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EDITORIAL: The federal cabinet's decision to approve issuance of licences of prohibited weapons to a couple of federal ministers and federal secretaries, dozens of generals, air marshals, judges of high courts and of course retired bureaucrats ought to raise a few eyebrows at the very least. The interior ministry imposed a blanket ban on issuance of prohibited bore licences in June 2013 because of the very obvious need to control gun culture and crime in the country. Yet for some reason the federal government suddenly lifted the ban, though only to the extent of gifted weapons to 'general officers or equivalent, officers or other ranks of the military', etc., in December 2018. And now the cabinet can shower anyone it pleases with the licence to carry weapons that are by law prohibited for the rest of the country - anyone among the country's very top elite, that is.

Long lost somewhere in the argument is the fact that prohibited bore is prohibited for the public and only provided to law enforcement agencies so the state can maintain 'monopoly over violence' within the borders; a very important function of the executive. Therefore, changing the law to allow for such 'gifts' actually flies in the face of the bigger effort of which the prohibited bore was a small but integral part. Someone should at least explain what these fine icons of our high society have done, or continue to do, to deserve such privilege? Or what they might need the prohibited bore for, except hanging it on their shoulders, in addition to everything else, as a badge of some kind of honour?

There's also something to be said about how such generosity on the part of the cabinet can and does entrench elite privilege even more deeply in our society. That the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government is doing this makes it even worse because of all the promises it made about ending VVIP culture before it came to power. And since promoting VVIP culture eventually boils down to allowing some things to a few people that are not allowed to all the others, the cabinet's decision to green-light prohibited bore for its blue eyed can only be seen as yet another U-turn by the ruling party. Now that they've given prohibited weapons to some ministers, who will not be ministers forever and subsequent administrations will do the same, there is sure to be a proliferation of heavy weapons in the country. Then they'll be falling all over themselves, re-imposing the ban, and tightening the screws yet again.

For some reason such tendencies, especially publicly rewarding the highest of the high, tend to transcend political parties and ideologies in this Islamic republic. First they beat the drum of fighting against political opportunism. Then they come to power and do exactly what everybody else did; rather does. And so we go round in circles. But for the Imran Khan government to do more of the same marks a sad low even by the standards of Pakistan's political history. He rode the wave of hope and change to victory, after all, and not many people who formed that wave would like what they see when the federal cabinet itself bolsters the elite capture.

Now that the second, and last, half of the electoral cycle is truly under way, perhaps the prime minister should take a step back and think about small things like these. He has already gone 'all in' and gambled with an audaciously ambitious budget, which makes this the time when he will need the force of the people behind him the most. And for him to take the shine off his own appeal does neither his nor the people's cause any justice.

Prime Minister Imran Khan must put his foot down and end any and all official practices that widen class cleavages in our society.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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