Abbasi promised to take action against “private militias” wielding automatic weapons. It means the premier is setting himself against the widespread acceptance of gun culture in a country in which automatic weapons are seen more as status symbols than as security tools among the nation’s elite.
“There is not a single country in the world which allows the licensing of automatic (guns) for citizens. (But) if you go outside the Parliament right now, you will see a private militia,” Abbasi remarked during his maiden speech at the National Assembly.
“Action will be taken against (owners of prohibited weapons) if my Cabinet allows for it,” he continued. “The federal government will seize all automatic weapons and in return, compensate the people.”
Automatic weapons have a long history on the streets of Pakistan. They have been utilized by criminals, mafias, and even politicians. It took a great deal of effort for paramilitary forces to reduce their usage.
And carrying assault weapons is part of the culture in the volatile tribal areas where militancy has historically thrived. The AK-47 has long been the weapon of choice for insurgents, and these guns were easily available across the border in Afghanistan until very recently, arms collectors explained.
Strict border security checks, the dismantling of illegal weapon manufacturers, and a crackdown on arms smugglers have now reduced the accessibility and sale of illegal arms and machine guns. However, for a few hundred dollars, semi-automatic weapons can be converted to fully automatic, according to gun dealers.
The latest consolidated data on arms licenses issued for prohibited and non-prohibited bore (categorized by the weapon’s action and ammunition caliber) has yet to be presented to the prime minister, a source at his office told Arab News.
“It’s being compiled and will be presented to the (federal) Cabinet,” said the official. He added that the 18th constitutional amendment, which enhanced provincial autonomy, led to provincial governments issuing arms licenses. “Those figures need to be taken from the home office (of each province),” he explained.
Separating automatic from semi-automatic weapons is a laborious task as there are two formats for gun licenses in Pakistan: The new Computerized Arms License (CAL) and the old physical permits. The latter are still undergoing digitization, meaning that much of the data held by Pakistan’s National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) has still to be updated.
“The permits can be traced but there are no (figures for) illicit small arms and light weapons,” veteran journalist Ejaz Haider told Arab News. “The gun-culture debate is over since the military operations in FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) and Balochistan (province). In operational areas, no civilian is authorized to keep weapons. They pose a major security problem and banning them will definitely help the security forces.”
Several members of Parliament have opposed Abassi’s proposal. Representatives from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) and Balochistan — areas where terrorist activity is common — cited security concerns as their reason for rejecting the idea of a ban. But the majority of parliamentarians have, eventually, expressed their support for the prime minister’s proposal.
In an exclusive interview, Abbasi told Arab News that “automatic weapons should only belong to law enforcement agencies.” He’s hopeful that all stakeholders will decide in favor of his proposal.
“That’s something we are working on and hopefully within the next few weeks will be resolving that issue,” Abbasi said.
Aside from MPs, Abbasi will likely face opposition from Pakistan’s business elite, many of whom also hold multiple weapon licenses.
“It’s a big challenge but you have to make a start,” Abbasi told Arab News. “I am not talking about de-weaponization. Just automatic weapons. I think we need to make sure that weapons are for self-defense and not for intimidation or any aggressive actions. That’s why the automatic weapons have to go.”