By Zia Ur Rehman

KARACHI – Karachi’s anti-gun campaigners, civil society and political parties have asked the government to launch a de-weaponisation campaign during International Disarmament Week, October 24-30.

They say it is essential to stem the growing rate of assassinations in the city, and; governmental officials have hinted they are considering a de-weaponisation programme.

“We are planning for a de-weaponisation campaign as there are sufficient reports about caches of arms in different areas of the city where lawbreakers have been creating a law-and-order situation,” said Karachi Police Chief Fayyaz Ahmed Leghari.

Initiated by the UN, Disarmament Week seeks to educate people about living peacefully without weapons. Pakistan adopted the UN’s Programme of Action on Small Arms and Light Weapons in 2001.


”]Citizens, civil society groups and political parties are urging the government to disarm the city as a wave of violence continues in Karachi. Since the beginning of the year, more than 1,250 murders have occurred, most committed with illicit weapons, according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) and media surveys.


Targeted killings are top cause of death in country

Targeted killings in Karachi alone claimed more lives than suicide bombings did nationwide in 2010, media reported, with 1,208 people killed in 335 suicide bombings this year, compared to 1,233 assassinations during the same period.

Some of the victims were activists of political parties, but most were apolitical daily wage labourers, Tarentum Khan, an HRCP Karachi officer, told Central Asia Online. “Last year, 844 people were killed and the rate of slaying has doubled this year,” Khan said.

“Various governments had taken several steps in the past to de-weaponise the city, but they failed to attain the desired objective as these campaigns were politically motivated and targeted only a specific ethnic group,” Jamal said.

The HRCP, Sheri – Citizens for a Better Environment and the non-governmental organization National Social Forum (NSF) are some of the organisations trying to curb weaponisation by organising public gatherings, forums and media campaigns.

“Present waves of lawlessness have necessitated a need to launch a comprehensive de-weaponisation drive in under to cleanse the city from menace of illicit arms, which is the main … factor in the perfect state of anarchy and lawlessness,” said Iqbal Jamil, president of the NSF.

The NSF is running a gun awareness campaign during International Disarmament Week.

“Various governments had taken several steps in the past to de-weaponise the city, but they failed to attain the desired objective as these campaigns were politically motivated and targeted only a specific ethnic group,” Jamal said.

De-weaponisation has been tried before

The first campaign against illicit weapons began during the mid-1980s when an operation took place in Sohrab Goth, a Pashtun neighbourhood in the city.

The area was a supply hub for illegal arms, according to the government, but the operation failed because many law enforcement officials tipped off arms smugglers before the operation started, intelligence sources said.

Pashtun community leaders called that long-ago operation politically motivated.

“When police forces carried out the operation in the area of Sohrab Goth, they found only a few old weapons and some ammunition,” Manan Baacha Advocate, a Pashtun political activist and intellectual, told Central Asia Online. To hide their failure, the police demolished the Sohrab Goth markets, owned mainly by Pashtuns, which aroused fury in the community, he said.

A second de-weaponisation campaign took place in Karachi in the late 1990s. It targeted a political party that had attained a sizable arsenal and allegedly challenged the writ of the government. Mutahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) leader Qamar Mansoor described that campaign as a politically motivated effort to weaken the MQM.

The government of Mian Nawaz Sharif in his second term launched a third de-weaponisation drive, but that government buckled and cancelled it under political pressure.

Under Pervez Musharraf’s regime, authorities did seize illicit weapons – but only several thousand, considered a fraction of the guns on the street.

Pakistani government considers harsh punishments for violations

Karachi’s crisis demands a well-thought-out strategy for launching an effective de-weaponisation campaign, observers contend. All the political and religious parties, especially the PPP, the MQM and the Awami National Party (ANP), agree on disarming the city.

The federal government is considering a law that would impose a maximum of life in prison for carrying illegal arms and would send suspects to an anti-terrorist court, Rafiq Engineer, a provincial minister, told Central Asia Online.

A draft law for de-weaponisation to free the country from illegal arms has been prepared, Interior Minister Rehman Malik said, adding that the law’s backers have transformed it into an Ordinance to speed up the seizure of illegal munitions and arms.