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Up in arms

The lifting of ban on import of arms of prohibited bore raises many questions

Up in arms

After a prolonged ban on the commercial import of prohibited bore weapons, which was imposed in 1997 to check their uncontrolled proliferation, the government of Pakistan has allowed their import under strict conditions.

The globally renowned assault rifle AK-47, popularly known as Kalashnikov, was one such weapon whose commercial import was banned. During this time, the holders of licences for prohibited bore weapons had to procure these from Darra Adam Khel.

The ban has been lifted through the “Commercial Import of Prohibited and Non-Prohibited Weapons and Ammunition (Regulation) Order, 2014.” This order explains the guidelines the approved commercial importers of weapons — both prohibited and non-prohibited — will have to follow. Besides, it lays down the procedures that the government authorities must follow to detect irregularities, such as under-invoicing, misreporting, and so on.

Under the new arrangement, there will be different categories of arms importers who will be allowed to import weapons of different categories and allotted quotas accordingly after due diligence. Quite understandably, the requirements to qualify for import of prohibited weapons will be far more stringent than those meant for importers of non-prohibited weapons. Similarly, the number of weapons these importers will be allowed to import will vary and depend largely on the financial capability, credibility, track record, and their respective business history.

The prohibited weapons as per policy include: machine-guns, sub-machine-guns, automatic rifles of all calibers, revolvers and pistols of prohibited bores and of calibers higher than 0.46 inches bore, semi-automatic rifles of 7.62 mm and rifles of 8 mm to 9 mm bores, arms of calibers higher than 0.22 bore and ammunition for weapons of non-prohibited bores.

The fact that this ban has been lifted at a time when the whole country is on high security alert, especially after the tragic attack on Army Public School, Peshawar, looks like we’re going for weaponisation of the society. It also gives the impression that the government is absolving itself of its responsibility to protect its citizens.

Under the new arrangement, there will be different categories of arms importers who will be allotted quotas accordingly after due diligence.

An official in the federal ministry of interior denies this, claiming they are going towards arms control instead of arms proliferation and clearing the mess created over the years. Speaking on the condition of anonymity, he says under the previous arrangement arms import quotas were misused.

As these quotas were value-based, the importers were allowed to import weapons of a particular amount. The importers would resort to under-invoicing in order to evade taxes and bring in more arms than those which could be purchased from the sanctioned amounts. For example, he says, if an importer was allowed to import weapons worth $1,000 he could bring two pistols costing $500 each. But he would bring in five such weapons, stating that these cost them $200 each and bribe the officials concerned.

Under the new order, importers will be given quantity-based quota which means they will be able to import a certain number of weapons, depending on the category they belong to. The official says there was no ban on import of non-prohibited weapons so one must not conclude that the existing order will boost their imports. He adds though that the import of weapons prohibited bore is allowed now but their number will be limited as licences to carry these are issued in rare cases.

In fact, he says, it will bring the number of imported weapons down, make them traceable and lead to increase in government revenue. The whole system of issuing licences, approving and monitoring arms dealerships maintaining records is also being revamped, he adds.

He disagrees with the assertion that verifying arms licences will not help in controlling crime as criminals use illegal weapons. A large number of existing licences are fake and there is no means to verify them in the absence of backup record. Once the data is computerised, he says, only the genuine licences will exist.

The interior ministry issues licences that are valid all over the country whereas those issued by provincial home ministries are valid within the geographical boundaries of those respective provinces. These province-level licences can become valid countrywide only after the personal approval accorded by the home secretary of the province.

Requirements to qualify for arms licence are quite strict. The applicant may be asked for tax documents, police character certificate, professional background, and family history, etc. “But, unfortunately, these licences have been issued to a large number of people who did not qualify for these,” says Khawaja Khalid Farooq, ex Inspector General Punjab and former head of National Counter Terrorism Authority (Nacta).

Farooq says that all arms dealers are not corrupt but a significantly large number of these have been involved in the licence issuance process. “As their sales depend on the number of arms licences issued, they had formed contacts in the concerned departments and charged handsome amounts from applicants to bypass the formalities involved,” he adds.

He says there were many other irregularities, such as issuance of fake receipts for illegal weapons, sale of more than sanctioned amount of rifles, etc, that had come to his knowledge. Besides, he says, “quotas of licences for prohibited bore weapons have been given to parliamentarians in the past. They could either sell these to their supporters or sell them for huge amounts.”

The fatality level of prohibited weapons is high and one can fire dozens of bullets with a single pull of the trigger. “It is very unfortunate that licences for these have been issued in the past just to appease supporters in politics,” he says. He suggests that verification of all arms licences should be done and computerised record maintained to check irregularities.

Farrukh Mushtaq, spokesman Nadra Punjab, confirms that arms licence holders are contacting them in large numbers to get their licences verified. The record of the applicants, he says, “will be matched with that available with the concerned DCO offices. Once the record is verified, computerised cards will be issued to the applicants and the manually issued ones will become defunct. The licences issued wrongfully and without any back-up record will also be identified this way.”

“The intentions of the government are, no doubt, good but the question is will it be only the law-abiding citizens who will be put under such checks,” asks Noman Mansoor, a Karachi-based employee of a multinational company. He says he has to keep a weapon as, without it, he does not feel secure, especially in the current situation. Though he has a licence he has to be very careful regarding the weapon’s handling as the terms and conditions are too tough to follow. “I have to see whether the weapon is concealed, the place I am visiting at the moment is weapon-free or restrictive under section 144. The law violators have no such concerns.”

Mansoor says local weapons are good but they are no match to those imported from Austria, Germany, US, etc. The weapons produced in Darra Adam Khel are handmade whereas imported brands, such as Beretta, Glock, and ACP Colt are made on highly sophisticated machines.

Unfortunately, he says, “the imported weapons are being sold at high prices in the country.” His concern is whether the genuine customers will get any relief in the current arms import regime or not. “There are many law-abiding citizens who want to possess imported arms for hunting but they cannot get a licence if they follow the procedure and refuse to pay bribe,” he laments.

Shahzada Irfan Ahmed

shahzada irfan
The author is a staff reporter and can be reached at [email protected]

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