Sunday, June 23, 2024

Unregulated Firearms Trade Sparks Security Concerns in Pakistan

Immigration News

An astonishing 117,479 licenses for submachine guns (SMGs) and other prohibited firearms have been issued across Pakistan, with 114,964 of these weapons currently in private hands. This information was revealed by the federal government during a Supreme Court hearing on March 15, 2024, concerning the widespread availability of such dangerous weapons. Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Qazi Faez Isa, who headed the bench, voiced grave concerns over the public’s exposure to individuals openly wielding these arms.

On May 21, the Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) claimed to have arrested two arms dealers and recovered unlicensed weapons from their custody. They stated that the weapons were being smuggled into Karachi from Darra Adam Khel in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The suspects revealed that the owners of the arms companies in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa sold weapons online to their clients.

On April 8, 2024, a policeman serving in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa police was arrested by the CTD for his alleged involvement in smuggling arms into Karachi. The suspect, identified as Azharuddin, was part of an inter-provincial gang of arms smugglers. A school bag filled with small arms was recovered from his custody. Buyers in Karachi and other parts of the country reportedly placed orders with arms dealers in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa via social media, and people like Azharuddin delivered the weapons.

There has been an increasing demand for small arms in Pakistan among civilians, leading to a rise in the use of illegal weapons and creating law and order issues across the country. SMGs are on open display in markets, marriage halls, schools, and even hospitals, often with law enforcement turning a blind eye.

Although Pakistani law requires gun owners to obtain licenses, illegal firearms are widely available. There is no mechanism in place to verify whether a license for prohibited bore weapons is genuine. Studies suggest that out of an estimated 43.9 million privately-owned firearms in the country, at least 38 million are unregistered. Pakistan also legally exports an estimated USD 2.3 billion worth of small arms and light weapons each year.

Pakistan is among the least transparent countries in reporting small arms transfers, scoring just 9 out of 25 on the 2022 Small Arms Transparency Barometer. It does not provide detailed information on international small arms transfers and gives a general nil report on exports to UN Comtrade and other UN categories. Pakistan has also not signed the Arms Trade Treaty, indicating a significant risk of illicit arms trafficking.

Hubs for illicit small arms and light weapons (SALW) trade exist across Pakistan, with Darra Adamkhel being the most known case. Located 50 kilometers south of Peshawar, this small town has been producing craft-assembled firearms since the early 1900s. These locally-made firearms, often called ‘Khyber Pass’ firearms, are sold at a fraction of the price of original firearms.

In addition to Darra Adamkhel, commercial firearms are produced in and around Peshawar by companies such as Daudson’s, Royal Arms Company, and Khyber Arms. In Lahore, the city’s vegetable and fruit markets, along with its truck depot, are key hubs for the smuggling of illegal arms. Arms trafficking from Pakistan to Sri Lanka has also been reported.

The online sale of unlicensed weapons has seen a rise in Pakistan. In January, it was revealed that a man from Rawalpindi was taking weapons orders through a Facebook page, displaying various arms for sale without authorization. Another man, Muhammad Zahid, arrested by the CTD, revealed that many people, including college and university students, purchase weapons online from sellers in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, who then dispatch orders to Karachi.

To curb the use of automatic and other weapons in crimes, Punjab Chief Minister Maryam Nawaz has directed the home department to propose amendments to the “Punjab Arms Ordinance 1965,” suggesting stringent punishments for such offenses. The draft law proposes enhanced punishments for carrying illegal, non-prohibited, and prohibited bore weapons, with fines ranging from Rs 1 million to Rs 3 million.

The easy availability of weapons in Pakistan is a major enabler of criminal violence and conflict in the country. The nexus between organized crime, drug trafficking, and the illegal arms trade adds a layer of complexity to this grim situation.

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