KARACHI: With a terror threat looming a week after the attack on the Bacha Khan University in Charsadda and Army Public and Bahria schools shut, the Sindh security administration on Thursday decided to check if the security measures suggested to private educational institutions after the APS tragedy are being followed or not.

The Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) insisted that the sudden closure of the schools was not related to security concerns.

No specific proposal for the security of government schools was discussed at a meeting held on Thursday at the Central Police Office (CPO) to review law and order and the existing security measures in place.

The meeting, which was chaired by Sindh Home Minister Suhail Anwar Siyal and attended by the IGP and the Karachi police chief, decided that a “security audit survey” of educational institutions across the province would be conducted before designing a contingency plan.

According to a CPO statement issued following the meeting, the minister directed the officials concerned to implement the contingency plan after having a consultation with all the stakeholders. “The minister also urged to make crisis management and quick response initiative as part of the contingency plan. The meeting decided to conduct security audit survey of all educational institutions across the province to make security measures stronger and more effective.”

A directive was also issued to the DIGs of all ranges asking them to set up within their area a quick response force comprising policemen and officers from Elite Course, said the statement. However, it said, it was agreed that till such a force was raised 50 special security unit commandos be deployed in each range as a quick response force unit.

“The minister also reviewed security and law and order situation,” said the statement. “He issued directives to the DIG headquarters to prepare an SOP comprising comprehensive security measures for schools, colleges, universities, hospitals, mosques, Imambargahs, shrines, worship places of minorities and sensitive installations after consultation with special branch and range DIGs,” added the CPO statement.

The official statement did not carry details about the mechanism of the planned “security audit survey”, but it was learnt that the government was more focused on regulating schools security.

An official who was part of the meeting said: “The respective area SP (Superintendent of Police) would conduct security audit survey of educational institutions in his area.

“One month has been given to all respective officers to complete their job. The SP will definitely start working on the assignment from tomorrow and then the next meeting will discuss results.”

When asked about the mode of conducting the “security audit survey” and what would be the focus during the police exercise, the official said the police team would check proper installation of surveillance cameras, deployment of armed security guards at the educational institutions, structure of walls of educational institutions to check whether they were properly built or not.

“Actually, the exercise will be held only to check that the measures, which had been suggested to the private educational institutions after the attack on Army Public School in Peshawar, are being followed or not,” he said, while expressing unawareness about any proposal for the security of government schools.

“Primarily, the security of their institutions is responsibility of the private school owners for which the police and law enforcement agencies will support them. The private institutions found violating the guidelines will be warned to fix the loopholes as a first step. And if they don’t pay heed, they will be fined.”

The renewed measure came shortly after the sudden closure of Army Public and Bahria schools this week. While no reason had been provided by the relevant authorities for the closure of the APS and Bahria schools till Feb 1, ISPR officials in Karachi denied that it was related to security.

The officials stated: “Lagging behind in the joint syllabus that APS schools in other provinces follow is one of our major concerns at the moment. So looking at other APS schools in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, we decided to keep our schools closed, too.”

Another ISPR official from Rawalpindi, Shafiq Malik, said the “ongoing weather and persisting fog is the reason for us to shut down our schools till Monday. There’s nothing more to it at all.”

Despite these reassurances, it is clear by the events of the past few days that measures are being taken to bolster security in and around the Army Public Schools and Colleges. Students from the Army Public School in Sindhi Muslim Commercial Housing Society spoke about receiving a message on Jan 26 which cited “security concerns” as the reason for closing the school till Monday; something which was denied by the ISPR officials in metropolis.

All APS have been closed since Tuesday, while Bahria schools followed suit a day later after a notification that some parents claimed they had received while others denied.

A parent of an APS student, on condition of anonymity, said they usually received text messages when it came to the schools being closed. “We didn’t receive a notification this time around. We got to know about the closure of schools from one of our neighbours who revealed it to us.” He added that the “reasons to keep the schools closed till Monday definitely relate to the uncertainty that surrounds security within the schools. It also, however, pertains to the centralised system that the army follows of following the curriculum.”

According to sources, school vans picking and dropping students in residential areas of the army and navy and security guards deputed at army schools and colleges are being questioned at present.

Another factor that added to the ongoing din was the closure of four branches of Bahria schools and colleges in the city at the same time, including Sabir SRE (PNS Shifa), Hanif SRE (Karsaz), Majeed SRE (Dalmia) and Bahria University (M.T.Khan Road) along with the APS in Saddar, Malir Cantt, Manora and SMCHS.

Amid confusion over the reason for the schools closure, the ISPR reiterated their stance on Thursday that the schools and colleges related to the army would remain closed till Monday (Feb 1) while there was no word on the closure of Bahria schools.

Published in Dawn, January 29th, 2016