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Pakistan's 'guns for teachers' drive

Shamil ShamsFebruary 18, 2016

Pakistan has allowed teachers to carry guns to protect themselves from Islamic militants. But critics say the move will promote violence in a country which is already volatile due to a protracted Islamist insurgency.

Pakistani security personnel taking position outside the Bacha Khan university following an attack by gunmen in Charsadda, about 50 kilometres from Peshawar, on January 20, 2016 (Photo: A MAJEED/AFP/Getty Images)
Image: Getty Images/AFP/A. Majeed

The authorities of Pakistan's Bacha Khan University, which was attacked by Islamic militants on June 20, were initially reluctant to reopen the campus for security concerns.

The university, located in the country's northwest, had lost more than 20 of its students and teachers in the assault, and the Taliban insurgents had threatened to target it again. According to the university administration, the government hadn't offered much help to secure the campus, and that there hasn't been a major breakthrough in capturing the attackers.

The concerns of the university officials are not baseless; Taliban militants have vowed to attack schools and colleges throughout the restive northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province bordering Afghanistan.

A year before the attack on the Bacha Khan University, the Islamists had stormed an army-run school in the provincial capital Peshawar and killed over 140 students. The government has arrested several people linked to the assault, but the parents and teachers are not satisfied with the efforts. They demand a judicial inquiry into the attacks and the failure of security forces in protecting the pupils.

The province has been in high alert ever since the Peshawar massacre, more so around educational institutions. So when the Bacha Khan University reopened on Monday, February 15, management decided to take care security into its own hands. Just like in the aftermath of the Peshawar attacks, the university has now allowed its teachers to carry guns to protect both themselves and their students from any possible militant onslaught. Some pupils have even been seen holding weapons in the school across the province.

"After taking the necessary security measures to protect students and faculty members, we re-opened the university for classes," Fazal Rahim Marwat, vice-chancellor of the Bacha Khan University, told media on February 15.

Government failure

The government, too, is encouraging schools to deal with their security issues, which analysts say equates to an admission of failure. While Islamabad's inaction has alarmed some educators and parents, many people in the province see this as a justification of the "self-security" drive.

"It is the responsibility of the government to provide security to educational institutions. But the authorities' response to the threat has been very disappointing," Kamran Khan, a student in Peshawar, told DW. "We became worried when the government asked private schools to look after their own security. Now we don't have a choice: we have to deal with the threat ourselves," he added.

The victims' families say the perpetrators of the two massacres are still at large, and that the authorities have only taken half-hearted steps to eradicate terrorism.

Pakistani relatives and residents look at the picture of a Bacha Khan University attack victim as they gather for a funeral ceremony in Charsadda on January 21, 2016 (Photo: A MAJEED/AFP/Getty Images)
The Bacha Khan University re-opened this week after remaining close for almost a monthImage: Getty Images/AFP/A. Majeed

Fazal Khan, who heads a committee of the Peshawar victims' families and relatives, says the government still seems to be in two minds about who to hold responsible for the assault, hence the inaction.

Hike in guns sales

In Pakistan's northwest, particularly in the tribal areas, there is an old tradition of bearing firearms. Carrying a gun is considered to be a symbol of bravery and manliness. People also keep weapons for personal security, and to settle scores with their tribal rivals.

But in recent years, the demand for guns and other weapons has increased manifold in the northwestern areas. Arms dealers say that an increasing number of people are buying pistols for their protection.

"Arms sales grew substantially after the attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar, but they rose drastically after the terrorist assault on the Bacha Khan University. There has been a sixty-percent increase in weapons sales," Shahzad Ahmad Khan, a guns dealer in Peshawar, told DW.

Pakistani volunteers carry a student injured in the shootout at a school under attack by Taliban gunmen, at a local hospital in Peshawar, Pakistan,Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2014 (AP Photo/Mohammad Sajjad)
Victims' families are still traumatized a year after Peshawar attacksImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo/M. Sajjad

"Most of the buyers are educated people, including students. I understand why these people want to arm themselves. They cannot fight the terrorists with these small guns, but they still have a chance to protect themselves if they have a weapon," Khan added.

Experts blame the government for this situation. "Pakistan is already an extremely violent and volatile country. It needs de-weaponization on a national scale. Instead of performing its constitutional duties, the government is encouraging people to deal with violence through violence. It only proves one thing: the state has failed," said Islamabad-based analyst Abdul Agha.