ISLAMABAD – The interior ministry has suspended the licences for all prohibited bore weapons, through which automatic weapons have been registered, according to a notification issued earlier this week.

The owners of automatic weapons will now be able to get their weapons replaced with semi-automatic firearms or get Rs50,000 in return for their weapons from the district administration.

The owners have until January 15, 2018, to submit their weapons or get them replaced following which all licenses will be considered revoked, the ministry announced.

The decision was taken in line with Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi’s promise, which he made after taking oath in August, to ban all automatic weapons.

“There is not a single country in the world which allows the licencing of automatic rifles for citizens. However, if you go outside parliament right now, you will see a private militia,” Abbasi had said, vowing that “the federal government will seize all automatic weapons, compensating people in return”.

Gun culture in Pakistan

Automatic weapons have a long history on the streets of Pakistan. They have been utilised by criminals, mafias, and even politicians. It took a great deal of effort for paramilitary forces to reduce their usage.

And carrying assault weapons is part of the culture in the volatile tribal areas where militancy has historically thrived. The AK-47 has long been the weapon of choice for insurgents, and these guns were easily available across the border in Afghanistan until very recently, arms collectors explained.

Strict border security checks, the dismantling of illegal weapon manufacturers, and a crackdown on arms smugglers have now reduced the accessibility and sale of illegal arms and machine guns. However, for a few hundred dollars, semi-automatic weapons can be converted to fully automatic, according to gun dealers.

Separating automatic from semi-automatic weapons is however a laborious task as there are two formats for gun licenses in Pakistan: The new Computerized Arms License (CAL) and the old physical permits. The latter are still undergoing digitization, meaning that much of the data held by Pakistan’s National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) has still to be updated.