139,000 arms licences issued in Pakistan in 21 months | world | Hindustan Times
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139,000 arms licences issued in Pakistan in 21 months

Even as Pakistan is engaged in battling the Taliban in the restive northwest, it emerges that a staggering 139,000 arms licences have been issued in the country in the 21 months since the present government came to power, generating a whopping Rs.20 billion for arms merchants.

world Updated: Jan 13, 2010 14:42 IST

Even as Pakistan is engaged in battling the Taliban in the restive northwest, it emerges that a staggering 139,000 arms licences have been issued in the country in the 21 months since the present government came to power, generating a whopping Rs.20 billion for arms merchants.

Of these, 39,000 licences were issued for prohibited bore weapons such as Kalashnikovs, MP5s, G3s and Uzis, mostly on direct orders of Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and Minister of State for Interior Tasnim Ahmed Qureshi, The News said Wednesday.

"Most alarmingly, these licences were issued without any police verification or an official check on the background of the applicants," the newspaper said.

A whopping 100,000 licences of non-prohibited bore weapons, such as revolvers and pistols, were also issued without any police verification whatsoever from March 2008 onwards when the present government came to power.

The newspaper quoted sources in the arms dealers' community as estimating that these licences generated Rs.20 billion business for weapons dealers through the sale of automatic and semi-automatic weapons, in addition to massive earnings through the gray market sales of the licences".

"The situation has also raised serious questions about the exact source of weapons supplies to arms dealers," The News noted.

And, since only parliamentarians can recommend the issue of the licences, they can command a premium of up to Rs.200,000, it added.

Between March 2008 and June 2009, the prime minister ordered the issue of 22,541 licences of prohibited weapons, mostly making the orders on plain paper with certain names scribbled on them that were presented to him by various members of the two houses of parliament.

In two months after assuming office in April 2009, junior minister Qureshi issued a record 5,986 licences for prohibited weapons, including more than 100 licences that ended up with Inter Risk (Pvt) Ltd, the security company contracted by the US embassy in Pakistan.

"Inter Risk owners are now facing prosecution for possessing a large cache of illegal weapons," the newspaper said.

Qureshi's personal secretary Qadir Nawaz was arrested in the case, while the issue of 5,986 prohibited bore weapons licences in just two months on the direct orders of the minister of state "is still being probed by the relevant agencies", The News said.

"This incident caused an uproar in the government security services about the scale of corruption and security risks in the weapons licensing system. The prime minister, though, rejected allegations of ministerial level involvement in the weapons scam, announced a ban on issue of (prohibited bore) licences in June last year," it added.

However, as pressure mounted on him from parliamentarians, Gilani introduced a quota system last September under which each member of the National Assembly and the Senate could recommend the issue of 25 licences per year for prohibited bore weapons and 20 licences per month for non-prohibited bore weapons.

Gilani also extended the favour to members of the provincial assemblies, allotting them five prohibited bore licences per year.