Fake licences, crafty dealers: illegal arms trade booms in city Lahore

Posted: December 16, 2012 in General, News and politics, Political
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Politics and weapons have an intricate relationship in Pakistan. According to an estimate, there are around 20 million lethal weapons in Pakistan, with a population of 180 million. Pakistan is ranked seven in a list of 178 most heavily armed countries.
In Punjab, people with influence control the supply of arms. Penetration of arms in Punjab’s society is clearly reflected in the rising crime rate in the province leaving the law enforcement authorities almost helpless.
Several reports have cited this increase in the supply of weapons as the reason behind the rise of criminal gangs resulting in the loss of precious lives.
The supply is rising unchecked because dealers sell weapons without ascertaining whether the buyer holds a legal permit. In most cases, these arms dealers are also in the business of providing licenses, even if the government has banned such issuance.
Today, perhaps the only reason why Pakistan is one of the most heavily armed countries in the world is the unchecked issuance of licenses for holding arms and the provision of weapons to personnel not holding government issued permits.
In Lahore, there are more than 138 shops that have weapons worth hundreds of thousands available for sale. In recent operations, arms recovered by Punjab Police include 576 sharp edged weapons, 292,040 cartridges, 2,162 carbines, 79 grenades, 21,481 revolvers and pistols, 3,798 guns, 2,471 rifles and 755 Kalashnikovs. A total of 30,413 cases have been registered against illegal possession of weapons.
Although, the government has issued a quota of 140 arms licenses for Lahore per year, the actual permits handed out are close to 1,700.
Sources revealed that most of those running arms shops in Lahore belong from far flung areas of the country and readily meet orders of any kind within a few days by utilising their connections with high-ranking government officials.
Although the official fee for an arms permit ranges between Rs 3,000 and Rs 3,500, these dealers charge close to Rs 20,000 for providing a license, even if the government has forbidden issuance.
While talking to Pakistan Today on condition of anonymity, some of these dealers said it was not their responsibility to check if a prospective buyer held a legal permit to possess weapons. They said it was the job of government officials who were also involved in the business and who gorged money from them also. They further said that they never reported cases of fake or illegal permits to the authorities and sold their products to anyone who was interested in buying. Reporting them would hamper our business, they said.
Jan Khan, an arms dealer, while talking to Pakistan Today said there were several dealers who brought in illegal weapons and sold them without any check which resulted in these arms ending up in the wrong hands. “No action has ever been taken against such elements. They commit treachery,” he stated. He said possessing arms was not necessarily a bad thing especially when used for defence and protection. “It becomes evil when it ends up in the wrong hands,” said Khan.
Khan said that interested clients could illegally obtain a foreign manufactured AK-47 for around Rs 125,000 while a locally manufactured assault rifle could easily be procured between Rs 50,000 and 80,000.
“Locally manufactured pistols are available between Rs 10,000 and Rs 15,000 while prices of foreign handguns range from Rs 100,000 to Rs 300,000. You can even get these weapons delivered to the place of your choice, no questions asked,” he said.
Rai Zafar, a resident of Lahore, said possessing arms was necessary for his family’s protection. He was against those who held arms just for exhibition or to gain respect saying that mishandling often leads to untoward incidents.
Chaudhry Aslam, another citizen, said there was a positive correlation between the rise in crime and the rise in supply of arms. “You never know when someone might pull out a gun over a small dispute. Rich or poor, one should be careful in dealing with everyone,” he said. He appealed to the government to check the increase in illegal weapons and to ensure a proper check on arms licences.
Commenting on the issue, Lahore DIG Operations Rai Tahir said it was very difficult to stop illegal arms infiltration in Pakistan because most of these weapons were being sourced from the tribal areas of the country where law enforcement is almost non-existent.
He further said that in Punjab, weapons manufacturing factories operating in civil areas must be eliminated. He called for more scrutiny at the Attock checkpost which was one of the major entry points into the province.
The DIG said police had registered more than a 1,000 cases against criminals possessing illegal weapons most of whom have been put behind bars.

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