In December 2014 a tragic attack by militants on Peshawar’s Army Public School shook the entire nation. As a result, many debates were held at different tiers of the government and finally a 2o- point plan, called the National Action Plan was conceived and approved unanimously to root out terror acts once forever.
Reeling from the trauma of the APS tragedy the nation heaved a sigh of relief, that after the implementation of an all-encompassing 20-point National Action Plan the future was in safer hands. Unfortunately, militants replayed the tragic event of APS Peshawar on January 20 at the Bacha Khan University at Charsadda and 21 students and staff members lost their lives while 11 were injured.
The director of the replay was the same, Umar Mansoor, from the same location in Afghanistan. The theme of the script was the same – attack an educational institution and create despondency all over. The launching time was the same – broad daylight. Militant leader Umar Mansoor, entrenched in Afghanistan, who masterminded the APS attack of December 16, 2014 claimed responsibility for the Bacha Khan University attack. Above all, in both attacks intelligence agencies had provided credible information regarding the impending attacks.
Where did the government err? First, the security measures undertaken by the administration of the Bacha Khan University; and second, on the overall non-implementation of the National Action Plan. The attack took place at a time when administrative and security staff is fully active. The university is located in an isolated placed, away from the humdrum of the population. Hence, any movement of a stranger approaching the university, especially from an unusual direction – like by scaling the wall – would draw immediate attention. There was dense fog at the time of the militant attack. This restricted visibility could have given more reaction time to the targets in the university who could make their way even in poor visibility. Apparently the administration was laced with credible intelligence input: the district police officer had visited and warned the university administration a day earlier on January 19.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa houses 64,000 educational institutions, including 11 universities. With 70,000 personnel in the provincial police it is not possible to provide even one policeman to each institution given the deployment of the force on other basic duties. The Bacha Khan University boasts a force of 54 security guards, more than sufficient to guard the campus. Around 27 men would be expected to be on duty on January 20; the rest probably on the second shift.
So why was no guard deployed to watch out for likely intrusion over the boundary wall? It was probably taken for granted that the barbed wire over the boundary wall would keep away all kinds of intruders. On January 20, the militants were aware these boundary walls had been neglected. Thus only a handful of attackers chose the rear boundary wall of the campus, snapped the barbed wire perched over the wall and then easily scaled it to reach unopposed their target in the university building. Even a single guard keeping vigil over the boundary wall would have been able to avert the attack.
The disclosure by DG ISPR Lt-Gen Asim Saleem Bajwa at a news conference at Peshawar that the Quick Response Force reached the Bacha Khan University within 45 minutes of the attack and killed the four attackers was not very heartening. Attackers normally achieve their objective within the first few minutes: in the 45-minute siege of the university the militants had killed 21 students and staff members and successfully sent a pale of gloom over the entire country – which was their objective. Again, the killing of the four attackers, after they caused the damage, is no news as they come armed with suicide vests.
Now on the fate of the National Action Plan. After the December 16, 2014 APS tragedy, NAP was conceived to root out terrorism. Good news. Unfortunately, even after 14 months only one out of the 20 points of the NAP has been implemented seriously – in the form of Operation Zarb-e-Azb. Nacta is yet to be commissioned.
The government is also yet to focus on mosques and madressahs known for spewing hate. Right in the country’s capital, the cleric of Lal Masjid has been spreading his pro-IS message and challenged – on TV – the government to dare arrest him. Terrorist organisations duly banned by the government continuously function vigorously with changed names.
Unless NAP is implemented in letter and spirit, the nation will continue to face attacks like those on the Bacha Khan University and the Army Public School in Peshawar.
The writer is a retired colonel.