PESHAWAR, PAKISTAN - Frightened after a terror attack at a university and threats against schools, teachers in some parts of Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province are taking up arms and carrying them in classrooms.
The surge in gun sales in parts of the northwestern province began after a terrorist attack on Bacha Khan University in Charsadda last month that killed at least 21 people, mostly students.
Thousands of schools closed in January for more than a week after the government warned of more possible attacks. The Bacha Khan assault came a year after Taliban insurgents stormed a military-run school in Peshawar and killed 132 students and nine staff members.
Home department authorities in Peshawar, the capital of the province, said over 50,000 people and educational institutions had applied for gun permits in the last two weeks.
“Those who had applied, we issued them licenses,” Ismail Khan, the arms license section officer, told VOA’s Deewa service.
According to the deputy commissioner’s office in Peshawar, the number of gun permits issued per month has soared from the previous 100 to 200 per month.
“After the Charsadda university incident, many people, mostly teachers and educated people, come to buy weapons for self-protection,” Ashiq Khan Khalil, a gun shop owner in Peshawar, told VOA.
Schools in Pakistan are on high alert.
“When we send them [children] to school in the morning, we do not know what will happen to them,” Malek Azmat, a parent in Peshawar, told VOA. “We do not know if they will make it back to home. ... But we have to send our children to school. We have no other option as we want them to be educated.”
Salim Khan, an assistant professor in the Kurram tribal region, told VOA that he feared for his life because of the increased terror attacks.
“I am always worried.” Khan told VOA. “Somebody may target me or my children.”
Khan said his 8-year-old son told him that he could not focus on his studies in class because he feared terrorists might storm his school.
Shokat, a teacher in the Momand tribal region, told VOA that educators try to conceal their guns from students.
Still, he said, “I carry a loaded pistol to school.”
The provincial government has asked school administrations to step up security measures, including hiring armed guards and constructing walls around schools. School officials, however, say the government should offer funding, training and resources to enhance school safety.
“I can keep up to three security guards, but the government is asking me to keep 10 guards, which I cannot afford,” Anas Karim, a private school owner, told VOA.
“They [government officials] say we should keep automatic weapons but do not provide us permits, nor do they provide us with guns,” Karim said. “If I cannot obtain permits, you do not give me arms, then how could I keep automatic weapons?”
Instead of getting government help, school administrators say they are being targeted by police for failing to comply with a myriad of government safety regulations.
“So far over 700 [criminal reports] have been filed against different schools, principals and teachers in the province by the government,” Zakir Shah, provincial president of the Pakistan Private Schools Association, told VOA.
The provincial chief minister, Pervez Khattak, told Pakistani media that the government had given out nearly $1 million for school improvement programs. But administrators say much of that money will not go to make schools safer.
Analysts fear that the surge in arms sales and the carrying of guns in school will only contribute to lawlessness in an already restive part of the country. Pakistan has some 60 groups that are banned for their terror activities.
“This is not a solution to the problem,” Pakistan-based security analyst Mehmoud Shah told VOA. “Guns should not be given to teachers, students and ordinary citizens, as this will take the society toward another direction, including an increase in crimes.”
VOA’s Noor Zahid contributed to this report from Washington.