- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 7, 2001

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistans military government yesterday began a countrywide crackdown on illicit weapons possession by allowing unlicensed guns to be turned in with impunity until June 20.

After that, mandatory 14-month prison sentences will be imposed.

Enforcement methods have been left in the hands of the governors of the country´s four provinces — Sind, Punjab, Northwest Frontier and Baluchistan.

Pakistan´s 150 million people have more weapons per capita than the civilian population of the United States .These include hundreds of thousands of automatic weapons, heavy and light machine guns, bazookas, rocket-propelled grenades and even shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles.

Previous governments have attempted similar gun confiscation campaigns, always with meager results.

Gen. Pervez Musharraf, the military ruler who has pledged to heed a Supreme Court order to restore civilian government by October 2002, is the first Pakistani leader to have established a correlation between weapons and religious extremism.

Fearing Islamist demonstrations, Gen. Musharraf has advised provincial governors against house-to-house searches.

Observers of previous "de-weaponization" drives say the best that can be expected this time is that religious and ethnic militia will refrain from carrying AK-47 Kalashnikov assault rifles as they swagger around cities in pickup trucks.

In the past, licenses for arms, and free weapons handouts from government armories were granted to political supporters and neighborhood thugs who know how to get the vote out.

Religious militancy, backed by armed cadres, has spread from Karachi to Peshawar, 600 miles to the north.

The Musharraf government is reluctant to take on Islamist extremists lest they turn their guns against the authorities.

In a March interview, Gen. Musharraf conceded that 1 percent of the population — or 1.5 million people — is in the extremist camp "holding the other 99 percent hostage."

Already, the "fundos," as the fundamentalists are dubbed, are spreading word that weapons seizures are part of a "Zionist-Indian plot" designed to provoke the disintegration of Pakistan.

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