It’s heartening to listen to the inspirational lyrics of the song, “Mujhai dushman K bacho ko parhana hai,” released at the first anniversary of the tragic Army Public School incident, to boost the morale of the nation. However, the crucial question is that “Are we prepared to educate our children fearlessly?” The Government of Pakistan had to shut down all educational institutions across the country under the terror threat at the eve of December 15 this year despite its earlier announcement to keep the schools open and commemorate the sacrifice of APS martyrs with national fervor.
It’s a do-or-die situation. In reality, neither our government nor schools’ management are capable to provide foolproof security to our children. So they opt for the short term solution. How long and how frequently can we keep our educational institutions closed? How far can we live under threat? These are the pertinent questions that are to be raised, responded and resolved at every level.
The dilemma each Pakistani parent has been confronting for the last one year is ‘Are we ready to send our children to school, college and university under the constant threat of attacks from militants and terrorists?’ I am wondering if we are. When I posed the same question to the principal of my children’s school, asking, “What if there’s another attack and that too on our school?” She looked shocked and responded with utter disbelief. “God Forbid! acchi baat mau sai nikalai.” (Speak positively)
“But…” I tried to reason but was quickly interrupted with a prepared response, “We have taken all the required safety measures.Trust Allah, He’s great.”
On one hand, we witness frequent terrorist attacks all across the country, even in the world. On the other hand, our authorities and public are in a constant state of denial. One might advocate that the law enforcement agencies seem to be increasingly active during this past year; able to restore peace in the country to some extent, yet we are still unable to implement the promised national security plan in true spirit.
Regarding the security of educational institutions, the Ministry of Education and state departments have evidently shifted the entire responsibility to the concerned institutions, especially in the private and [to some extent] the public sector, a year ago. They have already been directed to implement the security instructions of the Home Department to avoid a sequel of the Army Public School (APS) Peshawar incident. The relevant officials candidly accepted the fact that they don’t have sufficient staff and funds to provide security to all schools.
On one hand, the Government of Pakistan conveniently passed the buck to schools, colleges and universities by issuing redundant directives regarding distant parking, vigilance at entrances, exits and staff training. But who is responsible to ensure the monitoring and implementation of the directives is crucial to ask.
On the other hand, the management of educational institutions confronted the authorities, saying that the authorities’ pressure to increase the number of trained and armed security guards, installation of CCTV cameras, metal detectors or walkthrough gates, alarms and construction of boundary walls with barbed wires on them at their expense is utterly unrealistic. The situation also reflects the bitter reality that the state seems unable to provide security to its children while VIPs’ security and protocol is the top priority at the expense of public taxes.
Being parents, we are completely perplexed and threatened. We don’t believe in politically driven hollow claims, responsibility-shifting gimmicks and publicity stunts on media. What we are increasingly concerned about are the security of our children, teachers and educational institutions. We also demand fool-proof security of public places including shopping malls, cinemas and religious centers which are under constant threat in the recent years.
What I strongly believe is that rather than observing frequent holidays, extending vacations and criticizing others, we as a community, consisting of parents, teachers, students and civil society, need to join hands and do whatever we can as our responsibility to our community. The primary objective is to ensure efficient surveillance measures to prevent terrorists from accessing educational institutions. For that purpose, installation of functional metal/bomb detectors, alarms, cameras and engagement of professionally trained security guards is indispensable. Schools, state and parents have to bear the cost mutually since it’s the matter of our children’s survival and security.
Besides, effective Civil Defense crash programme should be introduced in all educational institutions and offices as the mandatory training. Civil Defense is an effective tool to combat militants and security threat that implies emergency operations and evacuations, preventive measures, recovery and response drills. Educational institutions must engage civil defense experts and volunteers to train their staff, teachers and senior students for any emergency situation or attack.
I might sound too ambitious but there are incidents in the world and in even our own country where civilians effectively prevent deadly attacks and accidents through timely action and decisions. Considering the massive scale and severity of the situation underview, we have no option but to learn how to combat such attacks and how we can protect ourselves and people around us.
According to Sean Coughlan, the Education Correspondent of BBC News,
“Terror attacks on schools and colleges have risen to higher levels than at any point in more than 40 years world over.” Since 2004, there is a marked increase in such attacks as indicated by the global terrorism database and unfortunately Pakistan topped the list even prior to the Peshawar attack in December, which, no doubt is the deadliest and one of its own kind. Thus it demands equally serious defense measures.
What is crucial to understand is the fact that we cannot live under terror for good. In order to rear and prepare our children in the current environment, we have to take proactive measures. No politician, state, government, army, police or even educational institution can help and protect us unless we decide to help ourselves. It’s high time we equip ourselves to protect our future and educate our children since it’s the matter of our survival.