Nearly a month back, the attack on the Bacha Khan University in Charsadda brought back memories of what is perhaps the most traumatic experience in Pakistan’s collective national memory: December 16, 2014.
The Charsadda attack has been followed by beefing up of security in educational institutions, including security drills, trainings for guards and personnel, and even the temporary closure of schools. In assailing the pursuit of education by instituting an environment and atmosphere of fear and militarisation, the horror of the APS attack reverberates in educational institutions and students across the country.
This is a militarisation that has familiarised students with the grim possibility of never returning home as they leave for school each day; a militarisation out of which schools, colleges and universities have emerged morphed into high-security fortresses. And this is a militarisation that has forced revered purveyors of education like Tahira Kazi and the 33-year old chemistry professor Syed Hamid Hussein to build a passage for the future of Pakistan not by illuminating the way for students but by extinguishing the very light which was to shine the path – their own lives. It is an unfortunate reality that the trauma that accompanies an entire generation of children and youth today, upon which hover fear and threat of death and loss in spaces where only learning, education and hope should thrive, will be an enduring casualty of terrorism in Pakistan.
In the wake of the Charsadda attack, there also appeared to be a dispute between educational institutions in major cities and the government on the issue of security provision. While a legitimate demand to a certain extent, the government’s pressure on school administrations to provide and take charge of all security arrangements once again attests to the government’s willingness to pass the buck, surrender and assign surrogates for what is chiefly the state’s key responsibility – protecting the lives of its citizens.
In an article based on an analysis of school attacks in Pakistan, Rana Muhammad Usman draws focus towards alarming trends and figures, including the fact that in four decades South Asia has witnessed 1,436 attacks on education, out of which 60 percent occurred in Pakistan. Only nine days after the attack on the Bacha Khan University, four police personnel were shot dead on the Munir Mengal Road in Quetta by the TTP. There is little doubt that violent incidents have gone down in frequency since last year but the continued occurrence, even if sporadic, of such attacks and assaults calls attention to unfinished business for both the terrorists and the state.
Writing for the New York Times, Mohammed Hanif nails the matter at hand: “Security experts, a group likely to find a silver lining in hell, say that the Taliban are targeting schools because these are soft targets – and that this is proof the Taliban have been weakened and can no longer attack cantonments or airports. Apparently, we are supposed to take solace in the slaughter of our children because our cantonments and airports are safe.”
However, beyond the issue of schools and security, the Bacha Khan University attack has brought to fore a number of disconcerting realities that remain unchanged since December 16 despite grand proclamations of will and a resolve to obliterate them.
The grand National Action Plan, which was devised as a comprehensive programme for tackling extremism and terrorism, appears to be in tatters today. Banned organisations and ‘assets’ still operate freely, and while the interior minister prevaricated and bemoaned a fictional lack of evidence needed to act against him, Lal Masjid’s Maulana Abdul Aziz mocked the writ of the state by informing the nation of his ‘negotiations’ with agencies regarding his case. Even in this announcement, he continued to spew hatred, accusing an armed forces official of a different sect of ‘conspiring’ against him.
There has been recent news of the Sindh government’s consideration of regulating Friday sermons. While the regulation of sermons is certainly a significant step in examining the influence sermons wield and exercise, there still persists a pressing need to stem the seeds that require the regulation of sermons in the first place: ideologies of extremism, hate, strife and violence.
It is ideology that beckons back to the necessity of madressah reform, a contentious and difficult issue in a country where any attempt at reform and regulation of religious institutions or religion-inspired laws is seen or perhaps cleverly construed and concocted as an attack on religion itself.
Madressah reform is a daunting task but the consequences of not dismantling the ideological and territorial sanctuaries that maintain an infrastructure of extremism are even more disquieting. For this every organ of the state has to be united and mobilised in orientation, policy and action. Until this is done, all gains against terrorism will be tenuous at best, as the targeting of the Bacha Khan University has shown.
Most importantly, the Charsadda attack has accentuated the urgency of a thorough inquiry and investigation into the Peshawar attack, which the parents of the APS students have been tirelessly demanding despite numerous attempts to thwart and silence them. Why is it that these demands for an investigation are being spurned? Who does an inquiry threaten? And why does it threaten them? Although it will provide no closure to the insurmountable grief of the bereaved, an investigation will provide some semblance of accountability, some answers, and a degree of insight which may then be used to prevent further lapses and failures that endanger countless lives.
It is, therefore, crucial that the narratives of success in the drive against extremism and terrorism, being continuously churned out and fed to the public by the government and the military, are consistently questioned because no longer can the inaction, inertia and apathy endemic to state and government, but inimical to Pakistan, be afforded.
The writer is a freelance contributor. Website: hafsakhawaja.wordpress.com