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Terrorist attack changes varsities’ outlook across KP

Terrorist attack changes varsities’ outlook across KP

PESHAWAR: For over 60 years, the gates of University of Peshawar (UoP) have been welcoming students from all corners of the province.

The lush green lawns on either side of Road No 2 were always throbbing with lively young men and women, strolling around with their peers or making their way to class.

Now, the entrance is blocked by barricades, jealously guarded by armed police personnel.

The transformation is surreal. The entryway triggers an insipid rush of fear – like one is walking into a garrison rather than into a house of learning. This is the first inkling of the change that the varsity has witnessed over the last few days.

Just as the terrorist attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar changed the outlook of schools across the country, the brutal Jan 20 attack on Bacha Khan University (BKU) in Charsadda has transformed universities across the province.

LAW IN DANGER: Located further up on Road No 2, the UoP’s Law College seems only a shadow of its former glory days. Students leave early to prepare for exams. Teachers too disappear as soon as classes are over.

The eerie environment at the college building has persevered for around a week now. The small lawn at the front is no longer abuzz with students arguing over politics and law. In their stead, gun-wielding security personnel man the gate. More are visible on the rooftop.

But all is not lost. Amid all the gloom, one man emerges from the shadows to welcome those wishing to visit the college halls. He is the principal, Fayyazur Rehman.

“I come to the gate personally to usher in guests so no unwanted person gets in,” he says.

The students have left for exam preparation, he explains in an apparent reference to the empty corridors, barely hiding his irritation at the teachers for leaving too.

This law college, housed in one of the smaller buildings on the campus, has produced some of the top jurists, lawyers and bureaucrats in the country. It is this very trait that seems to have become its undoing – making it one of the most sensitive educational institutions in the aftermath of the BKU attack.

Mr Rehman is visibly pained by the threat. The college is now under strict security vigilance. The measures, though still not up to par, he says, were beefed up after terrorists warned they would hit the institutions that produce judges rather than kill them inside courtrooms.

Plans to invest in the college by setting up a library and other educational facilities have now been brushed aside in favour of CCTV cameras, lights, barbed-wire and other security apparatus, he says dejectedly.

Other faculties on the campus tell the same story. The administration of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s oldest and biggest varsity struggles to cope with the security details of the huge campus that houses eight other faculties. Instead of discussing academics, officials now scratch their heads over security plans and deployment of guards. The varsity has an enrolment of over 60,000 students.

The UoP believes it is time the federal government deployed Frontier Constabulary (FC) personnel at the campus. Varsity officials have made a formal request to Governor Sardar Mehtab Ahmad Khan, the chancellor of public universities in the province.

The other 18 public sector universities are coming up with similar requests as they are comparatively new and less equipped to deal with such a security emergency.

After TTP commander Umar Mansoor released a video, claiming responsibility for the BKU attack and warning of more attacks on universities, the UoP has tightened security on campus with the available number of police personnel in addition to its own guards.

According to sources, there are only 295 police personnel deployed at the campus. The university’s own security guards number between 45 and 55 in each shift.

OFFICIAL APATHY: Officials said that after the APS attack, the federal government had assessed the security needs and assured of providing Rs 2.5 billion to universities across the province. This included Rs1bn for the UoP alone.

“Not a single penny was provided,” said a UoP official.

He claimed that neither the federal nor the provincial government had made any attempt to show ownership of these public sector universities.

Amid all the fret and fever over security arrangements, no one seems to notice how these very arrangements have deprived the academic institutions of their fervour.

No longer do their halls ring with students’ chatter, nor do the lawns picture young men and women whiling away their time. The students rush home as soon as they can — scared that too much knowledge may kill them perhaps.

Published in Dawn, January 28th, 2016