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Pakhtoons living on a powder keg

By       Message Abid Jan razarwal     Permalink
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There is no denying that the increase in murder cases, personal feuds and worsening law and order situation in the NWFP (North West Frontier Provinces) is directly linked with the increase of unlicensed small arms in the province and Kalashnikov culture in the society.

Since the presence of weapons is linked to personal security, honour and property, the government will have to ensure security to the commoners first and then expect a surrendering of arms. It means, besides going ahead with the de-weaponization plan, the government will have to improve the performance of the law enforcement agencies and perhaps that is the reason that all deweaponization drives of the previous governments, as well as the present one, failed to yield the desired results. Unless and until the citizens are not sure of the safety of their properties, lives and honour they would never be persuaded to surrender their arms.

Though the Taliban government in Afghanistan had many drawbacks, it had done one thing of which the Afghan society was in dire need and that was the maintenance of peace and deweaponization of the Afghan society. Pakistan, according to anti-arms campaigners, has one of the greatest per capita rates of gun ownership in the world. Though there are no official figures, rough estimates put the total number of small arms at large in the country at more than 20 million, with about half of them illegal.

NWFP alone is believed to have nearly half a million illegitimate small arms and light weapons. The severe proliferation of small arms in Pakistan began after the Russian invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. In addition to the cross border flow of weapons, an estimated 30 percent of the weapons funneled by U.S. and Pakistani intelligence services to the Afghan Jihadists during the conflict were diverted for other purposes, according to anti-small arms activists.

The figure of two million legally authorized weapons in Pakistan is quoted in the Small Arms Survey, 2002. In 2001, the Musharraf government launched a countrywide anti-arms drive in a bid to curb the "Kalashnikov culture." It led to the recovery of over 210,000 illegal arms in 18 months. This is just a small fraction of the estimated number of weapons in circulation in the country.

Despite the official ban on sale and purchase of non-licensed weapons, unauthorized arms and ammunition remain in circulation and the illegal arms trade and gun running continue. In 2002, the Peshawar police reportedly seized 3,390 weapons, which included Kalashnikovs, rifles, shotguns, stenguns, pistols, cartridges, and rocket launchers. Balochistan and North West Frontier Provinces have been leading in gun ownership. Gun culture here refers to the long-standing tradition of owning and carrying guns among Pakhtun.

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The gun culture is linked to the "twin pillars of Pakhtun tribal society," melmastia-hospitality and badal-revenge. Old customs and cultural norms also promote the gun culture. In NWFP, carrying a gun or a Klashinkov is a sign of honour and respect. A gun is also considered to be the jewel of a man in Pakhtun society, thus the social necessity emerging as an intimidating component of provincial culture.

However, social and political reformists like Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, popularly known as Bacha Khan and other leaders had considerably changed the Pakhtun society by introducing the non-violence philosophy to it. But it is also a bad luck of Pakhtun that their land always remained a battlefield among great super powers of the world. And the 'great game' never ends here as a result the Pakhtun motherland always remains a dump of explosives. One of the centers of gun-manufacturing is the town of Darra Adam Khel, near Peshawar, which was historically known for manufacturing the Lee Enfield .303; however, the town now produces ordnance including the AK-47, the mini-Kalashnikov, and hand-held firearms, including the James Bond pen gun. It is interesting to note that the law does not forbid a licensee to purchase weapons from an illegal manufacturer or supplier.

As far as Darra arms manufacturers are concerned, the illegal and legal demand and supply are inter-linked. When Nawaz Sharif banned the issuance of licenses of prohibited bore weapons (AK-47s), the Darra manufacturers were quick in adapting the technology to produce weapons that could be used in both semi-automatic (non-prohibited bore) and automatic modes. It is no secret that there is a whole network of manufacturers, middlemen, brokers and transporters who can deliver illegally manufactured weapons at cheap rates anywhere in Pakistan.

Stopping illegal production of arms is not an easy task. It involves persuading the manufacturers of arms and the tribal leaders and other influential of the northern areas in favour of a prohibition move. It is also a question of providing alternative means of income to the manufacturers and their minions. Of course, what is of prime importance is the political will to stop illegal production and sale of arms. In recent years as the law and order situation in the NWFP worsened, gun running and open display of arms in Peshawar and other districts of the province is a common experience and the number of murder cases and personal feuds have also  increased.

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I am a mainstream journalist from Pakistan. Reporting in a prestigious english daily published from Peshawar. My special skills in writting and reporting are cultural reporting, reporting of issues related to women and other neglected sections of (more...)
 

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