Published On: Thu, Jan 28th, 2016

Security Lapses at Bacha Khan University Charsadda campus lead to killings

Pakistani police officers clear the way for an ambulance to arrive at Bacha Khan University in Charsadda town, some 35 kilometers (21 miles) outside the city of Peshawar, Pakistan, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2016. Gunmen stormed Bacha Khan University named after the founder of an anti-Taliban political party in the country's northwest Wednesday, killing some people, officials said.

Pakistani police officers clear the way for an ambulance to arrive at Bacha Khan University in Charsadda town, some 35 kilometers (21 miles) outside the city of Peshawar, Pakistan, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2016. Gunmen stormed Bacha Khan University named after the founder of an anti-Taliban political party in the country’s northwest Wednesday, killing some people, officials said.

By Ayesha Tanzeem

Serious security lapses may have contributed to a deadly attack at a Pakistani university that killed 21 people last week, according to sources both inside and outside the university.

People familiar with conditions at Bacha Khan University claim that campus administrators overlooked or ignored security concerns raised before the attack by staff and the local police in Khyber Pakhtunkwa province.

Seven buildings around the campus have security posts on their rooftops, but most were not staffed at the time of the attack in the northwestern city of Charsadda.

One campus security official said guards sometimes leave their rooftop posts and move downstairs during cold weather. However, a fact-finding committee formed by the provincial government learned that guards were not assigned to all of the rooftop security posts during the attack on January 20, according to an official privy to the committee’s investigation.

The vice chancellor of the university, Fazal Rahim Marwat, said most security guards were at work in a different location on the campus when the attack began.

The vice chancellor also said the conservative local culture in Charsadda made rooftop security assignments difficult to fill.

“If a guard stands [on the rooftop], the neighbors complain that their privacy is violated,” Marwat said.

‘Serious negligence’

An unprotected spot at the rear of the campus, considered vulnerable to intruders, was where militants entered the campus after cutting barbed wire and scaling a wall. The guard who had been assigned to the nearest post had not yet arrived at work; he was shot and wounded by the attackers in the university’s parking lot.

The director of crisis management at the university, Ikram Ullah, said that lapse amounted to “serious negligence … on the university’s part.”

“Once they’re inside the hostel [student housing] and they’ve caught you unprepared, then what can you do? Nothing,” he said.

While no one knew of a direct threat to Bacha Khan University, several employees spoke about requests to beef up security.

Provost Farhad Ali said he had asked twice in early January for heightened security to protect students’ living quarters, “but I did not receive any answer.”

“The Crisis Management Cell made recommendations which are on the record. The university has still not carried out the recommendations,” said Arsala Khan, a former administrative officer and a member of the cell.

The recommendations, made in March 2015, included making sure the weapons the guards carried were functional. Several employees, who did not want to be named for fear of losing their jobs, expressed concerns about the quality of weapons and the number of bullets each guard carried.

Security recommendations

Other recommendations included having around-the-clock monitoring of cameras and hiring female security guards to search female students or visitors. Until the attack, the cameras installed on campus were monitored only during business hours.

However, at the time the campus was stormed by gunmen — just after 9 a.m. January 20 — the cameras were on and being monitored, and someone did push the alarm button.

A female guard has yet to be hired as part of the university’s security contingent.

Former security chief Muhammad Khushhal Khan, who served in this post until a few weeks before the attack, also wrote several letters to the administration expressing his concerns and requesting additional resources. He did not have much success.

In one letter to local police sent in late December 2015, he requested additional manpower in and around the university, calling the areas surrounding the campus “unsafe” and acknowledging that their own guards were “not well trained” to deal with a serious attack.

Several security officials questioned whether it was possible to find a well-trained person to work for just $3 a day, the approximate daily wage for most university security guards.

In addition to concerns expressed by university staff, local police said they advised the university to tighten security on multiple occasions, and also sent at least three written notices over the past 15 months, chiding the university for not complying with its security obligations.

The university administration blamed a lack of resources for these failures, but some employees wonder if a more serious approach toward security could have saved lives.

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