Targeting the Future
At least nine persons, including six students, were killed and 37 were injured when Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) terrorists attacked the Agricultural Training Institute (ATI) in Peshawar, the provincial capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), on December 1, 2017. At least four attackers wearing suicide jackets under burqas (veils) reached the compound in a rickshaw. Their first target was the security guard, after which they headed inside towards the ATI students' hostel. Two soldiers were also injured in the rescue operation. A cache of arms and ammunition, including three suicide jackets, 20 hand grenades, AK-47 rifles and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) were recovered from the incident site. According to reports, about 120 college residents, out of a total of nearly 400, were present at the time of the attack. Most of the others had gone home for a long holiday weekend.
TTP took the responsibility for the attack, claiming that it was not targeting the Institute, but a safe house belonging to Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in the same area.
The worst ever attack targeting educational institutions in KP, indeed, across Pakistan, took place on December 16, 2014, when terrorists had attacked the Peshawar Army Public School (APS) killing at least 148 persons, including 135 children.
Between the APS and ATI attacks, according to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), KP recorded at least two attacks on educational institutions, resulting in 21 deaths and 37 injuries (data till December 1, 2017. These included:
May 19, 2017: A schoolboy and watchman of the school sustained injuries in a bomb attack on a private school in the Shabqadar tehsil (revenue unit) area of Charsadda District in KP. No one took responsibility for the attack.
January 20, 2016: Four TTP fidayeen (suicide attackers) stormed the Bacha Khan University campus in the Charsadda District, killing at least 21 persons, including 17 students, two gardeners, a caretaker and a professor. Another 35 persons were injured in the attack. TTP had taken responsibility for the attack.
KP, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) database, has seen a near-continuous declinein terrorism-linked fatalities since their peak at 1,206 killed in 2011 (there was a significant but transient spike in 2013), to just 121 killed in 2017, including 55 terrorists, 40 civilians (data till December 3). During the corresponding period of the preceding year, the Province had recorded 212 such fatalities, including 123 civilians, 49 SF personnel, and 40 terrorists. There was just one more fatality (one SF) in the remaining period of 2016. Meanwhile, overall terrorism-linked fatalities across Pakistan stood at 1,197, including 509 civilian, 488 terrorists and 200 SF personnel in the current year. During the corresponding period of the preceding year, the nation had recorded 1,758 such fatalities, including 860 terrorists, 606 civilians, and 292 SF personnel. There were another 45 fatalities (38 terrorists, six civilians and one SF trooper) in the reaming period of 2016.
Significantly, after the APS Peshawar attack, many loopholes in the security arrangements of educational institutions had come to light. Then media reports indicated that less than 10 per cent of schools in KP had adequate security arrangements to thwart APS-like attacks, while the rest were functioning without or with insufficient protection for the students. There are more than 3,200 private and public schools in Peshawar alone, but just over 200 were issued "no objection certificates" (NOCs) indicating that they had adopted adequate security measures.
Qaiser Alam Khan, Additional Secretary, Elementary and Secondary Education had disclosed on January 25, 2015, that 50 per cent of Government schools in Pakistan had no boundary walls; at least 11 per cent in KP did not have protective walls. Khan also stated that 4,000 schools across the Province had no boundary walls at that time. He also noted that the Government has allocated PKR 7.5 billion for the state-owned educational institutions, and that PKR two billion were to be spent by June 30, 2015, while the remaining amounts would be carried forward and spent till 2017.
Further, according to an April 6, 2015, report, the KP Police had been directed to inspect the security arrangements in and around public and private sector educational institutions to avoid APS-like attacks in future. Special committees of representatives of the Police, District Administration and Education Department had been constituted to visit schools, colleges and universities. The Police inspected 4,058 educational institutions in the provincial capital under the National Action Plan (NAP) and issued notices to 3,239 for inadequate security. Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP), Operations, Peshawar, Mian Saeed Ahmad disclosed, "The police have inspected 1,280 educational institutions in the limits of city, 1,080 in cantonment and 1,698 schools, colleges and universities in the rural areas. Over 1,200 of these institutions in city, 967 in cantonment and 974 in rural areas were issued notices to improve security."
Similarly, in the wake terrorist attack on the Bacha Khan University, Inspector General of Police (IGP), KP, Nasir Khan Durrani issued detailed security guide lines on January 26, 2016, for enhancing the security of educational institutions to the Capital City Police Officer (CCPO), Peshawar, Regional Police Officers (RPOs) and District Police Officers (DPOs). These security guidelines pertained to the employment of security staff, manning entry and exit points, establishing observation posts, raising and fencing perimeter walls, ensuring patrolling and vigilance inside and outside the premises, effective communication within the security staff, installing SOS alert systems, managing school entry systems, constituting parents vigilance committees and organizing drills and rehearsals. The DPOs had been directed to convene a meeting of all heads of private schools and colleges, government schools and colleges and vulnerable educational institutions, along with the representatives from the Education Department and District Administration, to sensitize them about vulnerabilities and advise them to take appropriate security measures.
The security of educational institutions all over KP has since purportedly been upgraded. Peshawar Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP), Operations, Abbas Majeed Marwat claimed, on September 14, 2017,
Twenty special Anti-Terrorist Squad and Elite Police force units have been deployed across the district to keep a check on the security of schools, colleges and universities. Each of the units includes six or seven specially trained police commandos. In addition, all the sub divisional officers have been directed to conduct a security audit and inspection of the educational institutions on daily basis.
The SSP along with other officers have paid dozens of visits to the schools, colleges and universities of the provincial capital to inspect their security arrangements.
KP Education Minister Atif Khan claimed further, on September 14, 2017,
We have raised the boundary walls of the government-run schools while barbed wire has also been placed so no one can scale these walls from the back side. The KP Government also has trained security guards of a number of schools to help ensure protection of school buildings and millions of children.
The ATI attack, however, once again demonstrates that providing security to educational institutions, particularly in KP, is not possible without creating an environment of all-round peace in the country. With terrorism and extremism rampant across the Province and the country at large, selective measures to secure educational institutions can provide no real protection to the children and youth in these establishments.