According to Pakistani media reports, on January 20 a group of armed militants attacked Bacha Khan University in Charsadda—a region close to Peshawar city in northwest Pakistan. The attack resulted in a large number of casualties—a majority of whom were students in the male student dormitory—,including 21 dead and about 30 injured. In the end, the confrontation between the Pakistani security forces and militants ended with the death of all four militants.
Reports said that the Taliban militants entered the campus by scaling the University wall under cover of thick morning fog. They opened fire upon entering, in classrooms and in a student dormitory, among other buildings. Furthermore, they also shot and killed a University professor. Fazal Raheem Marwat, Vice President of Bacha Khan University, said that more than 3000 students were studying at the school, plus another 600 visitors who were on campus to attend a recital on that day.
The militants were able to enter the campus despite the University’s strict on campus security arrangements . A professor named Hamid Hussain fought bravely against the militants in an attempt to protect his students. Zahul Ahmed, one of the students, narrated, “The moment the first shots rang, the teacher picked up a gun and warned me to take refuge. Then I saw two militants open fire on him following which I ran run out of the back wall to escape”. It was later confirmed the professor was attacked and killed.
Immediately after the attack took place, security personnel, rescue teams and Pakistani Special Forces arrived on the scene. The Pakistan military then sealed off the campus and began an operation to track down militants who might still be hiding on campus. The local Department of Education has announced that all schools will be temporarily closed for 10 days.
Pakistan’s President Hussein and Prime Minister Sharif condemned the attack. India’s Prime Minister Modi also issued a statement condemning the attack and extended condolences to the families of victims.
The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, adding a warning that they will continue to attack Pakistan military academies and universities. However, later that day, Mohammad Khurasani, the main spokesman of the Pakistani Taliban, denied the group carried out the attack. Instead he condemned the attack, stating “whoever carried out the attack under the name of Pakistani Taliban will be brought to justice”.
On December 16, 2014, a group of militants dressed as soldiers attacked an Army children’s school in Peshawar, and killed 150 people—most of whom were students. In the wake of another terrorist attack on a campus, Pakistani analysts pointedly said that the Bacha Khan university attack once again laid bare the weaknesses of Pakistan’s security capabilities. The cruel attack by the terrorists magnifies the continuing security threat that Pakistan is facing—one that is becoming increasingly complex and continues to spread. In order to combat this threat, Pakistan must re-assess the capabilities of the militants and develop adequate counter-measures.
Why do militants repeatedly choose schools as targets? A Pakistani counter-terrorism expert, who wanted his name withheld from publication, outlined an explanation in an interview to this reporter. He explained that the combination of a high concentration of students and low security precautions makes schools an easier target than political and military institutions. Secondly, attacks on students attract the most attention, fulfilling the terrorist’s objective creating an atmosphere of terror and fear in society. Looking ahead, the security situation in Pakistan is not brightc. Security measures in high-density places such as schools need to be further strengthened. Simultaneously, so should be the case in respect of the ability to prevent militant attacks. Pakistan intelligence must pay better attention to gathering information about likely terrorist attacks, and complete forewarning measures and preparatory measures in advance.