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Editorial

August 19, 2017

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Violent death

Pakistan has one of the highest homicide rates in the world, standing at an estimated 7.3 for every 100,000 people – higher than the rate for the US. This can be linked directly to the number of weapons, including automatic weapons, available to people in the country. There are an estimated 20 million arms in circulation among the public, only 7 million of which are registered. It is not known how many of these are automatic guns, but the number could be high given their widespread use. The proposal by Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi – who first suggested this in his first speech to parliament on August 1 – that a ban be placed on the issuance of new licences for automatic weapons and all existing licences cancelled for now would then seem to be a sensible and rather daring decision in a country where there has already been too much violence. The proposal has however immediately caused a split within the federal cabinet after PM Abbasi put forward the proposal and sought means to implement it at a meeting this week. Ministers from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan are reported to have been the most vocal in protesting the proposal, citing the need for security against widespread terrorism. A committee has now been established, headed by Abbasi, himself to discuss the issue in greater detail.

PM Shahid Khaqan Abbasi’s proposal is a welcome one. The ready availability of automatic weapons which can be purchased easily without licences, and with entire markets running such as the one at Bara near Peshawar to sell them, clearly contributes to violence in the country. With a very disturbing increase in Pakistan’s gun culture, clearly something needs to be done to control it.  In this respect, a cancellation of licences permitting persons to hold them could help regulate the ownership and sale of arms. The task, however, is a mammoth one, and previous attempts to cut down on the number of arms floating through society have floundered. What must accompany the ban then is a campaign to raise awareness regarding the perceived deterrent value of such lethal weapons. There must also be a recognition of the very real fear of criminals and terrorists that has made Pakistani society arm itself even more than usual. It is hoped that efforts towards better law and order and awareness campaigns will help the new prime minister succeed in this mission.

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