Resolutions to do nothing by Amir Zia

The word “deweaponisation” is in vogue these days. The Senate has adopted a resolution to deweaponise Karachi, while the National Assembly – in a recent resolution – also aims to deweaponise the entire country.
Our politicians seem very invested in the cause of promoting peace and putting an end to violence and lawlessness. The Awami National Party (ANP) and many other critics of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) would like to begin this good work from Karachi, where more than 6,000 people have been killed in political, ethnic and religiously-motivated violence and mafia gang wars since this democratic dispensation came to power in early 2008. The MQM, indeed, has loftier goals. It wants to clean the entire country – from Khyber to Karachi – of illegal weapons.

The good news is that the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) – the senior partner in the ruling coalition – is okay with both proposals. Therefore, its members helped the ANP and the MQM to get their respective resolutions passed in the Senate and the National Assembly, where there was a lot of mudslinging and discord among respected lawmakers on how to tackle the problem of millions of illegal weapons present in the country.

Should law abiding citizens – especially those who do not posses any kind of licensed or unlicensed weapons – expect that their days of agony and fear are about to end now? Does it mean that these resolutions, if implemented, will help in putting an end to the killings and the open display of weapons – both licensed and unlicensed – on the streets of Karachi or other areas of Pakistan?

Apparently, the movers and shakers in parliament believe so. Unfortunately their recipe appears to be over-simplistic and impractical. They have failed to take into account the complex nature of the challenge that confronts the state and its institutions, and results in the continued bloodletting in the country. No government or state institution is in a position to disarm militants belonging to various political and religious parties, outlawed groups and crime mafias without taking a holistic approach to the challenge. The current hodgepodge style simply won’t work.

The serious differences of the main political stakeholders on this crucial issue – whether Karachi, or the entire country, should be the focus for ‘deweaponisation’- is one small obstacle to begin with. The real problem is the lack of vision and failure of our elected representatives in putting the challenge of violence and lawlessness in its proper context, if not the absence of honest debate and self criticism.

Both the ANP and the MQM appear to be playing petty politics on the issue rather than making a sincere effort to address the knotty problem of illegal weapons, which according to wild estimates have crossed the 20 million mark in the country. Out of these, around two million are estimated to be in Karachi alone. In a country that has not been able to hold its population census properly – overdue since 2008 – how this estimated number was calculated is in itself questionable. The piles of illegal weapons could be a lot more or less – it is just a guess. The misuse of licensed weapons is an altogether different matter, in which the ruling coalition must take responsibility since it distributed tens of thousands of licenses of prohibited weapons to near and dear ones.

One could have taken the ANP’s demand of deweaponising Karachi seriously if it had been backed by other measures, including putting a halt to their smuggling into the port city from the country’s northern parts, which serve as the hub of this trade because of their proximity with war-ravaged Afghanistan and arms manufacturing factories in the tribal belt. The Balochistan route is another big channel for this illegal trade. The weapons are smuggled not just to Karachi, but also other parts of the country mainly in passenger buses and trucks carrying trade goods. Without drying up these fountainheads of weapons and choking their supply routes, talk of any deweaponisation in Karachi is as meaningless as trying to stage Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark. And this is just one aspect that has not been taken into account by political parties demanding a Karachi-specific deweaponisation campaign.

The weapons dealers promise to deliver anything – from an innocent looking automatic pistol to any prohibited bore weapon including assault rifles, kalashnikovs, rocket-propelled grenades, rocket launchers anywhere – not just in Karachi, but also other parts of the country. The alarming thing is that they always keep their word. The sea-routes of arms smuggling, the holes in the Nato supplies – the case of missing containers – are there only to aggravate the problem.

The MQM resolution in the National Assembly asking to deweaponise the entire country was more a reaction to the ANP-sponsored Senate resolution and as unrealistic because it does not take into account other supportive measures required to make this dream a reality.

All the political parties in parliament have conveniently ignored the role of their own armed wings and militants in the plight of Karachi, and other parts of the country. The criminalisation of politics and politicisation of crime remain a recognised fact. The mainstream political parties are yet to acknowledge their own role and initiate self-accountability if they want to walk the talk.

There has been no mention of the role of powerful state institutions, which often play one political group against the other and have a history of sponsoring, patronising and protecting various mafia-cum-political groups. This dance of the puppets continues at various levels.

Another important aspect that remains on the back burner is reforming and empowering the police and ensuring that they are able to perform their job without any interference from political bosses.

If parliament is really interested in establishing rule of the law, it needs to push for steps that ensure quick and fair dispensation of justice. For this to happen, judicial reform is vital along with implementation of the existing anti-terror laws and framing new ones where necessary. The PPP-led government has set a bad precedent by slapping a moratorium on the death penalty for people convicted of heinous crimes. Though one hanging has occurred after a lapse of four-and-a-half years, the government needs to come clean on its policy, which has so far benefitted criminals rather than law abiding citizens. Steps including reforming the lower courts, increasing the number of judges (the process must start by filling vacant positions in the superior courts) and providing security to witnesses are only a few of the key steps needed to move in this direction.

In this day and age, when the challenges of extremism and militancy have shaken the very core of our society, political parties must also come out with a counter ideological narrative to such forces. Alas, this aspect continues to be ignored by the major political parties; the government, by design or default, has restricted its role mainly to fire-fighting measures.

Lastly, political parties must come up with a code of conduct and make a commitment to play by the book. Turf wars for political mileage or financial gains have inflicted enough damage. The tolerance of the people is at a breaking point and so is the natural equilibrium of our society. If politicians fail to pay heed to the signs of the time and mood of the moment, the country is all set to slide into greater anarchy, or politicians would see curtains drawn at the party. In any case, the choice remains stark. The only way forward is taking a holistic approach to the challenge in which the first step is that political parties put their own house in order and shun crime and criminals. Sadly, this resolution is nowhere on their agenda.


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