Thursday, February 18, 2016
Pakistan has allowed teachers to carry guns to protect themselves from Islamic militants. But critics say the move will promote violence in a country which is already volatile due to a protracted Islamist insurgency.
The authorities of Pakistan's Bacha Khan University, which was attacked by Islamic militants on June 20, were initially reluctant to reopen the campus for security concerns.
The university, located in the country's northwest, had lost more than 20 of its students and teachers in the assault, and the Taliban insurgents had threatened to target it again. According to the university administration, the government hadn't offered much help to secure the campus, and that there hasn't been a major breakthrough in capturing the attackers.
The concerns of the university officials are not baseless; Taliban militants have vowed to attack schools and colleges throughout the restive northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province bordering Afghanistan.
A year before the attack on the Bacha Khan University, the Islamists had stormed an army-run schoolin the provincial capital Peshawar and killed over 140 students. The government has arrested several people linked to the assault, but the parents and teachers are not satisfied with the efforts. They demand a judicial inquiry into the attacks and the failure of security forces in protecting the pupils.
The province has been in high alert ever since the Peshawar massacre, more so around educational institutions. So when the Bacha Khan University reopened on Monday, February 15, management decided to take care security into its own hands. Just like in the aftermath of the Peshawar attacks, the university has now allowed its teachers to carry guns to protect both themselves and their students from any possible militant onslaught. Some pupils have even been seen holding weapons in the school across the province.
"After taking the necessary security measures to protect students and faculty members, we re-opened the university for classes," Fazal Rahim Marwat, vice-chancellor of the Bacha Khan University, told media on February 15.
The government, too, is encouraging schools to deal with their security issues, which analysts say equates to an admission of failure. While Islamabad's inaction has alarmed some educators and parents, many people in the province see this as a justification of the "self-security" drive.
"It is the responsibility of the government to provide security to educational institutions. But the authorities' response to the threat has been very disappointing," Kamran Khan, a student in Peshawar, told DW. "We became worried when the government asked private schools to look after their own security. Now we don't have a choice: we have to deal with the threat ourselves," he added.
The victims' families say the perpetrators of the two massacres are still at large, and that the authorities have only taken half-hearted steps to eradicate terrorism.
Fazal Khan, who heads a committee of the Peshawar victims' families and relatives, says the government still seems to be in two minds about who to hold responsible for the assault, hence the inaction.
Hike in guns sales
In Pakistan's northwest, particularly in the tribal areas, there is an old tradition of bearing firearms. Carrying a gun is considered to be a symbol of bravery and manliness. People also keep weapons for personal security, and to settle scores with their tribal rivals.
But in recent years, the demand for guns and other weapons has increased manifold in the northwestern areas. Arms dealers say that an increasing number of people are buying pistols for their protection.
"Arms sales grew substantially after the attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar, but they rose drastically after the terrorist assault on the Bacha Khan University. There has been a sixty-percent increase in weapons sales," Shahzad Ahmad Khan, a guns dealer in Peshawar, told DW.
"Most of the buyers are educated people, including students. I understand why these people want to arm themselves. They cannot fight the terrorists with these small guns, but they still have a chance to protect themselves if they have a weapon," Khan added.
Experts blame the government for this situation. "Pakistan is already an extremely violent and volatile country. It needs de-weaponization on a national scale. Instead of performing its constitutional duties, the government is encouraging people to deal with violence through violence. It only proves one thing: the state has failed," said Islamabad-based analyst Abdul Agha.
Christian couple sentenced to death for sending 'blasphemous' texts to an Islamic cleric in Pakistan say they were tortured into confessing to the crime
'There is no man who can stand to see his wife being tortured by police, so to save my wife, I confessed,' Mr Emmanuel said in an appeal for bail lodged this week. The couple were arrested in July 2013 after their local imam, Maulvi Mohammed Hussain, claimed Mr Emmanuel had used his wife's phone to sent him a text insulting the Prophet Mohammed.
Mr Emmanuel and Ms Kausar were initially sentenced to death for blasphemy, but as with nearly all such convictions, it is most likely they will spend the rest of their lives in jail. Pakistan's blasphemy laws are notoriously harsh, and accusations of blasphemy against Islam is taken very seriously in the country.Being found guilty of desecrating the Koran or blaspheming against the Prophet Mohammed is punishable by death or life imprisonment.
The laws have long been criticised both in Pakistan and internationally as they are often used to settle personal grudges and accusations are made with little to no evidence. They have lodged an appeal at Lahore High Court on the grounds of Mr Emmanuel's deteriorating condition, claiming lack of treatment in jail has left him with bedsores and life-threatening ill health. Pakistan's blasphemy laws are notoriously harsh, and accusations of blasphemy against Islam is taken very seriously in the country.
Being found guilty of desecrating the Koran or blaspheming against the Prophet Mohammed is punishable by death or life imprisonment.The laws have long been criticised both in Pakistan and internationally as they are often used to settle personal grudges and accusations are made with little to no evidence.
Last month, the head of a powerful religious body in the country said he is willing to review Pakistan's harsh blasphemy laws, to decide if they are Islamic. Pakistan's religious and political elites almost universally keep clear of debating blasphemy laws in a country where criticism of Islam is a highly sensitive subject. Even rumours of blasphemy have sparked rampaging mobs and deadly riots.
But Muhammad Khan Sherani, chairman of a body that advises the government on the compatibility of laws with Islam, told Reuters he was willing to reopen the debate and see whether sentences as harsh as the death penalty were fair.
"The government of Pakistan should officially, at the government level, refer the law on committing blasphemy to the Council of Islamic Ideology. There is a lot of difference of opinion among the clergy on this issue," Sherani said in an interview at his office close to Pakistan's parliament. "Then the council can seriously consider things and give its recommendation of whether it needs to stay the same or if it needs to be hardened or if it needs to be softened," Sherani, said.
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