A version of this article was also recently published on the Express Tribune Blogs here.
After an indubitably glorious victory against India in the Asia Cup cricket match this past Sunday, ardent Pakistani fans, all across the world, have indeed found various ways to celebrate this euphoric occasion. While some celebrations are fun and safe, others are not. And, by this, I am referring to the infamous aerial firing — or, in other words, open firing bullets into the air — which is a common practice in many places and cultures around the world, within South and Central Asia, Middle East, and South America.
While aerial firing is a widespread practice throughout Pakistan, it is particularly customary in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa region where gun shots are often known to be fired up in the air in sheer rejoice. Celebrations enumerating aerial firings include weddings, the birth of a male child, and other occasions, such as sport and election victories.
Not surprisingly, Pakistan’s recent win against India elicited this extremely dangerous practice in the region’s illustrious city of Peshawar shortly after Shahid Afridi scored incredible back-to-back sixes that resulted in the remarkable win. One honestly can’t help but wonder why such an occasion — any occasion — would be celebrated in this way, while failing to realize just how violent and dangerous it is. The questions that keep gnawing at me are: What do these people — men — achieve from firing random bullets up in the air anyway? Does it give them some sort of uncanny gratification? Authority, perhaps? Or do they do it simply out of show? What could be going through their minds to enable them to grab such dangerous weapons and fire bullets into the sky? And while we know that such aerial firings are done with good intentions, it is quite blatant, however, that the practice does more harm than good.
Traditionally, it appears that guns are, and have been, perceived as a status symbol, signifying power and prestige, where the flagrant firing of a large, heavy and powerful weapon such as the Kalashnikov is profoundly and perhaps even psychologically associated with a raw sense of masculine pride. Yet, there are countless reports and incidents delineating cases where innocent people, in nearby towns and villages, have been hit and killed by the stray bullets. As a matter of fact, in a similar article published by the Express Tribune a couple of months ago, it was mentioned that according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), around 81 people — which includes men, women, and children — were killed by stray bullets alone in the highly populated and urbanized city of Karachi, which is one of the major cities in the nation that popularizes aerial firing.
Unfortunately, despite the fact that the practice of aerial firing has been banned within the limits of the Peshawar district, as it has led to countless injuries and fatalities, many still continue to practice it persistently, and carelessly, violating the law. What’s even more distressing is that we witness these imprudent acts of aerial firing day after day as many have either not comprehended or simply forgotten to pay heed to the essential aphorism: “What goes up must come down.” Hence, what normally starts out in joy and celebration sometimes ends up in grief and tragedy.
I also blame the media for further relegating what is and should be an issue that needs immediate attention. It was particularly distasteful that Shahid Afridi’s younger brother was publicized being involved in a series of aerial firings, cheering and celebrating his brother’s incredible performance in winning the match; this is not only recent but also goes as far back as 2009, when Pakistan won the T20 World cup. And considering the famed popularity of Afridi all over the world, his zealous fans would more than likely follow in the footsteps of his brother, believing that aerial firings are not only “cool” and “fun,” but that it is the accepted norm to celebrate such a joyous occasion. This, as a result poses great problems and threats, especially among Pakistani youths. They need to understand that aerial firings are neither “cool” nor “fun,” but extremely dangerous, posing great risks to people’s lives.
Hence, I feel that the media is liable to ensure that it does not positively showcase nor support such a belligerent and unappealing method of celebrating, as it not only encourages and promotes aerial firing, but it also undermines the seriousness of the issue.
Undoubtedly, places within the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa region, as well as Pakistan overall, are already facing countless social and political problems: from the lack of human rights to blatant militancy and terrorism that has enveloped parts of the nation time and again in utter despair. Not a day goes by that we learn about the lives of innocent women, men and children being lost to suicide bombers and other such murderous atrocities. And while these acts of terrorism are inexorable, causing death and casualties at an alarming rate, those that are caused by aerial firings, on the other hand, can actually be avoided. As a matter of fact, they can be eradicated all together.
Aerial firings are not cool. Not only are they highly unethical but those who do engage in it need to realize just how senseless and obtuse an act it is as well. There is no need to indulge in such superfluous violence when there are clearly other, much more fun and safer, ways to celebrate a joyful occasion — one that will not end in tragedy and despair.
Guns are not toys and should not be treated as such, as people’s lives are at stake. It’s time we, as a nation that is aiming to be more progressive and civilized, stopped being so irresponsible with our actions.