As it happened, January 20, 2016 was a dark day for the people of Bacha Khan University, Charsadda, in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan. Four terrorists stormed the premises, killed at least 20 people and injured dozens. Basit Khan (28), an MPhil scholar from the university’s Sociology department, had a narrow escape as he missed his bus and landed up there late, but was still traumatised as he gave us his number via Facebook chat. When we called him, he spoke about what it's like pursuing an education when there's a perennial threat of a Taliban attack or worse. Excerpts:
Can you describe the morning of the attack?
On that day I had a demonstration for lectureship in sociology department. It was very foggy and luckily I missed the university bus and reached only at 9.30 am. I spoke to my friend from the gate, who told me there was firing going on. I thought it might be a fight between various political factions of the students, which sometimes happens in other universities. When I entered, there were scenes of chaos. Female students were crying, many people were running, I saw a student had been shot in his foot, and another was in a very critical condition. That’s when I realised it was a terrorist attack. I then returned home without going inside.
Was anyone you know hurt in the attack?
Kamran Khan, my senior from the Sociology department and one of my best friends, kept a licensed pistol with him and was also fond of hunting, so he was a good marksman. He took up a position in the boys hostel and started firing at the terrorists, and many witnesses have reported that he hit one of them. Then he ran out of bullets, after which one of the terrorists came after him, blew his room’s door with a grenade, and then killed him and one of his roommates, while the other one survived to tell the tale. One of my teachers survived by acting dead.
Were there no security guards present at the university?
Yes there were, but the security guards of the university weren’t well-trained, they were more like malis or gardeners, and also because of the fog, they couldn’t control the situation, but they did deter the attack. Most of the 21 killed were from the Boys hostel, where the security guard wasn’t on duty.
Had you ever thought that a university would be attacked by the Taliban?
No, nobody was expecting it. There were reports of a possible attack in Peshawar and security was beefed up there, but maybe that was intentional as they wanted to divert attention from here.
Why do you think they chose this university?
The university is located in a rural area and is surrounded by sugarcane crops, so it was an easy target, and they took advantage of the heavy fog.
Has anything changed after the attack? Do you, or some students, live in fear now?
Yes, most of the students and staff are in trauma and in dire need of counselling. Many staff members are reluctant to go back to work. Things cannot get back to normal easily. Some people have lost their friends and relatives too. The whole nation has been shocked, especially the Pashtuns.
Is there anything you would like to add?
Personally, I want to thank Indians as on social media many extended their support. I want the Indian youth and government to put pressure on their government, and we should also do the same on our government to end this proxy war in which innocents are being killed, and we shouldn’t waste more civilian lives on Kashmir, Siachen or Afghanistan. And we shouldn’t encourage conservative political and religious groups who are spreading hatred. I think we are the same people and should live like good neighbours.