Parents in a northwestern Pakistani city are concerned over a government decision to ask teachers to keep firearms in schools following a Taliban massacre that killed more than 150 students and teachers at an army-run school last month.
Residents of Peshawar, the capital of restive Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, are skeptical of a provincial government plan requiring teachers to obtain official licenses for carrying guns inside schools to fend off potential terrorist attacks against educational institutions.
Journalist Mushtaq Yousafzai is against the move. His two children witnessed the December 16 attack by Taliban gunmen on Peshawar's Army Public School that left 142 pupils and nine teachers dead.
Yousafzai says the government is responsible for providing security for schoolchildren. "The provincial government here wants to relinquish even its basic responsibilities. They are now making it a legal obligation for citizens to protect themselves," he told Radio Mashaal.
"Providing security is one of the most fundamental responsibilities of the state, but the government is now asking the teachers to bring weapons to school," he added. "This is a highly unusual situation. Just think how it would be possible for children to do any learning in such an environment."
Ayaz Khan, another parent who lost his nephew in the Peshawar school attack, agrees. "If the children are exposed to weapons, it might distracted them from their books and schoolwork," he said.
Samia Salman, who lost her son, Amish Salman, in the Peshawar attack, now worries about the safety of her three daughters, who returned to the Army Public School after it reopened on January 12.
She told Radio Mashaal her daughters were too scared to go to school for two days after it reopened on January 12.
"We still hope the government will do the right thing. I have suffered one tragedy but won't be able to cope with another."
Hameed-ur Rehman, a teacher in a government-run Peshawar school, told Radio Mashaal that faculty is already following the government's directive on weapons. Out of a staff of 100, some 15 teachers are already carrying handguns. "We teachers are supposed to deal with pens only, but we now live in uncertain times. This is an emergency," he said.
Mohammad Ayub, the principal of another government school in Peshawar, says he has asked his staff to hide their weapons from the students. "The weapons are only for protecting ourselves and our students. I have asked teachers to conceal their weapons so that our students don't get scared," he told Radio Mashaal.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa's authorities, however, are pleased with the new initiative. Mushtaq Ghani, the provincial minister for education and information, told journalists this week that the region's 65,000 police officers cannot provide security to the some 45,000 schools, colleges and universities in the province.
"This is why we have created a new communication system to link schools to the police and other security organizations and have allowed teachers to keep weapons," he said.
Peshawar's students, however, are not happy. Ahmed Tahir, a ninth grader, is opposed to his teachers bringing weapons to school.
"The government should deploy the army or paramilitary forces, or could even hire private [security] guards. They should provide us with a peaceful environment for our learning."