Three days after Naeem Javed received an extortion slip, two masked men opened fire at his school, injuring a staff member.
The Rakshanda Public School, a private school enrolling 800 boys and girls in Pakistan Bazaar, Orangi Town, has shut down for three days following the attack.
“I received a parchi on Monday. It read: ‘Don’t act clever, give us the money we ask for.’ Below there was a mobile number written,” said Javed, the school principal. He dialled the number. The extortionists initially asked for Rs500,000, but then settled down at Rs300,000.
But before Javed could arrange the money, two men riding a motorcycle and wearing helmets attacked the school. “Fortunately no student was hurt. But the glass in our doors and windows broke, injuring a maid,” he said.
This was not the first incident, however. Police claim a few days ago another school in the neighbourhood had received extortion threats.
“We received an unsigned slip asking for Rs2.5 million,” said Khalid Adeel, an administrator at the Shaheen Public School in Orangi Town. “We do not know who these people are.”
He claims the police send a mobile every now and then at the school after they registered an FIR. “But if we move out of the area, what if someone attacks us then?”
Both schools have been operating in Orangi Town for 25 years now.
DSP Faisal Noor accepted two to three similar incidents had been reported from the area. “We cannot single out any organisation yet because there are several criminal elements hiding in this area.”
Basheer Ahmed, the Pakistan Bazaar SHO, believes these people are self-styled extortionists. “The bigger fish are lying low due to the ongoing operations.”
Schools no longer safe
Though the constitution accepts the right to free and compulsory education till age 16, the crumbling education system of the state makes it seem a far-fetched ideal. In many conflict-hit areas of Karachi, government schools have closed down permanently. Only private schools are operating – that too in the absence of any security.
Unconfirmed reports suggest another private school in Lyari, The Noble School, has been given an extortion slip for Rs500,000. The walls of the school are already riddled with bullets, its windows shattered by the impact.
Residents of Mangopir also claim that two Christian missionary schools have received extortion threats. “We received an unsigned extortion slip for a few hundred thousand rupees and were warned about consequences if we failed to pay,” admits an administration official at one of the schools. “On the intervention of a local jirga, we have been allowed to operate for now but the threat is still there.”
On March 30, a grenade attack at The Nation School in Baldia Town had killed its principal Abdul Rasheed and injured six students. The principal, also a worker of the Awami National Party, had been receiving death threats for a long time, according to news reports.
On May 13, another school principal and social worker, Abdul Waheed Khattak, was shot dead by unidentified assailants. This, according to his family, was the second assassination attempt on him.
His school, the Naunehal Academy in Islamia Colony, Orangi Town, with more than 500 students, has reopened amid frequent grenade attacks and extortion threats.
Police patrol at schools
According to Khalid Shah, the chairman of All Private Schools Management, areas around schools should be considered high-security zones.
“We met the Sindh police chief a few months ago and demanded that schools be considered a high-security zone which a police mobile should patrol at various times of the day.”
Shah admits the police are understaffed, but believes that patrolling does not require too much of an effort or cost.