by Zia Sarhadi (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 43, No. 12, Rabi' al-Thani, 1436)
Parents of slain school children in Peshawar are upset at the incompetence of the security agencies as well as the fact that the Pakistani establishment is hiding the true casualty figures believed to be more than 500, not 149.
There is visible anger among parents of students at the Army Public School in Peshawar slain on December 16, 2014. As details of how the various security agencies responded when the attack occurred has caused deep anguish, and anger.
It starts with reports about the number of casualties at the school. Contrary to reports in the media (obviously released by the authorities), the number of students and teachers killed at the school was not 140 or even 148; it was more than 500. This shocking figure has emerged from sources within the Lady Reading Hospital in Peshawar. Doctors there have confirmed that from that hospital alone, 378 bodies in boxed coffins were taken out. The dead and injured students were also taken to other hospitals in the city. Based on this information, the death toll of 500 appears much closer to the truth.
What is really disturbing is the manner in which various security agencies fought turf wars even as children and teachers were being gunned down in cold blood. The attack was launched at around 10 am. Within 15 to 20 minutes, Peshawar police had reached the school but since it is located in the cantonment area that the army considers its exclusive jurisdiction, they refused to allow the police personnel to enter the school.
There was a heated argument between the Superintendent of Police (SP) and an army colonel, according to local sources. The SP wanted to send his men into the school to tackle the terrorists on a rampage. The colonel would not let them. Despite pleading with the colonel that they should be allowed as they heard the children screaming, the colonel would not budge. He insisted, he had no orders to allow anyone inside the school. He took the position that the terrorists had laid mines and it would be suicidal for police personnel to go inside under such circumstances. Even when the police said they were willing to risk their lives, the colonel would not listen. He told them commandos from the Special Services Group (SSG) were being dispatched from Turbela. They are trained to deal with such situations.
The colonel and his men then proceeded to disarm the police personnel that had assembled there. The commandos arrived around 3 pm, a full five hours after the horrific attack on the school had begun.
Other information has also come to light from witnesses and parents. The terrorists had come from the rear of the school premises after crossing an area that is under army control (an army unit is stationed there). There were 11, not seven, terrorists as reported that were involved in the attack. They came in a van and after disembarking from it, they set the vehicle on fire attracting people’s attention toward it. This enabled the terrorists to jump over the school wall. Seven of the 11 terrorists entered the school premises while the other four made their get away from the outside. Perhaps, their job was to get the seven inside the school premises and then leave.
An elderly guard at the rear of the school was shot and killed on the spot as the terrorists made their way to the main building. People have also asked how the terrorists could carry so much ammunition with them to murder more than 500 people in the school over a period of five hours? It has now emerged that an Afghan who had contract for the school canteen was an accomplice in this diabolical plot. Over the course of several weeks, he smuggled ammunition as part of his canteen deliveries and stored it inside the building to be used on that fateful day. The terrorists did not have to carry all the ammunition with them; it was already in the school waiting for them.
All seven terrorists had strapped explosive vests around their midsections. They were on a killing and suicide mission. Apart from one terrorist killed by an army sniper, the other six terrorists died by exploding their vests. Photographs of “dead terrorists” published in Pakistani newspapers are not those of the terrorists that attacked the school, according to several sources in Peshawar. Those pictures are believed to be of terrorists killed in encounters elsewhere. The school attackers were all blown to pieces while the photographs published in newspaper showed dead but virtually intact bodies. There have never been any instances of recovering intact bodies of suicide bombers; only their severed limbs — such as head, torso, or arms, etc. — are recovered. Why would it be any different in the case of the Peshawar attackers?
In reaction to the school attack in Peshawar, schools throughout the country were shut down for a month. Before they opened, the government sent directives to all of them to station armed guards outside the main gate. It also demanded that all schools should install security cameras. Barriers have also been instituted to prevent any vehicles ramming into school premises. While such precautions may be useful, they miss the essential point. Suicide bombers are not constrained by such barriers. After all, armed guards are stationed outside banks throughout the country; has that prevented armed robberies at banks? What about the military headquarters in Rawalpindi; what could be more secure than that, yet terrorists have struck there as well.
And now comes a new directive: teachers in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province (KP) will be allowed to carry guns into classrooms. “Carrying firearms for every teacher is not obligatory, but all those who want to carry firearms to schools willingly will be provided with permits,” the provincial Education Minister for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Atif Khan, announced on January 27. Welcome to the Wild West!
According to reports, teachers have already started receiving firearm training. Other reports say that guns would be stored in the principal’s office and used in case of an emergency. These measures have become necessary both in the aftermath of the horrific attack of December 16 and also, as the Provincial Information Minister Mushtaq Ghani said, there are not enough police to guard government-run education institutions in the province.
The number of police in the province is not enough to guard 35,000 schools, colleges and universities — that’s why we have allowed teachers to carry firearms,” Ghani added. People have asked why such large numbers of police are deployed to guard ministers and other so-called VIPs when their services could be better utilized in providing protection to school children? While there is no guarantee that the police would be able to fulfill this responsibility properly, the sense of vulnerability currently felt by people would be reduced somewhat.
The real tragedy of Pakistan is that its rulers are totally incompetent and greedy; they do not care about what happens to the people.
In the KP province, the provincial government has discarded the elaborate protocol where the chief minister or ministers go in a fleet of cars blocking traffic for other travelers. In the rest of the country, VIP culture is so deeply entrenched that anything less than a full protocol given to the little men that strut about town is considered an insult. While these petty men, and some women, certainly need protection from the wrath of the masses because of their thieving ways and gross incompetence, they should not be allowed to usurp limited resources for themselves. Unless they are brought down to earth, and quickly, the situation will go from bad to worse.
In response to the Peshawar attack, moratorium on death penalty, in place since 2008 has also been lifted. So far about 20 people have been hanged. It is revealing that most of those executed are people accused of involvement in attacks on army personnel including the former military dictator, General Pervez Musharraf. He is very much alive and enjoys life, even if somewhat constrained because of a raft of cases pending against him. So why have people been hanged for an attempt on his life? This is clearly a knee-jerk reaction to a much more deep-rooted problem.
There are other anomalies as well. Most of the terrorists that belong to such outfits as Lashkar-e Jhangvi and Lashkar-e Sahaba, etc. enjoy the patronage and protection of political honchos of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz group (PML-N). Unless such protection is lifted and the real perpetrators of terrorist acts are brought to justice, there will neither be peace nor security in Pakistan.
The real tragedy of Pakistan is that its rulers are totally incompetent and greedy; they do not care about what happens to the people. Their only mission in life seems to be put their grubby hands on whatever they can get because there may not be a tomorrow. In fact, it is fair to say that state institutions have virtually collapsed — consider the current gasoline shortage — leading to the total breakdown of law and order. Under such circumstances, expecting any positive steps from them is a waste of time.
The only solution to this problem is an Islamic revolution, but the billion dollar question is: who will bring it about?