PESHAWAR —Schools in Peshawar now look like police stations, equipped with barbed wire, surveillance cameras and snipers after the Taliban's December assault on a school that killed 132 students.
Officials told schools to be prepared for other attacks, and in an extraordinary measure, the Khyber Pakhtunkua government is allowing teachers to keep guns at school. The local police are also now training female teachers in how to use guns.
Ashraf Khan teaches in a primary school not far from the army public school that the Taliban attacked in December. The first thing he does in the morning when he enters the classroom is put his automatic Kalashnikov rifle next to him.
"I don't like having to carry a gun all the time, but the law-and-order situation is not good now," he says. "I know it's not a good mental state to be in for teaching children, but the militants will think twice before attacking schools if they know teachers have guns."
Provincial education minister Muhammad Atif says that if teachers are being threatened, then they have the right to carry weapons inside the school. And while almost every Pashtun male is trained to use guns and weapons from a young age, most female teachers need training to learn too.
Zaman pushes her headscarf slightly to the side, then leans down, lines up her gun and fires at the target. A group of male police watch on. She is one of 10 female teachers taking part in this training run by the local police. "It is a very good initiative of the government to train female teachers like this," she says. "Self defense comes first, then we can learn in peace."
A musical weapon instead?
Aneela, one of the police instructors, helps Zaman reload. "This training will not only help them when they are teaching at school but also in their daily life," she says. "The security situation is bad at the moment, and women need to know how to use weapons."
But not all agree with the new training program. Malik Khalid Khan, president of the All Primary Teacher Association (APTA), thinks it's dangerous in many ways. "The government has spent millions of dollars educating teachers not to beat and hit students because we now know that it destroys the children's mental health," he says. "Having guns in the classroom will have a grave effect on our next generation."
In general, there is widespread fear and tension among teachers and students at the moment, following the horrific December attack at a school. Stories have spread of empty coffins being sent to principals as a sign of the danger that could lie ahead.
In addition to now carrying a gun, Asraf Khan and his friends have organized a twice-weekly music event. Taliban militants believe music is forbidden in Islam, so Ashraf says this too is a way of fighting back.
"Carrying guns is not considered bad, but singing songs is considered immoral," he says. "We don't agree. Music gatherings make me feel relaxed and happy."