What if a student had shot back during the mock drill at Punjab University?

Published: January 22, 2016
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As footage reveals, these individuals were met with screams and cries as students raced away from them. PHOTO: SCREENSHOT FROM DAWN NEWS VIDEO

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!

Noman Ansari

Noman Ansari

The author is the editor-in-chief of IGN Pakistan, and has been reviewing films and writing opinion pieces for The Express Tribune as well as Dawn for five years. He tweets as @Pugnate (twitter.com/Pugnate)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Rohan

    What if a student had shot back during the mock drill at Punjab University?

    It would be considered normalRecommend

  • Saad Hasan

    “because I am a passionate video gamer, but I’d like to believe that I would fight back should no escape route be available.”

    Really? You think playing CoD/Battlefield prepares your nerves to stand and fight? Just saying the first inclination is to run and preserve oneself. The only way those who operate in counter terrorism operations get around this inclination is by training and developing motor skills that respond to such events to the point that it becomes an innate/automatic response through drilling.
    As an example, for teams like SSG’s CT Zarrar detachment, they are on the emergency readiness platform which entails members of the team training 7 hours a day and firing thousands of rounds to make their responses and handling of their firearms innate. The movements in such scenarios are practiced so much that they are ingrained in the minds of the operators and their bodies rely on muscle memory for each movement they execute in response to the terrorists. Doubt anyone sitting behind an FPS game can do the same! :-)

    Then perhaps there are brave souls like the young professor who respond naturally in such a brave manner and maybe you too are like one of those people.

    Rest of your points, I agree with. In the West, even primary school children are taught fire/emergency drills which call for basics like exiting from designated areas in a formation so the exit is quick and orderly. As can be seen in these videos, the students are as chaotic in their egress as the rest of Pakistan.

    The police and civil defence entities are responsible for this lack of awareness among the masses. This should be addressed.Recommend

  • Sami

    Students are not allowed to carry any guns in Punjab University. So it was assumed that no student was carrying any sort of Gun during the time of the drill. But yes it should be more professional next time,

    Also kindly rather than using the mantra of Punjab bashing all the time, atleast appreciate that they perceive the threats seriously and do mock drills. KP government never bothered to do any drill. Neither Sindh or Balochistan.
    Kindly learn from the SOPs ( Standard Operating Procedure ) of Punjab Elite police. Other provinces must establish RRUs ( Rapid Response Units) like Punjab.

    But i do want to point out somethings clearly missing in terms of Professionalism among the Punjabi elite unit.
    1) No Snipers were there among the squad.
    2) Most of them were carrying heavy AK-47s. Usually MP-5 type weapons are used for such purpose.
    3) No Communication equipment was carried by any personal.
    4) In the dark alleyways they were wearing Sunglasses?.
    5) Many of them were without any form of Kaviar based Bullet proof jackets.
    6) No Unit official was wearing any blast proof vest.
    7) Additional weaponry, helmet was missing.
    8) Europe have bullet proof Elite Cars. They arrived on the scene on normal 4 by 4 open ended hilux.Recommend

  • Parvez

    Doing something good the right way……..but doing it wrong, is worse than not doing it at all.
    If anyone has any experience of emergency drills or procedures, they know that the exercise is carefully planned and executed REPEATEDLY ……so that in an emergency, panic is contained and people hopefully follow at least some of what has been drilled into them. This what we saw was simply inept blundering, luckily no one got hurt.Recommend

  • Ramchand

    What if a journalist had shot back at the ink throwers in Mumbai?
    It would be considered normal.Recommend

  • Hamza

    if the students were informed they wouldn’t have taken it seriously and probably laugh at them and make videos to upload on social media………… they purpose of uninformed drills is to check the spontaneous responses because terrorist do not inform before attack……………………..Recommend

  • Rohan

    Journalists aren’t armed in IndiaRecommend

  • sParthiv

    Yea only thing is the journalist won’t have a gun so he should probably use a water pistol. India has strict arms control laws. Citizens can’t posses firearms Recommend

  • Fahimuddin

    It is common sense that students are not allowed to keep weapons in hostel and universities in LahoreRecommend

  • Baaghi

    Lol, this writer is not the brightest of the lot. Eat some badam before drawing parallels between horrendous real life tragedies and your video games from your life inside a room!Recommend

  • thinking helps

    So if someone had out of fear jumped out of a building and received fractures or even died, then what? Your thinking would work only if students had been briefed and trained and told exactly what to do in such a situation and then you can hold a surprise drill, and ee how effective it is. you dont let a child drive a car on highway all of a suddenRecommend