Pakistani students undergo military training

PAKISTAN - As the threat of attacks on "soft targets" looms in the wake of the deadly Taliban attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar that left 131 children dead, the federal and provincial governments are taking extreme measures to provide security to educational institutes.

On Thursday, staff and students from different schools in the country were provided "emergency training" to tackle any crisis as part of this endeavour to provide enhanced security.

On the directives of the Punjab government, rescue officials along with representatives of the civil defence force, bomb disposal squad (BDS) and security agencies practiced emergency drills at Public School Multan and held security training sessions with students and teaching staff.

A drill was conducted in which BDS officials wearing special suits demonstrated how to locate and defuse a bomb.

The mock drill also involved giving assistance to "injured" people lying in a patch of grass. Meanwhile, the security and rescue officials 'evacuated' the building and adjoining area.

Students who participated in the training expressed their resolve against militancy and said they were not afraid of any terrorist.

"We have received training and now we will utilise this if the need arises," said one student at the Multan school.

Rescue officials also trained students on giving medical assistance to injured people in case of any terror attack. "We are being asked to provide emergency training to students. Girls' schools are a priority as females have the tendency to panic more as compared to boys," said Rescue 1122 district emergency officer Dr Rizwan.

"This emergency training practice is being carried out at different schools in the city on the directives of Punjab government," said DCO Multan Zahid Saleem Gondal.

'Students can face their fears'

In Sindh, the provincial police today approached teachers and students of the Mama Parsi school at the Razzaqabad Training Center in Karachi to demonstrate self defence and weapons training.

Aside from emergency medical assistance, students and teachers were taught how to evacuate a building as well as use firearms if the need arose.

Spokesperson of the SSU Tahira Tariq, who is leading this campaign, said it is a part of the Sindh Police's Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programme.

"We were already training university students and staff before the Peshawar attack, but since then, scores of schools have approached us," she said, adding that the next step is to train field journalists who she feels are at great risk of exposure to violence.

"I have analysed this from a psychological perspective," Tariq added. "The idea is that once we face our fears, they will go away."

"If a student suddenly sees or encounters a terrorist during an attack, they will not know what to do… After this training, the confidence level of the student will be built."

She adds, however, that there is no guarantee that there will be no mishap even after extensive training.

SP Maqsood Memon whose department is in charge of this campaign told Dawn it is a way for teachers and staff to equip themselves.

"This is our expertise in counter-terrorism. We are doing for the government but we thought it should be given to civil society in case of an emergency - they should know what to do if the need arises," he said, adding that it is a public service campaign free of charge.

As the Taliban intensifies its campaign against the government and military as a reaction to the ongoing military operation in North Waziristan, the fear of a backlash has generated panic and alarm in schools across the country.

The students and teachers were given training on how to fight terrorists, give first aid to those injured, protect themselves when bound, and how to jump off a moving vehicle.

Teachers in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa were given firearms training last month and were allowed to carry guns into the classroom in a bid to strengthen security following a Taliban massacre at APS Peshawar.

"Carrying firearms for every teacher is not obligatory, but all those who want to carry firearms to schools willingly will be provided with permits," Atif Khan, provincial education minister of KP had said.

After the terrorist attack on the Army Public School and College Peshawar on Dec 16, 2014, the provincial government issued special security guidelines to the schools, colleges and universities.

Although guards were required to keep guns, teachers showed seriousness in getting training on how to use a gun in case 'they need to defend the children' in an emergency situation.