APS attack fears continue to haunt parents

A student holds a placard and candle during a candlelight vigil in Lahore, Pakistan, December 13, 2015 in memory of the victims of last year's Taliban attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar. REUTERS/Mohsin Raza

A year after the attack on Army Public School (APS) Peshawar, parents feel no safer sending their children to school.

Pakistan Today conducted a survey across major cities in Pakistan to see how people felt about the security situation.

“I don’t trust the government or our armed forced… They let it happen the first time, what’s to say that they won’t let it slip though their fingers a second time. Even a year after it happened, I refuse to believe that our intelligence agencies did not have prior knowledge of the APS attack. However, questioning such things can endanger one’s life so I would rather keep my mouth shut. I have a family to look after,” a father of three from Lahore told Pakistan Today requesting that he not be named.

Jasir Jawaid, a writer from Islamabad, said he would have sent his daughter to school had it been open. “Her winter break has started so she is not going right now but I would have sent her if her school was open. I would not have send her if she were studying in an APS,” he said.

Jawaid did not feel that there was going to be a credible enough threat for his daughter’s school to be targeted.

A journalist and mother of three from Karachi, Lubna Naqvi, said that schools are not safer mostly because school authorities are not serious, despite taking extra money for security.

“Security is the government’s job but schools should also take these threats seriously by organising drills, training their students how to react in such situations and make arrangements to evacuate students and staff,” she told Pakistan Today.

“They must also hire security personnel and place them in strategic but safe points around the premises so that they and not the terrorists have the upper hand at all times. Security cameras must be installed around schools or at least at weak points which cannot be manned. But many schools especially government schools are very vulnerable,” she added.

“Pakistan’s future i.e. the students should be made to feel safe. Many children are under stress because of APS and question parents and teachers what they should do if terrorists attack. And majority of students, mainly boys seem to have become aggressive talking about death and killing – not healthy. But in a country where the survivors of APS have largely been ignored, we can only hope,” she maintained.

Bilal Rashid, a father to a boy, and marketeer, from Lahore said that while his son was not going to school because of the official holiday, he did not think he was safe.

“As far as security at schools is concerned I think we have done a great injustice to our kids. I remember schools being a place for learning and security when we were kids. No child should be scared to go to school and no parent should have to worry about sending a child to school,” he lamented.

“We have failed our children by not standing up against the terrorists. The Government and security agencies need to make schools safe again and that can only be done when you kill every single one of these terrorists not in FATA/KPK but also in Southern Punjab,” he added.

Parents are not the only people who are concerned about the wellbeing of school going children. Mariam Khan, a civil servant from Karachi, says she would still send her nieces and nephews to school.

“Not because I don’t fear for them, But because it’s a struggle which parents go thru every day throughout the year in Karachi. And on top of the overall terrorist phenomenon… the fact that we’re Karachiites has taught us one thing: resilience,” she asserted.

“We’ve sent out kids to school when it rained bullets in the city, and we should now. Because if we don’t then what? Are we to truly become hostages of fear and sit in the four walls of our houses or migrate abroad altogether?” she asked.

Khan believed that if schools were open all children – young and old – should have been sent to them.

“Frankly no state can truly ever claim that they have everything completely covered. If countries like Belgium can shut down for three days, where does Pakistan stand?” she said in defense of the decision to keep schools closed.

Waseem Arain, an educator from Karachi, says the affects of the APS attack are yet to go away. “I’m a parent and an educator and I’m very concerned about the safety of my kids,” he said.

“I’m also concerned about the brain drain this has caused. A talented professor, who was a colleague, left with his children a few months after APS. He’s taken up the job of a TA which is a huge step down, but it was a price he was willing to pay. More are leaving or have already left,” he lamented.

“The security situation has not improved, it’s just cosmetic changed. I would not stay here if I had the option. A state which cannot protect its kids is not worth living. We’ve done little to affect the mindset, and this is where my concern lies,” he added wistfully.

“I don’t think enough has been done to secure the kids. Only today I heard that eight more were hanged and I was scared of the repercussions. I was so relieved when they closed schools down completely,” Khurram Chaudhry, an educator from Lahore told Pakistan Today.

“I feel helpless and do not feel safe. I do not think my kids are safe. I think that schools will always be soft targets. The government has implemented a lot of programs and security protocols, but this strategy is flawed. you cannot depend on educational institutions for handling this kind of threat. They are in the business of education and not security,” he asserted.

Some parents questioned the very idea of shutting schools down to mark the one year anniversary of the tragedy.

“I don’t want to say anything except it’s pretty damn clear why schools are being closed for the anniversary. If they wanted to make a point and show solidarity they would have asked people to make sure that their kids attend school – how do you show solidarity by telling people to stay at home exactly? It’s a security risk and another school could be blown up, that’s all it is,” Laiba Rehman, a doctor and mother of three from Islamabad, told Pakistan Today.