By Ross James
When attackers stormed the Bacha Khan University in Charsadda, northwest Pakistan on Wednesday, 20 January 2016, they exposed a great irony.
Twenty one people, not including four men killed by security forces, died. Among those dead are 17 students and a lecturer who shot back at the gunmen with his pistol, to allow his students to flee, before he was killed by a gunman. The assault ended after hours of intense fighting, when security forces cornered the attackers into two university buildings, killing them before they could explode their suicide vests.
It is ironic that the university is named after a Pashtun nationalist leader who believed in non-violent struggle against the British raj and was a friend of Mohandas Ghandi.
It is ironic that the attack comes at a time when Pakistan’s political and military forces attempt to counter terrorism. “We don’t want to be known as a terrorist state”, a lecturer in political studies at the Foundation University in Rawalpindi told me just a few months ago. The Pakistan Taliban had finally seemed to be weakened, but commentators worry that, even if diminished, the remaining terrorists have retained their capacity for brutality.
It is ironic that the attack seems to have exposed a rift in the Taliban with a high-level spokesman denying the Islamist group carried out the attack, shortly after a prominent Pakistan Taliban commander claimed responsibility.
And it is ironic that that the attack took place not far from a community-driven peace-building project that HCR is assisting with advice and training. Community leaders reported their relatives working or studying at the university were safe. The community-driven initiative is aiming to overcome deeply-entrenched ethnic and religious tensions with activities to improve health, increase social capital, reduce inter-communal fighting, promote small business and empower the communities with community-centred radio programming that they design and present. Director of HCR Pakistan, Mr Hazeen, says, “although the project has only been going for two years, we are seeing transformation, and community leaders are very supportive of the project and the aims. Despite the efforts by terrorists to impose their extremist ideology, people are tired of the fighting and its negative impact on their families, communities and quality of life. Together, the community and HCR are doing good.”
For news coverage and photographs: