PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Jan 24, (AFP): Headmaster Naveed Gul walked past the armed guard at the gate into his office. As primary school pupils studied their morning lessons outside, he reached beneath his warm woolly sweater, and pulled out a gun. “This is an M20 pistol,” he said. “It’s made in China and it works perfectly.” A debate over arming teachers has surged in Pakistan once more, days after assistant chemistry professor Syed Hamid Husain opened fire on the Taleban gunmen who stormed the university campus where he worked.
Students told how the 33-year-old father-of-two died shielding them with a handgun during the attack that claimed 21 lives at the Bacha Khan university in northwest Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Teachers there had been given permission to carry firearms after the Pakistani Taleban massacred more than 150 people, the majority of them children, at a school in the provincial capital Peshawar in 2014. At the Government Primary School Akhunabad in the city, Gul slid his own gun — a Chinese knockoff of a Soviet WWII-era pistol — quickly into the desk drawer, saying weapons in school give him confidence.
“You have guns with you. You can fight it out,” he said. The headmaster, his waxed moustaches straight out of the Wild West, already has the scenario played out in his mind. “If one terrorist were to come and I’m sitting here … I will automatically take out my pistol,” he said gesturing. “So if I take cover from here, and fire with a sharp mind.” Psychologists discussing mass shootings in the US recently told AFP that post-traumatic stress can translate into such hyper-vigilance: a state of alert close to paranoia. But Gul is matter-of-fact. Militants have long targeted education in Pakistan, from the shooting of schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai in Swat in 2012 to the Peshawar massacre and Wednesday’s assault. On Friday, the Taleban faction behind the Bacha Khan attack vowed to continue targeting schools and students, calling them “nurseries” for those who challenge Allah’s law. “I want to protect myself and my students,” Gul said.
Provincial spokesman Shaukat Yousafzai said that with 68,000 schools and just 55,000 policemen in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the government cannot provide security, so it gave in to the teachers’ demand they be allowed to carry weapons. “There is no harm in using them in case of an attack,” Yousafzai said. But Peshawar-based analyst and retired brigadier Saad Khan said arming teachers is “stupid”. “These are young men,” he said. “If a fight breaks out, you know, the rush of blood, and if somebody has a gun.” Instead of killing attackers on the spot, Khan called for rooting out the long-term causes of militancy, echoing critics of a national crackdown on extremism who say it has failed to go far enough.