SHIREEN M MAZARI Clearly, issuance of prohibited bore licences is one of the many perks of being an elected representative of the poor people of Pakistan. Although it should not have come as a surprise since it is a part of our political culture, yet the revelations about the sheer number of licences politicians have acquired of prohibited bore weapons is startling. In an already militarised state and society, the last thing one would wish for is to have the rulers issue thousands of licences for more weapons, including prohibited bores. That most of the licences have been issued in the name of ministers or government party parliamentarians is cause for further concern. After all, what will Minister of State for Interior Tasneem Qureshi do with 250 prohibited bore licences unless he is planning to set up his own personal force - and why would he want such a force when private armies are illegal in the country? Or are leaders above the law as is becoming apparent on many fronts? Of course, the prize for absurdities goes to Interior Minister Rehman Malik who has issued 713 prohibited bore licences to four "unknown persons". Now amongst the prohibited bore weapons are Kalashnikovs, which every feudal and urban mafia boss desires in abundance, and Sten guns. Neither should be in the possession of ordinary citizens as they kill with a lethality that threatens the security of the realm. Feuds lead to lethal blood-letting and thereby perpetuation with revenge becoming a cyclical phenomenon. Of course, the rich and infamous also like to show their prowess through their henchmen carrying such weapons in public as they whiz past traffic at illegal speeds in tinted glass vehicles breaking the law with impunity; or as they parade themselves ostentatiously while parked awaiting their lord or his offspring's return. Such is the lethal "Kalashnikov culture" that has taken root in our society post the Afghan conflict of the late seventies and eighties. But why is the interior minister shy of revealing the name of the four beneficiaries? Are they foreign nationals or underworld Pakistanis? After all, why would a normal person seek such an extensive number of prohibited bore licences? Of course, Information Minister Kaira has acquired 135 such licences. Now Kaira never seemed much of a gun-toting man but with 135 arms licences one has to conclude that looks can be deceptive. Other MNAs and ministers have also acquired these notorious licences in their names in bulk, including women parliamentarians. What are they all planning to do - set up mini private armies and for what purpose? Clearly, issuance of prohibited bore licences is one of the many perks of being an elected representative of the poor people of Pakistan. However, the numbers in which such licences are being issued to these representatives' makes a mockery of the law of the land with regard to prohibited bore weapons - after all they were intended to be "prohibited" except in exceptional circumstances. Now it seems they are issued to all - through their local MNA - except in exceptional cases After all, as the practice goes, these licences will then be passed on to friends, family and others as a favour. But will the state or law enforcement agencies know to whom exactly these weapons are being transferred? After all, if the interior minister can prevent Parliament from knowing which four special people were issued 713 prohibited bore licences, how will the state authorities find out where these licences will eventually land up? For Pakistan, this growing militarisation of society poses a serious threat to its people. It will increase the tendency to settle differences violently, through the use of force. It will also encourage people to take the law into their own hands, and to create vigilante forces. Or it will simply lead to two private armies of rival influentials killing each other's point men or simply employees. Already, in the capital itself there are two extremely affluent and powerful rival land mafias fighting it out by gunning down each other's "men" - and too many of those who should be implementing the law are turning a blind eye even where murders have been committed and registration of FIRs was sought. The combination of Kalashnikovs and Sten guns plus flowing wealth is destroying societal stability, terrorising people into submission and corrupting officialdom. But perhaps the worst of it is the example being set for the younger generation which now sees gun-toting guards, four-wheel vehicles and ill-gotten wealth as the ultimate signs of success. We have destroyed traditional values which may have been out of synch with the times but instead of replacing them with the values of tolerance, simplicity and hard work, we have let our youth get dazzled by shortcuts to an ephemeral success. Leaders by default lead by example. So what example have our leaders been setting us? Corruption, nepotism, short cuts to hard work on the road to "success" and increasingly circumventing the law. In this new environment, possession of prohibited bore weapons is part of the signs of "having arrived". At a time when violence and terrorism are increasing, the leadership should have been moving people towards a deweaponised society. Instead, they are helping to arm society further so that more scores will be settled violently and more disagreements will result in violence and there will be more intolerance. Possession of such powerful arms by an individual gives him a feeling that he can assert his will over another, who may be less well endowed with arms, through the use of force. So the room for negotiations and compromise, which are the hallmark of a tolerant and civilised society, decreases. Instead of reversing this trend within society, the leadership is aggravating it. Yet we are at a stage of our existence where we cannot continue on this path of violence, intolerance and polarisation. So let the leadership take the high ground for once and simply cancel all the prohibited bore licences and have the people surrender these lethal weapons. It is actually as simple as that - with just a stroke of the pen we can begin restoring peace within our society. And let Mr Malik reveal who the four persons or institutions are who received such a generous allocation of 713 prohibited bore licences so that we can rest assured that these have also been surrendered. Of course, none of this will happen but we can all live in hope that someone from within the leadership will see the light.