What if a student had shot back during the mock drill at Punjab University?
As a resident of a country where militancy regularly makes headlines, I sometimes wonder how I would react if caught in the middle of a terrorist attack. Perhaps it is because I am a passionate video gamer, but I’d like to believe that I would fight back should no escape route be available.
Would a gun or any other weapon be available to me in such a scenario, I am sure I’d shoot at any terrorist in my way. Of course, considering that my only training is playing first person shooters late into the night with Cheetos crumbs on my shirt, and that there are no health packs, ammo packs, and checkpoints in real life, I doubt I’d be hearing an announcer egging me on with the words ‘double-kill’ or ‘multi-kill’.
No, against conditioned fighters I wouldn’t stand a chance, though with the right arms, I could do some damage before being taken to my final respawn point.
Recently, only a day after 21 were killed at the Bacha Khan University attack, students were gripped with anxiety and dread at Punjab University, when hooded men in dark clothing tore into the premises waving AK-47s and Heckler and Koch assault rifles. As footage reveals, these individuals were met with screams and cries as students raced away from them.
These men weren’t militants. No, as can be observed from the tiny labels on their uniforms, they were members of the police. And this wasn’t actually a terrorist attack, but a mock exercise.
As Dawn.com reports,
“PU students can be heard screaming when they spot the ‘attackers’ and seen fleeing the scene.
Students rushed out of classrooms, clutching their belongings, cell phones glued to their ears, as security forces rehearse their drill at the university’s English department.
Superintendent Police Muhammad Iqbal of the Iqbal Town Division Operation Wing said that while university administration was informed of the exercise beforehand, the students were not.
The purpose of the drill, he said, was to check security forces’ responses and preparedness in the event of an emergency.”
To start with, the government of Punjab should be commended for conducting such drills. In this increasingly dangerous world, it is prudent for law enforcement officials, faculty members, and students to be prepared.
At the same time, the wisdom of the authorities must be questioned for not informing the people usually under fire from terrorists: students.
Let’s be clear. By the time most university students are done with their first year, they may or may not have a vague understanding of their studies, but already carry degrees magna cum laude in Call of Duty and Rainbow Six, especially if they attend more LAN parties than lectures.
What is a student to think so soon after a terrorist attack? What if someone at the university had decided to fight back, as did Lecturer Syed Hamid Husain bravely with his pistol during the Bacha Khan University attack, before he was killed while protecting his students? While students are restricted from carrying firearms, unofficially many are known to break this rule in order to protect themselves.
Terrorists are also not easily identifiable from security officials in these situations as they usually resort to wearing fake uniforms. All the students could see were men rushing at them with guns in their hands and masks on their faces.
Would we blame any student for responding like this?
Usually, all involved, including students, are informed before such exercises are conducted. Just like law enforcement was practicing assaulting terrorists, the university goers should have been practicing escaping without facing the risk of a heart attack. You can argue that real terrorist attacks aren’t for the faint of heart, but then that’s why practice situations are conducted with only urgency and not fear so students are conditioned to keep their cool. Or do universities now set campuses ablaze during fire drills?
At the very least, university officials should have been placed at the route of the practice drill to inform the youngsters of the nature of the situation to avoid any ugliness. Apparently some guards were there, but as the hysterical cries of the students reveal, they were lacking in numbers.
According to the University of Punjab website, there are over 36,000 students on campus. It would have taken only one Counter-Strike fan with a sense of self-preservation to have made a mockery out of this mock drill. Let’s hope the Punjab government has its thinking cap on next time and realises they are conducting these practice operations for the students, not the cameras!
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.