In Bahawalpur, southern Punjab, Pakistan, the Cholistan Cup shooting championship is under way. The event is unique in many ways. It is a big event in a relatively small, quiet city – a firearms championship in Pakistan where large numbers of females, civilians and seasoned veterans are participating alongside serving army officers and soldiers.
For the first time, extreme long-range target shooting of up to 1,500 meters has been planned. And above all, the spectators are amazed at the precision of the shooters by witnessing them through higher-resolutions binoculars and cameras installed at the long ranges.
The competitive spirit among the participants is at its peak. Many young people, mostly civilians, participating in the firing competition have complained of less practice opportunity and no proper training facilities vis-a-vis young army officers. Yet quite a few of them were confident of snatching top positions, from air-pistol to heavy-caliber rifles categories, by beating service members.
Some in the visitor gallery showed keen desire to participate in such firing competitions but complained of a lack of access to weapons because of government licensing restrictions. They had many suggestions for the youth of middle-class families to enjoy elite sports and boost their confidence. I particularly enjoyed one thing: Pakistani girls were not shy about participating in this tournament.
In the past, the National Cadet Corps (NCC) and Women’s Guard were beneficial civil-defense forums for the training of youth in Pakistan. College students voluntarily joined these camps/training programs, earned bonus marks in their final exams, and learned first aid, rifle shooting and the art of precision marching. However, after the terrorist attacks on New York City of September 11, 2001, the infamous call of US secretary of state Colin Powell to General Pervez Musharraf, president at the time, “You are either with us or against us,” changed many things in Pakistan. Musharraf’s decision to side with the United States was rational, but in a panic, he also banned the NCC and Women’s Guard in 2002.
Many people in Pakistan have a nostalgic feeling about participating in military-style parades and rifle shooting during their college’s time in the NCC and want the corps restored for the youth of today. The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) government in the past had promised to reintroduce the NCC program in the colleges, and the current government led by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) is also considering the renewal of NCC, but a final decision has not yet been made.
The tribal society of Pakistan; eager to have many sons and a lot of guns, promotes firearms as the “jewelry” of men. Carrying a weapon meant the passage of boy to manhood. Firearms were related to masculinity. However, this trend is changing. The guns earlier related to armed self-defense are evolving into equipment for sport hunting and competition shooting. The sport of shooting requires skill, concentration, hand-eye coordination, and clear focus. This synchronization is beneficial for both men and women. It immensely boosts confidence in young people.
More than any other nationality, Americans are considered to be lovers of guns. Hunting, target shooting, and collecting are important aspects of US gun culture. Unlike Pakistanis, Americans have many well-established clubs for civilian shooters in almost all cities. US estimates from the National Shooting Sports Foundation suggest that approximately 20 million individuals annually participate in target shooting. That is quite an impressive figure. Pakistan’s military also has a series of well-maintained shooting ranges in many cities that could be opened to the civilian shooters for sports and recreation. This would have enormous commercial potential.
Criminological, anti-violence and public-safety approaches to the study of guns are essential. However, arms are not a subset of criminology. There are many countries that have a robust and responsible gun culture, such as Switzerland and Canada. Target shooting in Switzerland is similar to any sport like hockey, cricket or soccer, and yet there are no mass shootings or casualties due to accidental firing. Switzerland has developed a gun culture much superior to and more refined than that of the United States. A comprehensive strategy at the national level checks the harmful effects of gun shooting, rather than simply calling gun lovers names.
We need to identify law-abiding gun owners through background checks. Gun sales should be restricted from convicted criminals, fugitives from justice and those with specific histories of mental illness. Cowards are cruel; a good shooter is confident, strong and kind-hearted.
For civilian youth, the Cholistan Cup at Bahawalpur is a brief opportunity to be exposed to the sport of shooting in a controlled and safe environment under the aegis of Bahawalpur Corps Commander Lieutenant-General Syed Muhammad Adnan. However, it is the beginning of a new, healthy trend in the country. If the scope and frequency of such initiatives were enhanced and extended to other cities in Pakistan, it would surely reduce the fatalities currently occurring in huge numbers due to inept handling of guns.
The passion of the corps commander and his senior team members has generated a treasure trove of data on how to enhance law-enforcement professionalism. The knowledge base of top snipers in the championship, such as the ability to hit a man’s head consistently at 1,500 meters, can be harnessed for the benefit of Pakistani police to minimize collateral damage while neutralizing criminals and suicide bombers.
There are many things that need to be institutionalized.