Security beefed up on campuses after university attack

Pakistan’s federal and provincial governments have moved to increase security at academic institutions after academics raised concerns of insufficient protection following the 20 January attack on Charsadda’s Bacha Khan University in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province by Pakistan Taliban-linked militants, which left 21 dead and 30 injured.

The 21 deaths included 17 university students, one professor, two caretakers and one gardener.

Federal and provincial governments have since convened high-level meetings of law enforcement agencies to review security arrangements at education institutions across the country. Police protection squads and military training for private guards would be provided at the academic institutions, they announced. Boundary walls will be raised and closed-circuit cameras installed.

Bacha Khan University opened for a few hours about five days after the attack but after a brief meeting of the university administration it was announced there would be no academic activities until the “provision of adequate security”.

Some 200 students out of a total enrolment of 3,000 attended the university and staged a demonstration with banners that read: “You must protect us!”

The vice-chancellor of Bacha Khan University, Fazal Rahim Marwat, told University World News: “Protection of the lives of students and teachers is the most important thing for us.

“The government must act to provide us with adequate security. Our teachers have demanded that special paramilitary forces be deployed across the university’s buildings and police patrolling be increased around our and other universities,” Marwat said.

Weapons for teachers

Since the Bacha Khan University attack, teachers in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have called on the government to provide them with weapons.

“Our teachers have demanded that government should provide licensed weapons to faculty members so that they can react immediately to save themselves and their students in case of any terrorist attack,” Marwat said. “The government has contacted us for training university guards to thwart any terrorist attack but our staff want to carry firearms for their protection.”

The government allowed academic staff to carry personal firearms after a brutal massacre at an Army-run school in Peshawar in 2014, when Taliban terrorists entered the buildings firing indiscriminately. At least 144, including 132 schoolchildren, were killed by the time army troops killed all seven terrorists.

The government then trained university teachers, including female teachers, in weapons handling and allowed them to carry licensed light weapons such as pistols.

However, independent analysts have opposed the distribution of weapons on university campuses.

In some cases the weapons could be used in “personal quarrels” argued Anwar Nasim, President of Pakistan Academy of Sciences. “People of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa belong to different tribes and skirmishes among the different tribes are a routine matter in any tribal society. Institutions must be free from weapons and the responsibility of protecting teachers and students lies on the shoulders of the government,” he said.

Security upgrade

A day after the Bacha Khan University attack, a Pakistan Army spokesman disclosed in a media briefing that the university attackers came from Afghanistan through the Torkham border and they were constantly being instructed from Afghanistan through their mobile phones, having SIM cards of cellular companies operating in Afghanistan.

Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province borders with Afghanistan and both countries have accused each other of being a safe haven for terrorists.

Afghanistan has, however, denied that its land was used in the Bacha Khan University attack in Pakistan.

Elsewhere in the country, police in Rawalpindi city, adjacent to the federal capital Islamabad, have started commando-style training of security guards at schools, colleges and universities, while special training is also being imparted to teachers in Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

The provincial government in Punjab on 28 January completed security assessments of all education institutions. It has categorised them, requiring different protection arrangements depending on the number of students, location of the institution and the preparedness level to respond to any emergency.

The Sindh province government has created a Rapid Response Force to protect colleges and universities against terrorist attacks. The force will comprise specially trained police, backed by Rangers, a paramilitary force.

The management of Karachi University in Sindh province held a security review meeting on 28 January and decided to raise the height of the university’s boundary wall by another 2.7 metres. Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah chaired a special high-level meeting recently that decided to build watch towers on campuses and install security cameras connected to the province’s central command and control system.


While buildings can be made more secure, the majority of education institutions in Pakistan do not have trained forces for protection.

Government-funded universities and colleges lack security arrangements but private schools and institutions of higher education have privately-hired guards who are not trained to cope with any untoward situation.

“Every school and college or university cannot be provided with [their own] dedicated security troops because there are many thousands of educational institutions and we have resource constraints,” Pervez Khattak, chief minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province said during a recent press briefing.

Attendance at academic institutions including universities has remained low since the Bacha Khan University attack. Rumours continue to spread like wild fire that Islamabad’s Quaid-i-Azam University and the International Islamic University could be the next target of the terrorists.

Quaid-i-Azam University does not have a boundary wall. With nearly 8,000 students, and hostels spread over 1,700 acres (roughly seven square kilometres), the campus is accessible from all sides for pedestrians. The few barricades control only the movement of vehicles.

Vice-chancellor of Quaid-i-Azam University Javed Ashraf told University World News: “Just two days back, we wrote a letter to the Capital Development Authority to help us demarcate the land of the university. We are fully aware that the absence of a boundary wall is a security lapse, but we cannot proceed with the construction of a boundary wall unless our land is freed from encroachers and we know our territorial limits.”


Bahauddin Zakariya University in the city of Multan, Punjab, and 13 other colleges and several schools have been closed on instruction from district authorities. The Bahauddin Zakariya University administration has also instructed boarding students to vacate hostels immediately.

Professor Tahir Amin, vice-chancellor of Bahauddin Zakariya University, told University World News: “We have closed the university and hostels for a few days to revisit our security arrangements because the lives of students and teachers are of the utmost importance. In collaboration with district police, we are considering building 25 bunkers around the university premises.”

Tahir Amin said: “Last year in February we received a threat letter from unknown terrorists and since then we have been very cautious. We must secure the university before normal academic activities are resumed.”

In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province where the majority of attacks on education institutions have occurred, the authorities announced at first that academic institutions would be kept open. But the Punjab province government issued a notification to close schools was issued at midnight on Sunday 24 January, ostensibly because of a “cold wave”. However, a spokesman of the Prime Minister’s House Mussadiq Malik told the media later that security threats, not cold weather, were behind the decision.

The government recently sealed off several education institutions for security reasons. But others have considered school and university closures to be an overreaction.

Punjab province announced a week-long closure of schools. Interior Minister Choudhary Nisar Ali Khan criticised the Punjab government’s decision and announced that schools in the federal capital – closed on directives by the capital administration ministry – would be opened.

Nisar said on 28 January that “closing schools is not an appropriate answer to the terrorists. Closure of academic institutions will be a psychological defeat. We will ask the Punjab [provincial] government to open schools as this is serving the purpose of spreading panic”.

The casualty figures in this story were updated on 29 January.