in many parts of the country through known and unknown routes. No amount of raids, hold-ups and recoveries can help tackle the problem unless the main sources of supply are vigilantly monitored with effective control.
It is time to regulate the production and supply of these weapons. This has to be completely in concert with the stakeholders by taking them on board. The tribesmen on balance are an amenable lot, having faith in the consultative process. The federal government, in this regard, should prepare a roadmap and policy framework, seeking professional input from the Pakistan Ordnance Factories (POF). The tribesmen in the business should have no feeling of redundancy. They need to be given assurance and guarantee that the government and law-enforcement agencies would be the major buyers of their products. At the moment, the provincial government is spending huge amounts of foreign exchange on the import of even small arms. The POF has the wherewithal to make inventories of activities of manufacturers after duly registering them, providing them with technical knowhow and guaranteeing them a market access.
The provincial governments should simultaneously undertake a campaign for the registration of unregistered arms. Unless we have complete information and data about arms in circulation, the policy of deweaponisation will be a non-starter. Illicit arms-holders should either surrender arms or get them registered. A one-time amnesty will have to be given in this regard. This should be followed by campaigns for recovering leftover arms. According to a conservative estimate, over 50 per cent of weapons in the country are not registered. Pakistan stands amongst the top six countries in the world in terms of private ownership of firearms.
A very heavy responsibility rests on the shoulders of major political stakeholders. They need to rein in their armed wings. In the past, it was just one party which was allegedly singled out in this regard. Now, all key stakeholders and sectarian outfits in the city fall in this category. The political, religious and sectarian outfits have to off-guard their militants, lest some other force is constrained to perform this unavoidable task.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 5th, 2012.
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