Deweaponization

Distinguished guests, respectable colleagues, ladies and gentlemen! I have the honour to share with you my views on the present campaign of deweaponization The government has started taking steps for imposing controls on illegal and prohibited weapons. All these intended measures are good and indeed should have been adopted a long time ago. The free flow of weapons in the country started during the Afghan war.

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FATA, believed to be the source of this proliferation, the weapons sought to be seized by the government include rocket launchers, anti-aircraft guns, missiles, remote-controlled bombs, land mines, kalashnikov and other forbidden-bore rifles. The very existence of these advanced weapons of war and their proliferation on a large scale in the country is by itself very shocking and explains the growing incidence of violence and crime all over the country, posing a serious threat to peace and public order and to civil society itself.

No wonder then that some of our cities are increasingly becoming a happy hunting-ground for criminals, terrorists and malcontents being aided by the easy and abundant availability of a large variety of deadly weapons to pursue their designs. This free flow of weapons also affected the educational institutes and unfortunately, many of our educational institutes transformed into the storehouses of such deadly weapons. Students- the future of our nation, instead of becoming good scientists and scholars started playing in the hands of people having their vested interests.

They threw their books away and raised their hands carrying weapons in them. How sad it is……… Besides, in the rural areas, feudal lords maintain their own security forces which operate against tenant-farmers and rival feudals. In addition, many political and religious movements maintain armed militias. In the countryside they are more brazen, but even in the cities some political parties are not averse to having well-armed cadres – if not for outright terrorism, then at least for a show of force to impress upon their opponents and keep the law enforcement agencies on the sidelines. Distinguished audience!

The brutality and violence that thus have become a hallmark of Pakistani society can be curbed only by an effective deweaponization and arms control regime. Political governments in the past failed on this score because, being political, they often compromised and did not wish to hurt powerful lobbies and vested interests coming in the way of better law enforcement and crime control. This government, being non-political and military, must demonstrate to the people that it has the will and power to take on vested interests if this is needed in trying to contain the rising wave of crime and violence.

Needless to say, such issues as sectarian violence and the blatant display of arms in violation of the law would entail for the government to run up against powerful lobbies and some religious parties and groups. The present government has very rightly started a media campaign urging the people to surrender illegal arms voluntarily and it looks to produce encouraging results. If this does not yield the desired results, the government has announced to launch a siege-and-search operation in the identified areas to recover the lethal weapons which continue to pose a serious threat to internal security and public order.

The government should at least begin by focusing on private militias and religious, sectarian and political groups thriving on arms. Disarming them should give the citizens some relief from at least one composite source of insecurity and danger, and reduce or perhaps eliminate terror and violence for religious, sectarian and political reasons. Side by side, the Law Enforcement Agencies should improve their vigilance against the smuggling of arms from across the borders.

While one of our neighboring country is known to have supplied arms and explosives to its agents for terrorism in Pakistan, a greater security risk are Afghan refugees whose number has swelled despite the measures taken by the government to stop them at the border. A large number of these “refugees” – in fact hundreds of thousands of them – are now Pakistani citizens having somehow acquired the country’s nationality, but they have maintained their Afghan connections. Regrettably, a section of them indulge in drug and arms smuggling and are one of the sources of iolence and terror. Needless to say, the government has to keep an eye on them and take strict action whenever they are found involved in such criminal activities. Distinguished guests and honourable audience! While a crackdown on criminals will not cause any political problems, a similar policy toward ethnic, religious and sectarian parties and militias carries the risk of a backlash from these forces. But it is precisely here that the government should show its mettle. It should draw heart from the fact that the people at large would welcome such a move.

Most sectarian and religious parties may have nuisance value and a measure of street power, but the people have never been supportive of their such show of power. If the government is sincere in its resolve to improve the law and order situation, and no doubt it is, it should be ready to take on such forces head-on. In the long run, with the people’s support, such sources of violence and religious extremism can be effectively neutralized provided the deweaponization policy is followed even-handedly and not applied selectively. Finally, respectable audience let us raise our hands and pray to Allah- the almighty that