THE good thing is that terrorists have shaken us out of our reverie. The bad thing is that, temporarily awakened, we flail bewilderedly in all directions, but conveniently miss the elephant in the room.
Consequently, when the hand-wringing ends, everyone has ‘strongly condemned the cowardly act’, fingers have been pointed — often in wrong directions — and prayers have been said for the dearly departed — martyred — we are back to our national somnolence.
The worst thing is that this nightmare is not going away soon; the ‘bad guys’ have declared war on us, clearly, unambiguously and resolutely, and we continue to grope for words to couch our confused response in. They are at ‘war’ with us, no doubt. And us? At war? No. At peace then? No. Somewhere in between? The government must have a good reason to be ambivalent, but we, the people who are being killed and blamed for not taking care of our loved ones, are confused. We are a sturdy and resilient lot, and take life’s calamities bravely, but a little clarity will certainly boost our morale.
It is imperative that we take steps to better secure our children in educational institutions.
In any enterprise worth pursuing, animals and human beings go for the low-hanging fruit first. So it is with the terrorists’ propensity to attack educational institutions first before they go for the ‘hard’ targets. They started with outlying schools, upping the ante by going for urban schools in guarded terrain and now have ‘graduated’ to hitting universities.
The law-enforcement agencies have done a wonderful job, we applaud that. But it is imperative that we change the political narrative and take steps that enable us to better secure our children studying in schools, colleges and universities. We know it is a gigantic task; we know all this is a result of our policies at home, and the geopolitical maelstrom we allowed ourselves to be sucked into and so on. Those are ‘big’ issues that will be debated forever; our concern is immediate, here and now, and we must strive to make the security paradigm in educational institutions more robust. As a former vice-chancellor of a public-sector university, I can speak for many of my colleagues heading such institutions in KP.
Educational institutions are managed mostly by academics who have a rudimentary knowledge of security protocols, and perhaps have no interest in such subjects that are alien to their preferred vocation. Agreed this was not part of their job description but is now required of them, and they must do their utmost to grapple with the difficult ground reality. But the centre of equilibrium of responsibility in this complex situation must be positioned carefully, with an open mind and such that optimal results are obtained.
And this must be done from a position above the dictates of public safety enshrined in the Constitution of Pakistan or the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Security Ordinance 2014. Right now using laws as cover for abdicating responsibilities is fraught with serious consequences. The challenge needs collective effort and collective responsibility.
Here is the situation: we need to strengthen security in our academic institutions. This needs resources. For the public sector these resources mostly come from the government and partly from students. We can increase fees, but that is not desirable. The government — federal and provincial — can allocate funds to institutions to beef up security. This can be a stopgap solution, but is short of being optimal because academics are not trained in this area and money may be expended without proper outcomes.
We believe the best course would be to provide resources to people who are in the security business and assign them this responsibility, who can then use the academic institution’s strength to compliment and bolster their performance.
For public-sector academic institutions, the primary funding source is the government. This is also true for those that provide security services like the police, Rangers, Frontier Corps, Frontier Constabulary and others. The difference is that security is the bread and butter of these agencies, whereas it is a relatively alien concept to academia. It needs no genius to think that the best platform to bolster security is to strengthen and reinforce those administratively and institutionally assigned this responsibility. And the money?
We believe funds must be shaved off development projects and invested in security-enhancement projects in educational institutions, designed with the help of experts in the field. We can readily do with slower-paced general development in the prevailing circumstances, but cannot countenance another tragedy where life is snuffed out from the young, innocent, and bright custodians of our future.
In a nutshell, it is the responsibility of the state to provide security to its people, and as a corollary, they foot the bulk of the bill. The people must be asked to help and reinforce the government’s efforts in combating terrorism, but, like I said, the centre of gravity of responsibility must fall closer to the government than the governed.
It is imperative that we take the bull by the horns and put in place all the right protocols that the times require. The nation is nervous and insecure; parents are on a razor’s edge when their loved ones are in school. Children are being taught fear by mock drills in which ‘bad guys’ are being shot at and killed.
Such a pantomime is counterproductive. It is time we get real. It is time we do whatever we possibly can so that we have no regrets later. We all understand that there cannot be perfectly foolproof security, but dealing with this menace in a half-baked, lukewarm way will not absolve us in the critical eye of posterity for failure and dereliction. Simply pointing in all directions will not wash off the stains from our fingers.
The writer is a former vice-chancellor of the University of Engineering & Technology.
Published in Dawn, February 8th, 2016