By Zubeida Mustafa
THE Citizens-Police Liaison Committee, or CPLC, recently released data on crime in Karachi in 2017. It confirms that we live under the shadow of death in this city that was once predicted to become the queen of the East. In 11 months until end November 2017, 54,473 crimes including killings, robberies, kidnappings and extortions were registered. Many were not even reported as the victims did not deem them serious enough to get involved with the police.
Criminologists and anthropologists would enumerate many factors and conditions that account for the rising crime graph in Karachi in the span of a few decades.
There is, however, no denying the fact that at the heart of the problem is the proliferation of guns in the city. Given the corruption and incompetency of the police, there is no way of checking crime.
Yet the authorities turn a blind eye to the problem of illegal arms that have flooded Pakistan ever since the country decided to become the front-line state in the Afghan war to oblige the Americans in 1979.
The government just doesn’t care.
Resultantly, Pakistan is estimated to have nearly 20 million guns held by civilians. Less than half are licensed. Even the licensing procedure is a farce. Not a single mandatory verification test or training at a shooting range is required. If you are blessed with class, status and power, you can obtain a gun for the asking. Others can bribe their way to ownership.
In these conditions, it is easy to hire a killer for a few thousand rupees to eliminate a rival. An angry brawl in a public place can result in the shooting down of a person over a petty issue. Political parties with their armed wings can besiege the citadels of power as happened last month in Islamabad. Cases of jilted suitors resorting to the gun to teach their beloved a lesson are common stories.
So desensitised have we become to weapons that a friend told me about her teenage son relating the story about a classmate bringing his father’s gun to school to show it off to his friends.
The disturbing part of this story is that the government just doesn’t care. How have the people reacted to this disquieting situation? Most have reconciled themselves to this alarming state of affairs and deem it to be their “qismat”. Others say, “Allah khair karay” as they go ahead to acquire guns to obtain a false sense of security.
But five years ago, some individuals — gradually increasing in numbers — came together to have their voices heard as a group. They are the bold and determined members of the ‘Citizens Against Weapons’, an advocacy group founded by Naeem Sadiq, a vocal peace activist in Karachi, who has been doing research on what he terms “the disease of uncontrolled burgeoning weapons that are being used in crime and militancy”.
Initially for 15 years, his was an individual enterprise. Naeem would write to the letters columns of newspapers or engage in protracted discussions with friends. As the situation worsened, more and more people began to agree with him that the easy availability of guns shrinks the public space for dialogue and peaceful resolution of disputes.
Of late, CAW has started to make its presence felt. It has over 100 members and 13 organisations have also joined. It has arranged two walks and a seminar where speakers raised their concerns and demanded a total ban on gun licences and the elimination of all weapons through a surrender and buy-back scheme.
These are immediate measures that are urgently needed to stanch the bloodletting that weapons bring in their wake. It is also time for CAW to address the problem of the gun culture that has turned Pakistan, a patriarchal and conservative society, into an aggressive and intolerant one as well.
At the recent seminar, two teachers spoke about how young children can be sensitised to violence at an early age. Maria Montessori, the best advocate of children’s education the world over, observed insightfully, “In the mind of the child we may find the key to progress…”. Hence logically toy guns and games should also have no place in a child’s life.
But education doesn’t end at pre-school level. At this stage, there is need to introduce children to peace studies. If anything, our school textbooks glorify violence and are full of aggression and intolerance. This is the time when children should be learning about the value of peace and conflict resolution on the one hand, and the destructiveness of war on the other.
Peace studies is a relatively new discipline to emerge in the universities of the West. But in Pakistan only four of the country’s 163 universities offer graduate and post-graduate programmes in peace studies. Ironically, two of these are owned by the armed forces.