an area of the map for regional reports.
Students click here
From the July 2001 issue of World
Press Review (VOL.48, No.7)
Talking Tough on Guns in Pakistan
Martin Regg Cohn, The
Toronto Star, Toronto, Canada (centrist).
April 11, 2001.
Mirzalkhel owns five AK-47 automatic rifles and two pistols. But hes
feeling vulnerable today. So hes come to a market town in Pakistan
in search of a new handgun and more bullets.
armed civilian in Northwest Pakistan. (Photo: AGW)
Browsing past rows of neatly stacked assault weapons, he settles on
a .30-caliber Pakistani-made copy of a Russian pistol. After a round
of friendly bargaining, the gun dealer eventually agrees to Mirzalkhels
$30 offer. The deal is sealed with a test firing and a handshake.
But behind the smiles, the transaction is a deadly serious business.
Mirzalkhel fears a decade-old family feud in his nearby village is
about to flare up again. And like many Pathan tribesmen, he intends
to settle matters the old-fashioned way: Hes going to kill quarrelsome
Its a land feud in the family, and it has been going on
for nine years, he says, fondling the cold steel weapon while
the gun dealer fiddles with his calculator. Were buying
more weapons because were braced for the worst. You can never
have enough weapons, and Im in danger right now.
In Pakistan, collecting gunsand firing themhas become
a national tradition, dubbed the Kalashnikov culture.
But with the death toll surging, the 18-month-old military government
has resolved to crack down on the practice, applying what it calls
de-weaponization. The army is banning new licenses for
assault weapons. Displaying guns in public placesmarkets, mosques,
and meetingswill be forbidden, the government has announced.
de-weaponization programs have been proposed in the past. But this
time the army is talking tough as it targets tribal groups and religious
extremists. No one will be allowed to display arms or force people
to give donations for the purchase of weapons, even in the name
of jihad (Islamic struggle or holy war), warned Pakistani Interior
Minister Moinuddin Haider, a retired general.
if you kill someone, do you ever see anyone hanged for it? You
bribe the cops, and youre free to go.
But many Pakistanis vow to fight to keep their guns. Extremist Islamic
groups, whose leaders usually speak to large crowds of armed fighters
and are usually shadowed by bodyguards wielding Kalashnikovs, have
lashed out at the government plan to limit fund-raising for weaponry.
This is an un-Islamic statement coming from a minister of the
Islamic republic, snapped Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, head of the
Lashkar-e-Taiba Islamic group. We collect funds from the holy
cause and display arms only in jihad.
Whether for religious crusades, family feuds, or wedding celebrations,
the Kalashnikov culture will be hard to uproot. The de-weaponization
campaign is on the rocks, editorialized The News of Karachi
recently. Militants roam freely, and those with sectarian leanings
continue to kill with ease; weapons being brandished is a routine
In Sakhakot, an old gun market town 37 miles northeast of the border
city of Peshawar, old traditions die hard. People keep hoarding guns.
Business is good, thanks to Allah, says Imran Khan, 18,
who sells 30 pistols and a half-dozen assault rifles in an average
month. I make a small profit, and its a living.
about the people who die as a result, Khan says his responsibility
ends when the customer hands over his cash. He blames local police
for looking the other way whenever someone is shot. Here, if
you kill someone, do you ever see anyone hanged for it? he asks
rhetorically. You bribe the cops, and youre free to go.
And so the gun culture endures.
can never have enough weapons, and I'm in danger now.
Bristling with an array of imported and homemade weaponry, Sakhakot
attracts buyers from across the country. More than 200 gun dealers
have set up shop off the main street, which resounds with the clicks
of guns being cocked and the bangs from test firings. Much of the
weaponry originates with Pakistans homegrown gun industry in
Darra Adam Khel, 25 miles to the south. Using primitive tools, craftsmen
can copy any foreign weaponfrom pen pistols to assault weaponsright
down to the lettering and serial number.
But dealers say the imitation guns use inferior steel, so they weigh
more and fire less accurately. Customers with enough cash prefer the
superior killing power of authentic Kalashnikovs, which cost about
copies are so good you cant tell until you pick them up and
notice the weight difference, says Alil Khan, 45, whose family
has run a gun shop here for generations. But if you could choose
between a Japanese-made television or a Pakistani-made copy, which
would you buy?
Khan and his competitors fear the government plan will drive them
out of business. But they take comfort from the fact that no one has
ever succeeded in clearing guns out of the area before. Theres
no stable government, it changes every two years, and they cant
even control Karachi, says his brother Israr, 25, leaning against
a poster of Mecca, Islams holiest site.
How can they control this area? People wont turn in their
weapons, and if the government tries to take them, the people will
fight back, Israr warns. If they try to go house-to-house,
itll be civil war. The weapon, for a Pathan tribesman, is part
of his cultural heritage, and he doesnt feel safe without one.
For the former army man who now heads the Interior Ministry in Pakistans
military government, that tradition poses a major obstacle to de-weaponization.
We are telling people that in civilized societies, carrying
weapons is not essential, Haider says.
for Gun Control Rests on Conference
Adele Kirsten, writing for Johannesburg's Business
Day, reports on the upcoming United Nations Conference.
Growing Up as Guerrillas
Children, equipped with light weapons, are on
the front lines of Colombia's bloody civil war. Jan McGirk reports
for London's The Independent
Sierra Leone: A Small-Arms Depot
World Press Review correspondent
Foday B. Fofanah reports on the lethal consequences of small
arms in Sierra Leone.
For Patriotism and Profit
In an interview with Robert Fisk, of London's
(centrist), Mikhail Kalashnikov reflects on the legacy of
East-Bloc Connections Fuel War
Oszkar Fuzes, writing for the Budapest daily
Népszabadság (left of center), untangles
the international web connecting the Odessa mafia, various governments,
and the combatants in the Balkans.