ISLAMABAD — Stemming the flow of thousands of illegal weapons throughout Pakistan is not an easy task, but the government of Gen. Pervez Musharraf has promised this month to do just that with its launch of an aggressive cleanup campaign.
In the next few months, the results of that campaign will show whether the government’s resolve to reduce the number of illegal weapons in Pakistan has begun to pay off.
Pakistan’s thriving gun culture is largely the outcome of more than 20 years of conflict in neighboring Afghanistan, where warring factions have not only fought each other but also transported a part of their legacy to Pakistan.
Analysts are quick to note that the widespread availability of illegal firearms in Pakistan is largely the result of the Afghan war. In parts of Pakistan, buying an illegal gun is sometimes as easy as buying a legal commodity.
According to estimates from senior government officials, up to 9,000 people are killed in Pakistan every year in crime-related incidents and religious violence involving the use of lethal, often unlicensed, weapons.
There are many different facets to the proliferation of Pakistan’s gun culture. In areas with a thriving gun culture, people keep weapons as their most prized objects for a variety of reasons, ranging from sporting purposes to the need for personal protection.
In some parts of Pakistan, particularly in the northwest-frontier area, leaving home in the morning armed with a shotgun or a handgun is a way of life for many people.
Undoubtedly, though, Pakistan has paid a heavy price for the large-scale proliferation of guns in its territory.
While the government’s resolve in dealing with one of Pakistan’s greatest challenges appears to be strong, it is difficult to predict the outcome of the clampdown on illegal weapons.
In the 18 months since Musharraf came to power, the government has successfully banned the practice of firing in the air during celebrations such as wedding parties. But the weapons-cleanup campaign is a far more difficult task.
There are at least two major difficulties faced by Pakistan’s military regime in its promise to crack down on unlicensed weapons.
* First, while the government has announced its intention to clean up Pakistan’s notorious police force, a large part of the problem confronting law enforcement is attributable to the country’s largely corrupt judiciary. While Musharraf’s government has assigned itself the task of ridding the courts of corruption, it may be several years before the quality of judicial decisions significantly improves.
The reality today is that Pakistanis often scorn the idea of getting locked in a judicial battle, even if they are in the right, preferring instead to settle their disputes out of court or through an act of vengeance, which all too often involves the use of guns.
For the small number of honest policemen that exist, their professional lives can be an excruciating experience. Their corrupt colleagues, who are far more numerous, attempt to exert pressure on them, and criminals who are brought to court often end up being freed by corrupt judges after a bribe is paid.
* Second, in terms of its ability to tackle lawlessness, Pakistan’s military regime is at a disadvantage compared with a democratically elected government. Few would deny that the many problems facing law enforcement in Pakistan are a result of the way the country has been run under successive civilian governments.
But it is also true that the many problems related to lawlessness can best be tackled by a government with the clear ability to achieve national consensus on vital issues. A network of elected public representatives can be the first point of contact between the public and the government in coordinating the fight against crime.
While Musharraf’s regime may be able to achieve progress in its battle against illegal arms, there are no long-term or permanent solutions available to Pakistan’s military regime.
Fighting crime and curbing lawlessness is as much a straightforward policing matter as it is an issue that is tied to the country’s political and economic realities. The longer Pakistan’s military government puts off a return to civilian rule, the more complex will be the issue of tackling the fight against a spreading gun culture.
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