Wednesday July 06, 2022

Poor priorities

February 03, 2016

Successive governments in this country have either failed to gauge the problems faced by the people or their approach has been causal towards the welfare of the masses. This has in turn created huge problems not only for the governments but also for the country, which has failed to follow in a direction that will take it to progress and development.

The role of the PML-N government in this regard has been at best appalling. Instead of improving on its past experiences, it continues to pursue projects that smack of incompetence and lack direction. Pakistan is at present facing an acute security issue where the army is perhaps the only institution that has paid some attention to the redressal of this menace.

The political government, in the meanwhile, continues to dither on the issue and has failed to put in place measures that would help improve the present state of affairs. The recent terrorist attacks and a subsequent warning by the intelligence agencies that terrorists are planning to attack more educational institutions caught the government on the wrong foot. Instead of bringing forth any contingency plan prepared by it, the government – as if acting on reflex – decided to close down all educational schools and colleges in the country for more than a week. This seemed to have been done as though it would help deter terrorists from their nefarious designs.

In the past too sectarian or terrorist attacks took the civil governments of the day by surprise and they tried to tackle the situation by resorting tog ad-hoc measures like closure of various institutions or shutting down the mobile phone system throughout the country. This in itself paralysed all modes of communication and to a certain extent played into the hands of the terrorists.

And now once again the government, instead of preparing a long-term or even short-term strategy to counter these threats, has opted for the ad-hoc measure of shutting these educational institutions and think that the threat will go away with such action. The priority of the government seems to be in mega projects. It is also a well-known fact that wherever in the world infrastructure projects are taken up by any government, there is always good kick-backs and commissions for those in power.

By one estimate there are nearly 6,000 schools in the public sector in Punjab alone that have none or very poor security arrangements for their students and are sitting ducks. On the other hand, hundreds of billions of rupees are being spent on transportation projects like the metro bus and the Orange Line, which will cater to less than two percent of the population of Punjab. This while the security of 6,000+ schools and colleges remains unattended.

Officials at the home department as well as the education department were hesitant to share the details for any preparation that they had made to protect children against acts of terrorism. However a senior bureaucrat in the education department confided that security is a far cry as far as his department is concerned. Most of these schools have no drinking water or toilets for children, considered to be basic necessities throughout the world.

The last time there was an attack on an educational institution orders were issued to raise the boundary walls of public sector schools. During this review it was found that more than 2,000 schools were had no boundary wall at all. Now once again there is a proposal that is being actively considered at the highest government level on the construction of boundary walls for schools and to train peons on how to handle guns and act as a first line of defence in case of any emergency. This proposal once again smacks of ad-hocism.

The best course for the government would have been to bring back the more than 10, 000 policemen who are engaged in protecting various shades of politicians, and get them to protect educational institutions. Security must be provided to the political leadership, but only according to the blue book. All others including retired senior officials of the police department and other officials enjoying free security services must be asked to manage their own security as they can easily afford it. The same formula should be put in place in other provinces and more resources must also be pumped in to boost the security system of educational institutions.

This shutting down of our educational system means that we have accepted defeat at least psychologically, which is unacceptable. One also wonders at the behaviour of the prime minister who was on a foreign tour when the Bacha Khan University incident occurred. It was expected that he would cut short his tour and come back to condole with the families of the students killed in cold blood but instead he chose to take a vacation and go to London. This attitude is also not acceptable in any democratic system, and as such the government needs to be severely reprimanded for this decision.

In case the government does not prepare a long-term strategy to counter this ever present threat then – God forbid – such incidents will continue to spill innocent blood in our educational institutions without any let or hindrance, and the government will continue to opt for ad-hoc measures that are by no means a solution to the present situation.

One hopes that the National Action Plan, which has painfully grinded to a virtual stop, receives more attention by the government and is vigorously pursued and all its 20 points are made to work according to the initial requirements envisaged in the plan. The government needs to pump more funds and create a system where schools are properly protected so that terrorists think twice before attacking any other educational institution.

This will only happen if the government is willing to redefine its priorities and let go of its present casual attitude.