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Gunmen Attack University In Northwest Pakistan


In the story of today's attack on a Pakistani University, the details stick with you. We're told there were four attackers. They targeted a university that had recently built up its front wall for security - but apparently not a back wall. Once the gunmen were inside and shooting, reporter Jonathan Boone of The Guardian tells us they had a technique to lure students out of hiding.

JONATHAN BOONE: The attackers would call through the doors claiming to be from the Pakistani army, claiming to be coming to rescue them but actually there to kill them.

INSKEEP: Authorities say at least 20 people are dead, including now the four attackers. It all happened in a city called Charsadda. NPR's Philip Reeves has covered Pakistan for years. He has some perspective on the place and the political situation. He's on the line. Philip, what is this region like?

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Well, it's part of the northwest part of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. And of course, that is the area where most of the militant violence in recent years has been generated. And indeed, it was there that just over a year ago a massacre took place, carried out by the Pakistani Taliban at an army-run school in the city of Peshawar, where they killed more than 130 school kids. And of course, today's attack, though the death toll is happily significantly lower, is reviving, for many Pakistanis, very painful memories of that.

INSKEEP: Last time they were attacking children, kids really, quite young people, this time a university. What is this university like?

REEVES: Well, its a state-run institution. There are about 3,000 students on the books, both male and female. This means basically that it's not one of those establishments, of which there are many in Pakistan, which are solely focused on religion.

INSKEEP: So a little bit more of a secular environment, and this is the environment in which the gunmen appeared. Now, Philip, we did hear from Jonathan Boone, the reporter on the scene, that there had been an effort at least to increase security at this university after the attack that you mentioned. Was that common all across Pakistan?

REEVES: Yes, the authorities introduced measures across the country to try to beef up security at schools and universities for fear of another attack. And this attack today will likely cause a big debate in Pakistan over whether those measures - whether they are also sufficient. That was part of a really fundamental change that took place after the massacre in Peshawar just over a year ago. You know, the military became far more powerful in exerting its influence over the elected civilian government. Military courts were introduced. A moratorium on capital punishment was lifted. And since then, hundreds of people have been executed, although human rights activists say a lot of - most of those, actually - were not in cases related to terrorism. And I think now that trend will probably continue.

INSKEEP: In just about 20 seconds or so, Philip Reeves, did it seem like the Pakistani military, whatever its tactics, was making progress against the Taliban up to now?

REEVES: Well, a lot of people had begun to feel more relaxed. The economy was beginning to pick up off the mat, particularly after an operation launched just over a year and a half ago in the tribal belt to drive militants out of there. But lots of people were displaced by that operation. And there'll be a debate now about whether they need to be attended to and to get back to their homes because being outside their homes and very unhappy is likely fueling militancy in Pakistan.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Philip Reeves. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.