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Pakistan attack is 'shocking, appalling'

Interview: Carla BleikerJanuary 20, 2016

DW journalist Shamil Shams, who is currently in Pakistan, says he is appalled but not surprised by the attack at a university in Charsadda where at least 20 people were killed on Wednesday.

Pakistan Schusswechsel und Explosionen auf Universitätscampus in Charsadda
Image: Getty Images/AFP/A. Majeed

What do you think about reports that the Taliban have claimed responsibility for the attack at Bacha-Khan-University?

The Taliban have launched similar attacks previously, like the Peshawar attack a year ago [Pakistan's deadliest terrorist attack ever, where Taliban shot and killed 141 people, including 132 children, at a school]. But quite a lot of people here are saying that the "Islamic State" could also be involved in the attack at the university - or some group affiliated with "Islamic State." It's also possible that it was a joint attack by the Taliban, or a Taliban-affiliated group, and "Islamic State."

How safe did people in the Peshawar region feel before this attack and what's the mood like now?

It's been really bad for the past year since the Peshawar attacks. The government, particularly the army, initiated a national action plan to fight terrorism and so far, the government and the army say they have been really successful in eliminating the terrorists. But the situation on the ground is pretty complex. The attack on the university shows that the terrorists are still quite strong despite the ongoing military operation in that region.

What does this attack mean for security in Pakistan in general?

It shows that the government policies are flawed. If something like this can happen after the Peshawar attacks, where around 150 students were massacred by the Taliban, if after a year, another university campus has been targeted, it shows that there is something wrong with the government's policies in dealing with the militant and Islamist groups.

Shamil Shams. (Photo: DW/Per Henriksen)
Shams: The government's anti-terrorism strategy isn't workingImage: DW/P. Henriksen

The relatives of the students who have been killed in the attack are complaining that the government hasn't done much to improve the security situation in the capital Peshawar and the areas around it. They don't feel secure, they don't feel they're safe. This attack is proof that the terrorists can attack anywhere, at any time they want.

Did the attack at Bacha-Khan-University come as a surprise to you and others who know what the current security situation is like in Pakistan?

No, I don't think so. It's shocking, it's appalling, but it didn't surprise me. I think the problem with the Pakistani state and the government is that they still believe that operations against militants should be selective. Certain groups, which are thought to be against the state, are targeted, but the rest of the groups are pretty much pardoned. When you have selective operations and feel that certain groups are "strategic assets" - I mean the Pakistani state distinguishes between the good Taliban and the bad Taliban - then obviously these kinds of incidents will continue to happen.

Shamil Shams is a journalist with Deutsche Welle's Asia department. He's currently in Karachi in the south of Pakistan.