As uncertainty continues in the run-up to next week's potentially violent elections in Pakistan, a new wave of fear and panic has been created by a series of threats to schools in Lahore, the capital of the Punjab Province.
Within three days, at least eight schools in the city have received bomb threats, forcing premises to be evacuated.
"The sight of all those children streaming out and standing opposite the school looking bewildered made me really sad. I am just glad my own children are adults, and indeed now live outside Pakistan," Sadiqa Abbas, 50, a housewife who happened to be close to a school in the Johar Town suburb of Lahore when it was closed down after a bomb threat on 13 February.
The sense of fear and panic among parents is greater still, and the threat to schools seems to have struck a nerve within society, triggering a sense of insecurity and unease.
Attendance at all schools has fallen sharply, with some deciding to close down till after the 18 February elections when, it is hoped, tensions may have eased.
In each case, the schools targeted have received telephone warnings of a bomb on their premises.
Photo: David Swanson/IRIN
|At least eight schools in Lahore have been threatened so far|
At least eight schools in Lahore have been threatened so farThe callers, according to police, have used techniques to avoid their telephone numbers being detected.
At least eight schools in Lahore have been threatened so farWhen school heads and police say no bomb was found, rumours of a “cover-up” persist, and parents are unwilling to take even the slightest risk.
Guards with metal detectors at the school gates, “emergency” drills being carried out at some institutions, and new restrictions on vendors or others stationed near school gates, act as reminders of precarious times in Pakistan.
Aim to postpone elections?
The suspicion is that the campaign is being conducted in a bid to engineer a situation that could lead to a postponement of the elections or keep people away from polling stations.
Analysts in the media have inclined to the view that a low turn-out would not be good for parties opposed to the former ruling group, the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid-e-Azam, which, it is alleged, is engaged in various kinds of pre-poll rigging.
Leaders of the party, including former Punjab Chief Minister Pervaiz Ellahi, have categorically dismissed all such charges.
Commenting on the school bombing threat, Police Superintendent Mujahid Suhail Chaudhry said “strict action would be taken against those found responsible”, and that the police were on "high alert". However, such reassurances have only had a limited impact on anxious parents.
The fact that well-known private schools in the city have been targeted has ensured the incidents make newspaper headlines, and thus have the maximum impact in creating further tensions ahead of polling day.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions