The Charsadda attack

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Violence at the non-violent icon’s anniversary

 

 

The brazen attack on Charsadda’s Bacha Khan University on January 02, 2016, is a stark reminder that despite military operation Zarb-e-Azb, on since June 2014, and the National Action Plan (NAP) against terrorism adopted in the wake of the heinous Army Public School (APS) attack of December 16, 2014, the terrorists may be down but they are not out.

It is being argued that the back of the miscreants is broken and being on the run, they select soft targets like educational institutions out of sheer desperation. The latest attack is anything but random or desperate. It was carefully selected and meticulously executed and its symbolism must not be lost in the din of condemnations and chest thumping by law enforcing agencies (LEAs) that the university was cleared within four hours and all four assailants lay dead while the death toll was limited to only twenty.

Charsadda University has been named after Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, popularly known as “Bacha Khan” (king of chiefs), a pacifist who led nonviolent campaigns against British colonial rule. The perpetrators of the crime had chosen his death anniversary, which was being observed by the university and a poetry recital was underway when the heinous assault took place. Intelligence warnings had been issued on 3 January that a group of armed terrorists had crossed into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province and is likely to target educational institutions. By attacking centres for learning, the miscreants target the future leaders who are the hope for creating a secure, stable, and prosperous Pakistan.

Since the 2012 attack on Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai, who had raised her voice for girls’ education, world attention has been focused on terror attacks on schools in Pakistan. According to the University of Maryland’s Global Terrorism Database, since the 1970s, more people have died in attacks on schools in Pakistan than in any other country. The interest should not be merely for academic reasons but serious cognizance of the gaps in the security situation should be taken and plugged.

Some lessons were learnt from the APS attack and educational institutions were tasked to raise their boundary walls, install barbed wire or concertina fences on top, hire armed guards and erect electronic metal detecting gates to enhance vigilance. Teachers in KP province were allowed to keep arms on their person. Apparently watchfulness slackened. The assailants of Bacha Khan University, home to more than three thousand students, took advantage of the dense morning fog that had blanketed the campus—impairing visibility—scaled a wall at the rear entrance to the campus around 9am after cutting a coil of barbed wire, and rushed toward a nearby dormitory for male students, lobbing hand grenades into the rooms.

It is pathetic that Umar Mansoor Narray, a local Pakistani Taliban commander, contacted the media that four attackers had been sent to the university in retaliation for a Pakistani military offensive that has targeted the group since mid-2014. Ironically the same spokesperson had claimed to have masterminded the APS attack. Mullah Fazlullah, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) leader holed up in Afghanistan, on the other hand has denied that his organisation was behind the incident. TTP is a motley group of miscreants, terror mongers and even hardened criminals absconding from justice with their own personal agendas of loot, arson, death and mayhem.

There were isolated acts of valour, which saved a number of precious lives. A chemistry teacher of the Bacha Khan University, Syed Hamid Husain, tried to protect his students by pulling out his personal revolver, opening fire on the rampaging Taliban militants, providing cover and opportunity to his students to escape. The valiant teacher was ultimately gunned down by the attackers while he chose to make the supreme sacrifice of his own life to defend his protégés. A guard at the University stated that he continued firing at the assailants to check their onslaught but ran out of ammunition.

In the aftermath of this tragedy, it is imperative that concrete lessons are drawn. The NAP has not been executed in letter and spirit and even lifting the death moratorium has not had the desired effect. Sources of terror financing remain unplugged, madrassa reforms continue to be ephemeral, border management of the Durand Line is sketchy and rehabilitation of the IDPs and rebuilding of FATA linger as broken promises. Under the circumstances, observing three days of mourning, raising the rhetoric inside and outside the parliament and merely condemning the gory deed till a new one takes place is not enough. Fifteen years of being exposed to death and destruction should awaken the rulers and the people out of their oblivion. If the demon of terrorism is to be defeated, Pakistan and Afghanistan need to work together sincerely. The Afghans believe that a number of Taliban leaders continue to find safe haven in Pakistan while TTP leaders and other enemies of Pakistan operate from Afghanistan. To defeat the common enemy, it is essential to pool resources and work together rather than persist in trust deficit.

A lesson perhaps needs to be learnt from the tolerant, compassionate and inclusive politics of Abdul Ghaffar Khan. He suffered incarceration at the hands of the British when he raised his voice for freedom. House arrests and detentions were his fate even with the advent of Pakistan. He had opposed the division of India but at the request of Jinnah, provided wholehearted allegiance. The foundation of his philosophy was “non-violence”, which the militant extremists are seeking to destroy.

We have let ourselves be embroiled in Afghan politics far too long. Bacha Khan, on the contrary, tried to unite the Pashtuns. When he ultimately met his maker on July 20, 1988, while under house arrest at Peshawar, in pursuant to his will, as expression of solidarity with Afghanistan, he was buried at his house in Jalalabad in Afghanistan. Despite the prevailing war between the occupying Soviet Army and the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan, temporary ceasefire was declared to permit tens of thousands of mourners to attend his funeral, marching through the Khyber Pass from Peshawar to Jalalabad. What better example of amity from the founder of “Khudai Khidmatgar” (Servants of God) than his personal example?

1 COMMENT

  1. Pakistanis have developed a siege mentality. Universities, schools ,public buildings and residencies are surrounded by high walls,body guards and CCTV. The Govt. proudly thumps it's chest and declaares that back of terrorisim is broken. The military agencies issue prompt twitter accounts of culprits coming from across the border but we live in denial. The fact is that the enemy is within us. We provide it the sustenace to keep it going. Unless the population stands up to this scourage it is not going to disappear. We need a holistic approach.The pakistani security forces cannot be every where all the time. Terrorisim is like a medusa'a head. You cut of one, another springs up. We have to go after the body. Where does it lie?. I guess we all know it . It is also protected by a wall of silence.The challenge is there but are we equal to the task.?

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