It’s the end of the 2008 general elections and gun sales have seen a 1500% increase since May of last year. This statistic is not from the United States, but from Karachi, Pakistan. The massive increase in registered firearms was in response to the civil unrest that occurred following the assassination of Benazir Bhutto on December 27, 2007, shortly before the Pakistani general elections. The citizens of this province, prohibited by their regional government from obtaining gun licenses, traveled to other localities to obtain them and have begun to arm themselves accordingly.
“The general public has learnt that law-breakers have an open field to do whatever they like. They have a variety of modern guns to harass the citizens who are unarmed,” local arms dealer Khan Qaseem Ahmed stated in an interview with the International News.
Despite limiting annual ammunition purchases to less than 100 rounds per year along with firearm registration and licensing, Pakistan’s police forces are rapidly being overwhelmed by a wave of violent crime and recurring Taliban cross-border raids mixed with a vast influx of illicit arms. In a desperate attempt to curb gun violence, the Ministry of Interior announced a campaign last May to remove small arms from the streets. Government officials ordered the confiscation of any and all small arms that were publicly displayed or found during vehicular searches. This program, however, has had poor results and Pakistani policy has consequently undergone a dramatic shift in the opposite direction. Currently, the government is easing its firearm restrictions so that its citizens can fight back against law-breakers themselves. But this is simply the tip of the iceberg. In a radical departure from the historical precedent set by countries in similar situations, the Pakistani government is planning not simply to allow guns, but to actually arm the citizens in the most dangerous regions.
Following an October trip to Beijing, the new president of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari, announced the purchase of several tens of thousands of AK-47s from the Chinese. President Zardari will distribute these weapons to tribal leaders along the western edge of Pakistan so they can in turn distribute it to their local militias.
Pakistani officials hope this strategy will curb the vast lawlessness caused by Taliban cross-border raids, which has led to the displacement of nearly 200,000 people in Pakistan’s northwestern region. At the very least, the burden of policing the largely ungoverned region between Afghanistan and Pakistan will be left to its inhabitants, not the overwhelmed Pakistani government authorities.
President Zardari’s visit to China and his subsequent arms purchase transpires less than two months after a Taliban raid in Buner, a small farming valley, left eight police officers dead. Earlier this month, the New York Times reported that the people of Shalbandi, a small village in the affected Buner region, immediately gathered up what arms they had and pursued the Taliban fighters for five days. In the end, the posse caught up to the militants and dealt with them in a swift fashion, killing all six of the terrorists including a 14-year old teenager who executed the police officers.
The inspector general of the North-West Frontier Province, Malik Naveed Khan, asked the citizens of his region to form posses similar to the one formed during the incident in Shalbandi. The region’s officials hope this will deter further Taliban raids in addition to providing these areas with a means to defend themselves and their townships.
With stories of mass murder, high civilian casualties, and the burning of more than 100 girls’ schools, Pakistani citizens now want the ability to fight back against the Taliban and criminals.
“We don’t want happening here, what is happening around us,” Mohammed Zada, a retired bank manager in the region, stated in an interview with the Times. “The people are very unified so the Taliban failed. We are dead set against the army, too.”
As citizens want more and more independence from the government to defend themselves and administer justice, local authorities seem to wholeheartedly support the use of militias and posses as the primary means to fight the Taliban.
Indeeed, in an interview, the local police chief of Shalbandi also expressed his support, stating, “If the militants enter Buner, all you need to do is go to the mosque loudspeakers and shout, and people will be mobilized.”