Analysis: Pakistan's educational institutions under constant terror threat

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Armed attack (January 20, 2015) on Pakistan’s Bacha Khan University in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Charsadda town, killing 22 people and 30 injured by militants of Umar Mansoor, Commander of outlawed Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan had shaken the military and civil establishments of Pakistan.

Immediately after the attack, Pakistan army chief, General Raheel Sharif ,who spearheaded military operation ‘Zarb-e-Azb’ against militants since June 2014 even desperately called Afghan President Ghani seeking Afghanistan’s help in nabbing the militants, responsible for attack on university in Charsadda.

Meanwhile, former Interior Minister and a leader of the Peoples Party of Pakistan (PPP) in an insane statement (Islamabad, January 21, 2016) held Indian Defense Minister, Manohar Parrikar and Indian intelligence agency R&AW responsible for Charsadda attack.

Attack on university in Charsadda was second prominent attack on an educational institution of Pakistan in a span of almost one year.

Earlier on December 16, 2014, seven militants of TTP belonging to Umar Mansoor splinter group had attacked Army Public School at Peshawar, killing 142 persons, including 132 school children. School attack in Peshawar was considered deadliest terror attack of TTP in Pakistan after attack (Karachi, October18, 2007) on motorcade of late Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in which 180 people were killed and over five hundred were injured.  

Significantly, since launching of operation ‘Zarb-e-Azb’ there was virtually no let up in TTP’s attacks on Pakistan except that there was slight decrease in number of attacks. Unabated success of TTP’s militant attacks has put question mark on Pakistan army Chief, General Raheel Sharif’s repeated claims of exceptional success of the operation ‘Zarb-e-Azb’, which had cost the Pakistan government over US $1.8 billion dollar and lives of five hundred army and para military personnel also.

Meanwhile, Pakistan army claimed that since launching of operation ‘Zarb-e-Azb’ 3400 militants had been killed in 13, 200 intelligence based operations. Over 330 terrorists have also been hanged in different places in Pakistan.

Since educational institutions are soft targets for militants and insurgents, such institutions are more prone to physical attacks in Pakistan too. Although, Pakistan has the second highest number of children out of schools in the world it suffered more militant attacks on its schools than any other country, including Iraq and Syria, of the world. According to a recently made international study, Pakistan has the highest number of 850 attacks on educational institutions as well as highest number of causalities of 450 students since 1970, followed by Russia with 361 school children’s killings in school attacks.

Incidentally, maximum number of attacks on school occurred in South Asian countries as a total of 1436 school attacks took place since 1970, claiming 951 lives and almost 60 per cent such attack took place in Pakistan only. Study further revealed with regard to school attacks in the world, maximum attacks took place in the month of October and Tuesday of the week.

In Pakistan maximum number of attacks on school and educational institutions took place in Peshawar, which faced 62 such attacks since 1970, followed by 43 in Mohamnad district, 27 each in Bajuur and Safi (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa), 26 in Bara (Kyber Pakhtunkhwa), 42 in Karachi, 26 in Quetta, 24 each in Bannu and Landi Kotal (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa), 11 in Charsadda near Peshwar, 13 in Orakazai Agency in Federally Administered Tribal Areas, 12 in Kabal tehsil in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 21 in Shabqadar (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa), 19 Jamrud (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa), 15 Darra Adam Khel in Federally Administered Tribal Areas and 14 in Khyber district.

With regard to recent attacks on educational institutions in Pakistan, the prominent attack included, attack on Kohiwal Middle School, by unknown assailants on March 9, 2011 in which entire school was destroyed, then a government school was blown up (April 12, 2011) in Nowshera by unidentified persons, an explosive was planted (August 29, 2011) in a girls school in Sher Din Banda in Northwest Pakistan, unknown militants had blown up (November 8, 2011) a girls middle school in Katland in Mardan district, Lashkar-e-Jhangve had blown up (June 19, 2012) a bus of Quetta University, killing four students and 72 injured, a girls’ school was blown up (July 28, 2012) in Swabi, a bomb was planted (December 2012)in primary school for girls in Khyber killing one person.

Subsequently, a government school for boys was blown up (March 1, 2013) in Lakki Marawt district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa by unknown miscreants, a school belonging to National Awami Party (NAP) in Karachi was attacked (March 30, 2013) by grenades in which four children were seriously wounded, a bus carrying students of Sardar Bahadur Khan University, Quetta, was attacked (June 15, 2013) was attacked by militants belonging to Lashkar-e-Jhangvi in which 25 persons including 14 girls were killed, Khan Wali Kor school in Uthmazai area of Mohammad Agency was blown up (June 21, 2013) by unknown militants, two schools were blown up (June 30, 2013)in Lakki in frontier region, a government school was blown up (August 19, 2013) in Mohammad Agency.

More recently, a youth was killed (January 6, 2014) when a suicide bomber tried to blew himself outside government school in Ibrehemzai in Hangu, near Peshawar, in another attack (February 15, 2014) on a school at Hangu one person was injured, Army Public School Peshwar was attacked (December 16, 2014) killing 132 students and ten other and then an NGO run girls school was blown up (November 14, 2015)in Charsadda in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa again a school was attacked (December 15, 2015) in the same area.

Notably, after attack on Bacha Khan University, Charsadda town, Umar Mansoor, Chief of a TTP faction released a video (January 22) and warned more attacks on schools and universities across the Pakistan. He described the Pakistan’s schools and other educational institutions as “nurseries for those who challenge Allah’s law”.

In addition to schools being a soft target, Taliban also attacked school due to ideological differentness with establishment as they are against Western style education and employment of women. Most of militants are also against girl education. Taliban were also found intimidating school teachers and dissuading parents to send their children to school.

After attack on Army Public School, Peshawar, Pakistan government has taken several security measures to protect schools, particularly in bordering areas with Afghanistan. 135 schools, located in Khyber Pakthunkhwa and bordering Afghanistan areas have been identified for special security. Schools and colleges staff also being trained on using weapons in case of terrorist attacks. 

It has also been collaborating with international agencies such as United Nations Special Envoy for Education, UNICEF, Global Business Coalition for Education, and Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA) to improve safety and security of schools and other educational institutions, particularly in bordering areas.

Taliban are fighting for setting up strict Islamic state in Pakistan and find schools and other educational institutions as an easy target to put pressure on Pakistan army as well as to control minds of younger generation. It is unlikely that after Peshawar and Charsadda attacks on school and university respectively, Taliban would fear any adverse public opinion against them and stop targeting students.

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