By Mohammed Atif
I remember being eight years old in Pakistan seated on a peeling leather sofa under a slow ceiling fan, rubbing the wooden stock of a Kalashnikov. The weapon was a 7.62 x 39mm fixed stock assault rifle invented by the Soviet Union that eventually became the preferred weapon of the poorly-funded jihadist. The owner of the shiny weapon I took interest in, though, was my uncle, member of the Peshawar police force. My cousins and I would make Dua, chew paan together and listen to him recount seemingly fantastical stories rife with violence and acts of terror. We’d then go outside to the field behind his modest home and act these scenes out with toy guns.
Pakistan is home to a gun-friendly society. The number of firearms owned by civilians here is estimated to be at least 18,000,000, which works out to a rate of 11.6 guns per 100 people. This was clear to me from the beginning. Every friend’s house I visited had a gun that belonged to the family inside. Every Eid, bullets were sprayed in the air as celebration, and the same spectacle took place at every wedding. Guns have always been an intrinsic facet of the culture and deeply rooted in tradition, especially in the northwest in villages and small provinces far away from urban centers such as Islamabad and Lahore. Guns provide food, protection from the Mujahadeen, and a potential heirloom for sons and their own sons. But the misuse is apparent; With such easy access to weapons, criminals and militants have liberally stockpiled them to sell or to put to use.
The effect of the many guns is obvious: Pakistan is currently the number one country where the most violent crimes that result in murder occur. This is even more startling once you take into account that reporting and documenting homicide is much less common there compared to the Western world.
Fortunately, there has been a push towards reformation and restriction of gun ownership in the country. Pakistan’s National Report(2016) under the UN Program of Action (PoA) on Small and Light Weapons (SLAW) shows that Pakistan of late has been a vocal proponent of arms control at the national level, sub-regional and regional as well as the global level. An elaborate legal, administrative and regulatory regime now exists in Pakistan to check the flow of weapons. A very strict criterion for issuance of arms licenses has been established by the 2012 Arms Control Policy. The authority for approval for possessing automatic weapons exists solely with the Prime Minister. Although there are still challenges to overcome and problems to solve, the country is in much better shape than it was a decade ago.