The various tiers of government closed the schools, colleges, universities and hostels as a consequence of the suicide bombings in a campus in Islamabad and threats from clandestine packs of terrorists. Obviously precautionary in nature, the move has met with criticism from several quarters.
Some parents consider it as an indication of inefficiency on the part of the law enforcing agencies that they were not able to avert the rising tide of terror attacks. Some think that the regime has probably over reacted to possibilities that may have been very feeble in existence. There are also some who praise the government for taking a timely decision to safeguard the life and limb of young people across the country.
Needless to say the country has plunged into a war-like syndrome. It requires a befitting response from all institutions, parents, guardians and the students, too. If we have to rise above the ashes, a resolute stand and coherent collective action is needed from all concerned.
The educational institutions shall have to include security as a management pre-requisite without fail. This will include the review of threat possibilities, available resources for ensuring preparedness and practical actions for maintaining the protection of all concerned. A scientific way to combat this challenge is to acquire the input of experts on this subject. This may be possible for the large integrated chains of schools, colleges and universities.
Government-run institutions may also raise demands from the government to facilitate this vital need. Moribund agencies such as civil defence must be revived to fulfill this most essential task. However, there are many steps that can be taken instantly. Every institution must constitute a small committee of senior teachers and administrative staff for reviewing the security situation. They may document the common matters such as traffic circulation, parking and storage of bulk items within the premises. The hidden spaces with possibility of hiding saboteurs and terror objects must be regularly checked.
Every institution has watchmen and peons. They are the first line of security. Appropriate training must be provided to them from relevant government institutions. They may also be trained to keep a focused watch on suspicious elements. A study on the pattern of terror attacks can also help in shoring up internal and external arrangements. The senior staff and heads of institutions must make security as a priority of their responsibilities. Information gathering, access and interface with area police are some mentions. The Punjab Police has outlined several basics which can become the starting point.
The next vital stakeholders are the parents and guardians. They can bring a sizeable difference in lifting up security arrangements. In schools where parent-teacher associations exist, the bodies can join hands with the management to review and respond to challenges. Simple moves can make worthwhile improvements. School boundary walls can be kept clear of passersby. Where school vans are employed for transporting pupils, vehicle operators must be trained for managing security of their vans and buses. They should not be left open or unattended. Nor should the drivers allow any unknown person to take a lift under any circumstances.
Care must be taken to obtain CNICs and other information about operators and cleaners. School and college management with parent bodies must make this extra effort to organise on this count for mutual safety and security. The stock taking of hawkers and street vendors must be done in the same manner.
A simple information collection and monitoring, without infringing on the basic rights and livelihoods, can bolster the security of all concerned to a considerable extent. The parents may also horizontally interact and liaise with each other. Watching over rumors and enhancing communication are some of the key attributes of mutual interaction. The contacts and networks of parents can be greatly useful for the benefit of institutions. All that is required is to walk an extra mile to live up to collective responsibilities.
Students are the mainstay of any educational system. They have varied tasks ahead of them depending upon their age, profile and type of institution. Small children need to be supervised. The onus lies upon teachers, school managements and parents. The scale of preparedness for emergencies can be regularly examined by fire drills, mock emergency evacuations and the ability to respond to such calls. The older students can become participants in this trying episode. Identifying any kind of suspicious folks or activities, remaining vigilant about props and belongings in the school/college and following instructions of managements is the minimum expected from them.
This responsibility stretches further at the university level. The campuses are porous entities in many instances. Students have the greatest outreach in terms of movement and observation. They can link up with respective student affair offices and security wardens to check incursion points and desolated areas. They can also prevent strangers and trespassers from mingling among them in and around canteens, stationery shops or other congregation points. Campus mosques are also a space which needs to be monitored. Only staff on university payrolls must be allowed to manage them. All kinds of visitors without any reason to attend such spaces must be strictly prohibited.
The same convention must apply to other public corners and interface nooks. It will be appropriate if the government interact with student wings of political parties for exchanging views and taking them on board in the security management exercises. Utmost care is needed to monitor hostels which have historically been the grounds for harboring anti-social elements. University managements and law-abiding students, who always constitute the majority, have experienced enormous pressure in this regard. The universities must re-visit the watch and ward guidelines and codes of conduct for students. One of the ways of doing this is to encourage ordinary students to inform the managements with confidence. Even a way of anonymous complaint recording and redressal must be worked out.
The terrorists aim to defeat the people of Pakistan including its youth. These nefarious designs can be defeated by devising a means of self protection, mutual safety and surveillance. We must carry on with our assigned tasks with caution but without fear. It shall inflict the severest of blows on the planners of terror.
The writer is professor and chairman, Department of Architecture and Planning, NED University, Karachi.