LAHORE – While the government has been issuing gun licences to the big-guns in bulk, the weapon trade in the parallel underground market has swelled to an alarming level throughout the province.
During in-depth analyses and investigations, and background interviews with police officers and arms’ dealers, TheNation came to know some astonishing facts about the arms policy, weapons’ trade, and gun and crime culture in Punjab. It was reliably learnt that arms’ dealers are pumping a huge cache of weapons into the black market in connivance with the police and other law-enforcing agencies.
An average locally made shot-gun or pistol is cheaper that than an average mobile phone in the underground market, while the police are unable to challenge the booming gun culture because of one reason or the other.
The policemen are also involved in the recycling of guns and weapons because they sell the sophisticated arms, recovered from gangsters, in the black market after replacing them with the out-of-order weapons in the police record.
Interestingly, the police are committing the offence of weapons’ recycling at a time when terrorists and gangsters are carrying more sophisticated weapons than the personnel of security and law-enforcing agencies.
What to say about the easy availability of illegal arms throughout the insurgency-infested country when the federal government over the past four years has equipped tens of thousands of people by issuing more than 50,000 prohibited-bore arms licences.
Reportedly, the interior ministry issued 27,551 permits in 2009; 11,776 in 2008; 5,789 in 2010; and 4,682 last year. The licences have been issued since 2008 to the applicants from all the provinces, allowing them to carry weapons from sub-machineguns to AK-47s for their personal security.
In Punjab alone, 17,595 licences have been issued. In Lahore district, 5,211 people were allowed to carry automatic weapons. In Gujranwala, 2,160 licences were issued; in Rawalpindi 1,863; in Gujrat 1,431; in Sheikhupura 1,161; and in Faisalabad, 837. However, none of the applicants was given weapon licence in Chiniot and Sahiwal districts due to unknown reasons.
In late 2009, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) had revealed that thousands of licences for prohibited-bore weapons had been issued in violation of rules. After the 18th amendment, the policy of arms licences is now a provincial subject and the Punjab government issued the new arms policy last month.
The Punjab Home Department has been empowered to issue license to an individual or company; or issue licenses for manufacturing, repair and sale of arms and ammunition. Moreover, the government has also fixed district-wise quota for arms’ licenses, besides revising the license and renewal fee.
According to the notification, the quota of City district governments – including Lahore, Gujranwala, Multan, Rawalpindi and Faisalabad – has been fixed at 250 licenses each per month; while the quota for divisional headquarters has been fixed at 100 licenses each per month. Similarly, the quota of 50 licenses per month was fixed for each district in the province. However, the Home Department has also been empowered to change the fixed quota.
According to the new policy, an officer of BS-17 or above would be eligible to get two licenses, whereas license to army personnel would be issued in accordance with Army Regulations and Instructions, 2000.
As per the policy, any eligible citizen of Punjab can possess four licenses. But the Babus in the Home Department issue gun licences only to big guns and influential people, and on the recommendations of those who matter in the power corridors. The license is to be issued by district coordination officer of the district concerned.
Police sources and arms dealers revealed that a massive underground weapons market had been operating in Punjab, where an average gun is available for Rs5,000 to Rs10,000, equal to the price of an average cell phone in the open market. Believe it or not, an average revolver or pistol is sold for Rs250,000 in the open market in India while a 7.62 MM Mauser pistol costs over Rs300,000.
The Punjab police claimed that they had launched a massive crackdown against illegal weapons and recovered 74 grenades; 516 Kalashnikovs; 1,775 rifles; 2,713 guns; 15,256 revolvers / pistols; and 1,541 carbines, besides the 221,000 cartridges during the first five months of this year.
Display of weapons at election campaigns and wedding parties is a common sight in the province, where only the police are authorised to take action against the offenders as per law. The corruption-riddled police either release the violators or are unable to take action against influential people.
Security experts say the weapon culture and illegal weapons’ market started after the Afghan war when the US supplied Afghan freedom-fighters and also Pakistani tribal areas with arms and weapons to fight against the then USSR. “Its credit goes to the US that left Afghanistan in crisis after the war ended,” a security expert said.