Back to school

A change in policy, and not more security guards, will protect our educational institutions

Back to school
As the country struggles to come to terms with the barbarity of the threat it faces, schools all over Pakistan have been directed to arrange for their own security, to protect their students, buildings and buses against terrorist attacks. They argue that they do not have the capacity to deploy police guards at every school, and that private schools should pay out of their own pocket to hire security guards. Schools have also been directed to raise their walls, erect barriers, and install walk-through weapon detectors at entry points, since there are threats of more attacks.

“Instead of forcing school owners to arrange their own security, flooding classrooms with weapons and raising walls, the government should eliminate safe havens and training camps of militants and stop their financial flows,” a leader of the Awami National Party and former lawmaker Bushra Gohar says.

There are tens of thousands of public and private schools all over the country. The security of these institutions and millions of students studying in them has become the toughest of challenges for the federal and provincial governments and security agencies, after Taliban threatened to carry out more attacks like the one in Peshawar.
"Instead of flooding classrooms with weapons, the government should eliminate safe havens and training camps of militants"

All the schools in the country were closed down after the December 16 attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar, in which at least 150 people were killed, including over 134 children. A majority of the schools were reopened on January 12, while some resumed classes on January 19.

Moving scenes were witnessed at the APS when it reopened. There were children with broken arms, some had lost their brothers and friends, and many were eyewitnesses to what had happened on December 16. They entered the heavily guarded campus making victory signs, conveying a message of strength and defiance to the militants. Chief of the Army staff Gen Raheel Sharif, his spouse, and the Peshawar Corps Commander were already there to welcome them.

Many were crying as they met friends who had survived the attack. Others could not stop their tears when they saw the empty seats of their martyred friends. Many of the students were accompanied by their parents. Thousands of pictures were taken and shared all over the world. In one such picture, Talha Munir and Hassan Javed have digitally modified the image to include Rafiq Raza and Mohammad Yasin, who were martyred in the attack.

“We will protect our children at the cost of our lives. All the concerned departments have been directed to upgrade security of school and other educational institutions to provide protection to every child,” said chief minister Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Parvez Khattak. Khattak along with his cabinet ministers visited few schools to boost the morale of the children and teachers.

Questions were raised about the absence of Imran Khan, chairman of Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf which rules the province. He did visit the school on the third day of its reopening, with his newlywed wife Reham Khan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Parvez Khattak, and other members of the provincial cabinet. But they had to face angry parents at the entrance. They hold him responsible for law and order in the province.

Sirajul Haq, the chief of Jamaat-e-Islami – a coalition partner in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government – visited the APS a day before him, along with senior minister Inayatullah and Finance Minister Muzaffar Said. “The attack has united the entire nation against terrorism and the JI stands with the rest of Pakistan,” said Siraj. Peshawar, he said, should be declared the bravest city in the world.

“Life in Peshawar has become very uncertain. We keep praying for the safety of our children until they return home in the afternoon,” said Naila, mother of two school-going kids from suburban Peshawar.

Analysts say Pakistan will have to consider its foreign policy, especially towards Afghanistan. The recent launch of what is being called Pashto diplomacy – sending Pakhtun political leaders such asAftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao, Afrasiab Khattak and Mahmood Khan Achakzai to hold meetings with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, chief executive Abdullah Abdullah, and other military and political leaders – is being seen as a good initiative towards that goal.

The country must also reconsider its policy relating to FATA, which analysts say needs to be integrated either with the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province or declared a separate province, so that tribesmen get the same rights and privileges as other citizens of Pakistan.