My wife and I run a charity school in Maira Badia, Islamabad. Over a period of time, this place has become a profusion of shantytowns and slums. It is now inhabited by Afghans, IDPs from FATA and economic migrants from the hinterland of Punjab. Our school is registered with the Private Education Institute Registration Authority (PEIRA). Our aim is to educate poor children, to prevent them from falling prey to a life of crime or terrorism or both. Our objective is to equip them with skills that would help them lead a productive life as a responsible citizen without following militant ideologies.

This morning we received a letter from PEIRA. In the light of the sad incident that had taken place in Peshawar on December 16, the underlying spirit of enhancing the security of private schools was quite in order but the demands placed on a school like ours with limited means i.e. no regular funding from the government or non-government organizations, beyond our reach and hence impractical to implement. It also gives an impression that government is absolving itself of its primary duty to provide security to its citizens and leaving the private schools, particularly those that are not being run on commercial basis to fend for themselves.

The letter informs all private schools including ours that a security audit had been ordered. For this purpose the Chief Commissioner ICT had constituted the chairmanship of AIG Police (Special Branch) to conduct a security audit of all private education institution in line with a checklist containing the following points:

  1. Non-scalable walls at least 8 feet high.
  2. Wall topped with two feet high concertina wire.
  3. Trained security guards for the rooftop, gate and stealth placement.
  4. Metal detectors.
  5. Walk through gates.
  6. CCTV coverage with 15 days memory backup.
  7. Emergency exits.
  8. Nominated Chief Security Officer.
  9. Verification of pick and drop services.
  10. Any other requirement by the Committee.

The letter stresses that whereas external security in the proximity of schools will be beefed up through joint patrolling by Police and Rangers, especially at assembly and dispersal time. However, internal security would be the responsibility of the school management. The schools were “instructed to ensure strict adherence to the above requirement of above mentioned checklist, irrespective oflocation and scale” (Italics added by me for emphasis). The Secretary PIERA under whose signatures the letter has been issued has advised the management of all schools that in order to resume the academic process after winter vacations; an NOC is required from the office of District Magistrate (ICT). All institutions have been warned that their registration would be withdrawn vide Section 5 (d) & 16 of PEIRA Act in case of non-compliance.

The letter is far from reassuring. We have been told in no uncertain terms that security is our responsibility. We don’t have the funds to undertake the security measures that PEIRA wants and now there is an additional bureaucratic hurdle to cross i.e. obtain an NOC to operate after the winter vacations, else our registration will be withdrawn.

We are in a fix. We are operating on a shoestring budget and providing education to poor children living on the fringes of the society. If we leave them to their own devices they are most likely to become foot soldiers in militant outfits. Our purpose is not to make money. We are providing public service and doing what the government should be doing in the first instance. Instead of helping us, we have been put on a notice. What should we do? Give up hope and leave these children to their own devices so they join the ranks of those, who in any case are out to destroy our education system.

For Pakistan