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Pakistan University Attack Raises The Question Of Arming Teachers

Relatives and residents carry the coffin of a victim from Bacha Khan university after a day an attack by militants in Charsadda on January 21.
Relatives and residents carry the coffin of a victim from Bacha Khan university after a day an attack by militants in Charsadda on January 21.

Reports that at least two members of staff took up arms against attackers on January 20 at Pakistan's Bacha Khan University have led many in the profession to ask the tough question of whether or not teachers should be armed.

As further details began to emerge of the assault, in which four Islamist militants killed more than 20 people at the university in Pakistan's troubled northwest, many hailed the teachers who resisted the attackers as heroes. Others questioned whether teachers in the country should carry guns, as many do, saying it goes against the profession's ideals.

Hiding on a balcony with 15 of his students as the attackers approached, university director Mohammad Shakil asked Pakistani police below to throw him a gun.

"I was worried about the students, and then one of the militants came after us," Shakil told Reuters. "After repeated requests, the police threw me a pistol and I fired some shots at the terrorists."

Chemistry professor Hamid Hussain also fired at the militants, allowing some of his students to escape, surviving pupils told local media. Hussain was shot and later died from his wounds.

Many commenters have credited the actions of Hussain and Shakil with helping to prevent the gunmen, armed with assault rifles and hand grenades, from killing more people at Bacha Khan University located in the rural district of Charsadda.

The university had around 50 guards who, according to witness reports, fought the militants for around an hour before police and army reinforcements reached them.

The attack recalled the 2014 massacre of 134 pupils at an army-run school some 19 miles away in Peshawar, after which teachers in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, where Peshawar is the capital, were offered weapons training. But some are wary of encouraging teachers to take up arms.

Gun ownership is common in Pakistan, especially in the semi-autonomous tribal belt near the Afghan border where the threat of militant violence runs high.

Jamil Chitrali, president of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa University Teaching Staff Association, told Reuters it was increasingly common for teachers to carry weapons.

"Arms are against the norms of my profession," he said. "I'm teaching principles and morality in the class. How can I carry a gun?"

The four gunmen involved in Wednesday's attack have all since been killed, according to officials. The provincial government declared Thursday a day of mourning, as grieving families buried their dead and survivors recalled their ordeal.

It is not yet known who was behind the attacks. A senior commander of the Pakistan Taliban, Umar Mansoor, claimed responsibility on Wednesday, but an official spokesman for the group later denied involvement and said the attack was "un-Islamic".

The army said on Thursday that the attack was coordinated from inside Afghanistan, according to its investigations.

An army spokesman said Pakistan's army chief General Raheel Sharif has asked for help from the Afghan President, and the U.S. commander of international forces in Afghanistan, in locating those it holds responsible.

Reported by Jibran Ahmed and Tommy Wilkes for Reuters