'No set timeline' for Peshawar school attack commission report — spokesman

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A Pakistani soldier stands guard at the site of the militants' attack on a school, in Peshawar, on December 17, 2014. (Reuters/ File Photo)
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Peoples walk past an entrance gate with flowers and notes left by the people, at the Army Public School which was attacked by Taliban gunmen, in Peshawar December 21, 2014. (REUTERS/File photo)
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Pakistani students and civil society activists carry placards as they march during a vigil to pay tribute to the victims of the Peshawar school massacre of December 16, 2014, the deadliest terror attack in Pakistan's history, ahead of the first anniversary, in Lahore on December 15, 2015. (AFP)
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Updated 16 December 2019

'No set timeline' for Peshawar school attack commission report — spokesman

  • Over 150 people, most of them children were gunned down by Taliban militants in an attack on an army-run school in Dec. 2014
  • Parents of the victims have made calls for a high-level investigation to identify officials, both civil and military, whose negligence allowed the attack to take place

LAHORE/PESHAWAR: The spokesman of a commission set up last year to investigate a 2014 militant attack in which 132 children were killed in the Pakistani city of Peshawar said on Friday there was “no set timeline” for when the body would deliver its final report. 
Over 150 people, most of them children were gunned down by Taliban militants in an attack on an army-run school in the northwestern town of Peshawar on December 16, 2014, the bloodiest massacre the country had seen for years.
Last October, four years after the attack, the Supreme Court formed a one-man commission comprising Justice Muhammad Ibrahim Khan of the Peshawar High Court and gave him six weeks to compile a report into the causes of the attack, including official negligence. 
Over a year later, the findings of the commission have yet to be submitted before the top court.
“Justice Khan is a serving judge; whenever he gets time from his court responsibilities he works on the report,” Imran Ullah, the focal person of the commission, told Arab News when asked when the investigation would be completed and the confidential report submitted to the court. “There is no set timeline. It could take a while.”
Though Pakistan executed four men for involvement in the massacre in 2015, parents of the victims have made calls for a high-level investigation that would identify officials, both civil and military, whose negligence allowed the attack to take place. 
The parents’ plea revolves around a letter by the National Counter Terrorism Authority, written a few months prior to the assault, alerting authorities about a plan to hit an army-run educational institution.
“Why was the security of the school not increased? Why was the threat not taken seriously?” said Ajoon Khan, a lawyer who represents some of the victims’ parents and whose son was also gunned down in the attack. “All those responsible should be made accountable.”
Until now, the commission has recorded the statements of a 100 parents and 50 state officials from the military, police, and bureaucracy, the commission’s spokesman said, adding that the final report had been delayed on account of many of the statements being very long and therefore difficult to compile, as well as due to a delayed response from military officials to a list of queries.
Andaleeb Aftab, a longtime teacher at the army school, whose 16-year-old son was killed in the attack, said she had little expectation the commission would deliver justice.
“The commission has been working for over a year and so far there is only silence from their side," Aftab said. "Our children were innocent. They were young. They had their whole life in front of them. But no one wants to give us justice.”

Protests in tribal areas after officials pull the plug on Internet access

Updated 9 min 32 sec ago

Protests in tribal areas after officials pull the plug on Internet access

  • Hundreds of students in Pakistan’s South Waziristan district say online education impacted 
  • Authorities say nothing to fear, matter will be resolved soon

PESHAWAR: Faridullah Khan is worried about his future. For two weeks now, the 21-year-old has been taking part in demonstrations, along with hundreds of other students from various universities in Wana, headquarters of the South Waziristan (SW) district, to protest against the lack of Internet access in the tribal areas.
“We cannot take online classes as there is no Internet available. It’s frustrating because the future of thousands of students is at stake,” Khan who studies chemical engineering at the Balochistan University of Information Technology, Engineering and Management Sciences (BUITEMS) told Arab News on Tuesday.
Uninterrupted access to the Internet has become a lifeline for a majority of students in the tribal districts after Pakistan’s Higher Education Commission (HEC) directed all universities to switch to online classes following a lockdown to limit the spread of coronavirus in the country.

Hundreds of students take part in a demonstration in Wana, the headquarters of the South Waziristan district, on April 7, 2020. Their key demand includes the restoration of internet services in the tribal areas, to pursue their studies online, after universities across Pakistan were ordered shut as part of a nationwide coronavirus lockdown. (Photo credit: Wana Students Society)

“We had precise instructions from the university management to either attend online classes or face risking a semester freeze. Under the circumstances, I fear my parents’ hard-earned money and my future could go to waste if immediate steps are not taken to tackle the problem,” Khan said.
Officials at BUITEMS were unavailable for comment when contacted by Arab News.
However, provincial Information Minister Ajmal Khan Wazir said that the government was aware of the problem and would tackle it very soon.”
“We will sort [the issue] out at the earliest,” Wazir told Arab News without providing more details.
That, however, has failed to appease the students, several of whom said the Internet lockdown has been “nothing short of a nightmare.”
“I don’t understand the logic behind the Internet blackout in this era of the 21st century. Unavailability of the Internet means we could lose out on an academic year because there is no way to continue our education,” Samina Saif, 20, who studies political science at the International Islamic University Islamabad (IIUI) in the SW district, told Arab News by phone.

A majority of students are worried that they could lose out on an academic year if they are not able to continue with their education online. (Photo credit: Wana Students Society)

Saif says switching to online classes was a step in the right direction, provided authorities had factored in the issues faced by students in the tribal districts as well.
Another student, Noreen Mehsud, 20, who studies L.L.B. Sharia and Law at IIUI, said she’s had to move to Islamabad “because there is no Internet facility in my hometown of Waziristan.”
In the case of 21-year-old Saddam Hussain Wazir, it means traveling long distances.
“Because of the ban on public transport, I had to travel four hours in a cargo truck to reach Dera Ismail Khan, the nearest town to South Waziristan, to get access to the Internet because my supervisor bluntly told me to either attend online classes or risk freezing of my semester,” Hussain Wazir, an MPhil student of International Relations at IIUI, said.
Authorities, however, said the students had no ground for the ongoing protests.
“They were given Internet access at two government-designated buildings, but they turned down the offer,” Hamidullah Khattak, the top administrator of SW district told Arab News.
Before being merged with the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) experienced decades of militancy, followed by military operations to rid the area of extremists.
The result was that authorities had to limit Internet access to district administrations and military camps.
“After normalcy returned to tribal areas, following its merger with the KP province, the infrastructure here was developed gradually,” Khattak added.
However, Hussain Wazir argues that the proposal – for students to pursue online studies at the government-designated buildings – was “impractical to say the least.”
“A ballpark estimate shows only Wana, a town of 152, 881 populations, has 1,500 university students including 40 plus female students. How is it possible for male and female students from remote villages to attend online classes at those designated points daily?” he said.
It’s a matter of a month before the issue gets resolved, Ziaullah Bangash, KP adviser on Science and Information Technology, told Arab News, adding that the provincial government had signed an agreement with the Pakistan Telecommunication Company Ltd. (PTCL) to lay optic fibers throughout the region for better connectivity.
“We are in talks with mobile phone companies to initiate the services which are awaiting approval. I don’t think students’ will encounter any changes to their academic year,” he said.
HEC Spokesperson Ayesha Ikram agreed.
She said that authorities at the HEC had been apprised of the student protests, adding that there was no cause for concern.
“There will be no problem for students missing their semesters. We have made sure to salvage the academic year of those students who face a shortage of facilities such as lack of access to Internet services,” she said.