Girl Power Points
- Malala Yousafzai, a 14-year-old activist vocal about the right to education of girls in Swat, was shot by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan.
- Protests erupt across Pakistan, with common people decrying the Taliban’s depravity
- Most parties have cautiously avoided criticising the Taliban
- After treatment at a Peshawar military hospital, Malala was flown to the UK, and is recovering in Birmingham’s Queen Elizabeth hospital. Her condition is stable, but she’s not quite out of danger.
“I think about it often and imagine the scene clearly. Even if they come to kill me, I will tell them what they are trying to do is wrong.” Words of striking clarity. Written by Malala Yousafzai when she was only 11 years old. It was 2009, when Taliban fighters had descended on the picturesque Swat valley and repeatedly attacked schools, offices, cinemas, barber and music shops. The local town square was renamed Khooni Chowk, or Bloody Square, as the Taliban delivered their extreme ‘justice’ to victims here. Vice squads were everywhere, flogging young girls and murdering dancers and singers. Thousands of panic-stricken residents of Swat and Malakand districts in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province were internally displaced overnight. Malala—who started out as an activist in favour of female education—and her family resisted for as long as they could.
The Pakistan army was dispatched in May 2009 and, after a full-scale military operation, wrested control of Swat from the Taliban. Except for the few months of the worst fighting, Malala’s father didn’t shut the school he owned.
“We put away our school uniform, while hiding our books under our chador so the Taliban could not see them,” Malala had said, speaking of her determination to study under daily Taliban threats in the months before she had to flee her native Mingora. Then, years after peace returned to Swat valley, on October 9, 2012, the Taliban shot Malala in the head and injured two of her classmates after identifying her in an open school van. She had been marked for revenge ever since she wrote a blog for the BBC in 2009, about life under the shadow of the Taliban. After 2009, she had continued her outspoken activism for girls’ education.
As a horrified nation watched Malala struggling for her life, the Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility and said they opposed her ‘secular’ mindset and quoted the Quran to say her quest for knowledge was un-Islamic.
The spontaneous reaction from the political, religious and military leadership was one of shock and outrage; most swore that they could no longer tolerate the Taliban barbarians. “I am Malala. We are all Malala,” chanted Pakistanis in open defiance of Taliban edicts, united in an unprecedented manner. The international community condemned the attack on Malala (named after an Afghan queen), and prayers were held for her even in Afghanistan.
Foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar said that when she sees Malala she’ll tell her, “You are my hero”. She told Daily Beast, “What is clear is that, first of all, they (Taliban) do us all a favour because they reveal that they follow no Islam. Because the teachings of Islam—#what the Prophet Mohammed taught us, what the Quran preaches—are the opposite of what they did. What they have done is, in a very stark manner, dissociated themselves (from Islam)....”
Declaring as “un-Islamic” the attack on Malala, over 50 Sunni clerics from the moderate Barelvi school of thought issued a fatwa, terming the Taliban’s interpretation of Islam as “repugnant”, since the religion in actual fact makes it obligatory on its followers to seek education. The Sunni Ittehad Council said in their combined fatwa: “Islam doesn’t prohibit women from getting education. The attackers transgressed the Islamic Hudood (principles).”
While condemning the attack on Malala, most parties didn’t name the Taliban, fearing its wrath now that polls are close.
As if to underline her importance to Pakistan, army chief Ashfaq Kayani flew to Peshawar’s military hospital to be at Malala’s side. “We wish to bring home a simple message: we refuse to bow before terror. We will fight, regardless of the cost, and we will prevail. By attacking Malala, the terrorists have failed to understand that she is not only an individual, but an icon of courage and hope...the cowards who attacked Malala and her fellow students have shown how little regard they have for human life and how low they can stoop to impose their twisted ideology,” Kayani said.
The army, it must be said, are hesitant to cleanse North Waziristan of the TTP, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, the Jundullah, the Afghan Haqqani network and other tanzeems with foreign fighters. It’s in that frontier province that those who shot Malala and attacked army installations in recent months have hideouts.
The wariness is more stark on the political side. As public demands for army action grow, MQM’s Altaf Hussain has emerged as the most vocal leader, naming the Taliban as the enemy and pledging support for the army. However, it is a significant fact that apart from the MQM, not one political party has spoken of the Taliban while condemning the attack on Malala—not even the fire-and-brimstone-spewing Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf chief Imran Khan.
The reason why parties are shying away from demanding army action in North Waziristan is that general elections in Pakistan are around the corner, and politicians naturally fear reprisals from the Taliban during campaigning. Then again, some religious parties maintain links with the extremists.
“As a nation, we have lost the spine to go ahead with this (military) operation. A definite and unanimous stand must be taken by the National Assembly against terrorism. I don’t think the military wants an operation in Waziristan,” author and defence and security analyst Ayesha Siddiqa told Express Tribune.
Afiya Shehrbano, a sociologist, says, “The army too has been a master of invention and reinvention. From sovereign defender, it is now viewed as a collaborator (of the US) and a violator of the human rights of the perpetrator-cum-victim—the militants of FATA (the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, of which North Waziristan is a part). However, the same sympathy or label of ‘victim’ does not apply to the militant Baloch at the receiving end of the army’s extra-judicial acts.”
Today, as Malala fights for her life in Birmingham’s Queen Elizabeth hospital, thousands of Pakistanis feel she brought home the fact that the nation does not want to return to the stone age by allowing the Taliban’s writ to run in Pakistan.
Farahnaz Ispahani, a politician, tells the Daily Beast, “Have Pakistanis grasped the significance of the attack on Malala beyond the sympathy for a brave child? Did political leaders, religious clerics, civil society and media stars march in the streets against the Taliban as they fashionably do against the government or the world’s superpower? No. Did millions or even thousands join them? No.”
Malala’s Pakistan has to be saved by fighting a good war. The army and the government owes thousands like her their right to knowledge and enlightenment.