IN the wake of the terrorist attack on Bacha Khan University (BKU), Charsadda, the law-enforcement agencies throughout the country scrambled to beef up the security of various educational institutions. A variety of steps taken by different provinces and by district police officers on their own initiative were observed.
However, despite the excellent intentions behind these measures, the steps were neither synchronised nor did they follow a standard model. In fact, they constituted little more than a typically knee-jerk reaction to emergencies in Pakistan.
Fundamentally, what was required was an in-depth analysis with coordinated efforts for manageable actions. However, what we saw in various institutions were mock exercises by the police in dealing with terrorist attacks. Some of these exercises were conducted without any prior notice, thereby creating fear and alarm amongst the students. The students were also taken to firing ranges for practice shooting and training in handling firearms.
These exercises and training have had a seriously negative impact as they heightened the sense of insecurity and encouraged students and teachers to acquire weapons, which some started carrying with them even to their institutions.
Ensuring peace is the primary responsibility of the state, and not of educational institutions.
After Zarb-i-Azb was launched by the army, a blowback was feared and accordingly, the security of key buildings and points was upgraded to deny the militants an easy target. Thereafter, the militants changed their tactics and chose ‘soft’ targets, and thousands of educational institutions became their preferred choice for mayhem.
These were not only easy targets but also presented a chance for widespread media coverage, invoking visible evidence of the militants’ existence and capability to inflict pain on the entire country. In order to defend these criminal acts, the militants have also used social media extensively, justifying their actions by arguing that it is the educational institutions that produce government officers, politicians and members of the law-enforcement agencies, including the army, that are sustaining the ‘un-Islamic’ democratic order. Their rationale rests on the premise that attacking these institutions is actually tantamount to hacking away at the foundation of the structure that sustains it.
The reaction of the government to this challenge is seriously flawed as it is seen to encourage the proliferation of arms, which itself is a major contributing factor to lawlessness. The monopoly to use force for maintaining order must remain within the domain of the state, and no one should be allowed to carry weapons in public places for so-called security. The ministry of interior, now with a new competent secretary, should take the lead in a coordinated response to this threat.
The ministry should use the Nacta platform to disseminate workable plans based on educated professional input by all the law-enforcement agencies. Indeed, some of the districts have introduced feasible and effective solutions to counter this threat. Broadly, these are: security audit of every important building, physical obstacles for securing the area; and installation of security cameras and mobile units that can respond and deal with any emergency.
Islamabad police have come up with a comprehensive plan, and have implemented it effectively on the ground after professional risk assessment of individual institutions. These plans can be the models for similar plans in all urban centres of the country. Granted, it is impossible to provide security to every school in the country. Nevertheless, there is a pressing need to involve the public and project a counter-narrative against militancy and terrorism.
Encouraging and promoting a culture of vigilantism will only create chaotic situations, affecting peace and order in society. The answer lies in rooting out terrorism via proactive policing and strengthening the capacity of the police station that will invariably be the first responder in the rural areas and small towns. It is they who were the first to reach BKU and engage the terrorists and kill three of them.
Strengthening the police stations will not only secure educational institutions but will also be helpful in dealing with emerging threats. This is admittedly not the only solution. We need to deal with this threat in a holistic manner in which the police station can play a key role. A well-staffed and properly resourced unit at this level can be an invaluable asset in fighting terrorism.
Maintaining order and ensuring peace is the primary responsibility of the state, and all resources must be provided to deal with terrorist organisations that are threatening the very existence of this country. The present under-resourced and insufficient police forces are finding it increasingly difficult to deal with the rising tide of terrorism that is now reshaping itself and breaking into small cells, which operate in the urban centres and towns where militants can find refuge.
We have entered the most difficult phase of fighting terrorism where militants select soft targets such as schools, shopping plazas, restaurants/hotels and entertainment locations to further their nefarious agenda. As rightly pointed out recently in a briefing by the director general, Intelligence Bureau, it is going to be a long fight lasting at least 10 years. The concluding phase will ultimately see the police forces battling it out with the militants on the streets of Pakistan. Strengthening the police and giving them the required resources can help in restoring peace within the country as quickly as possible.
Even from the point of investment, a peaceful Pakistan means prosperity and development of the country. On the other hand, continued lawlessness will obstruct and impede national development. It is time to recognise the challenge in a broader perspective and commit the resources for law-enforcement structures so as to bring about a swift end to the imminent final phase of militancy and thereby set the country on the road to progress.
Handing guns to students and teachers and holding the educational institutions responsible for security is not the answer. It is the sole and undiluted responsibility of the state to counter this existential threat to state integrity and to confront it with all its might and resources. Arming the youth will only complicate an already knotty situation and exacerbate the prevailing lawlessness.
The writer is a former inspector general of the police, Sindh.
Published in Dawn, March 12th, 2016