By Zia Ur Rehman
KARACHI – Standing united against ongoing killings in Karachi, Sindh lawmakers unanimously passed a resolution June 7 demanding the government de-weaponise the province.
The resolution won support of all the political parties, including the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and Awami National Party (ANP). It stressed the need to carry out an indiscriminate operation across the province to recover illicit weapons before asking the public to surrender its licensed weapons, said Syed Bachal Shah, a PPP parliamentarian who introduced the bill.
“The criminals involved in targeted killings and lawlessness have taken refuge in political parties and now it is high time that the government take concrete measures to curb the violence,” Shah told Central Asia Online. He requested all political parties expel criminal elements who had destroyed peace for their own benefit.
He urged the Law Ministry to ensure that those convicted on charges of possessing illegal arms spend at least three months in jail before they can be released on bail, he said.
Last year was one of the most violent for Karachi, with 1,247 people killed, according to a Citizen Police Liaison Committee (CPLC) report. That is the most murders since 1995’s 1,742 killings, the CPLC report said. In the first five months of this year, some 400 murders have taken place, according to media reports.
Karachi murders in 2010 outnumbered the 335 suicide bombings last year that claimed 1,208 deaths, media reported. The number of violent incidents in Pakistan fell 11% from 2009 to 2010, but violence in Karachi rose 288%, according to a report by the Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies (PIPS), an Islamabad-based think tank.
Karachi’s crisis demands a well-thought-out de-weaponisation campaign, observers and anti-gun campaigners contend.
Every new wave of violence adds pressure on the government and political parties to take concrete measures, said Mir Zulfiqar Ali, an officer at the National Organisation for Working Communities (NOWC), a Karachi-based rights group.
The NOWC is running an anti-gun drive titled “Campaign for Peace” in the city and has also formed the “Karachi Peace Alliance,” consisting of civil society and professional organisations, traders, media and political parties.
Some victims of the violence were activists of political parties, but most were apolitical daily wage labourers, he said, adding that the criminal elements have joined the ranks of all political parties.
Law enforcement agencies need to keep an eye on check posts and all exit and entry points as smugglers are shipping in weapons from other provinces, said Syed Sardar Ahmed, an MQM lawmaker.
“The MQM has already tabled a de-weaponisation bill in the National Assembly with a timetable to make the entire country free of illegal weapons within three years,” Ahmed said.
Illegal arms are smuggled by land and sea to Karachi, a main port in Pakistan, ANP parliamentarian Amanullah Mehsud said.
“To stem the growing rate of killings in Karachi, the disarming of the city is the need of the hour and has to be pursued with political will … even though it is difficult,” Mehsud told Central Asia Online. He said he has survived three attempts on his life.
The unanimous approval of the de-weaponisation bill clearly shows that all political parties are willing to cleanse the city of the menace of illicit weapons, Ali said.
The government should amend Arms Rules 1924 and Pakistan Arms Ordinance 1965 and should increase the penalty for possessing illegal arms to 10 years in prison, said Iqbal Shah Khattak, a law teacher at Urdu University. Under current law, offenders get less than seven years and they are eligible for bail. A person charged with a crime that carries a 10-year term is not eligible for bail.
Various governments have taken several steps in the past to disarm the city, but they failed because those campaigns were politically motivated or targeted only a rival political group or ethnic community, Khattak said.