On Tuesday, October 9, 2012, gunmen shot at a bus carrying children home from school in Mingora, Swat valley. Among the victims was Malala Yousafzai, who was shot twice – once in the head and once in the neck. Miraculously, she survived, and according to news reports, doctors have removed the bullet lodged in her head.
The TTP, through their spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan, took responsibility for the attack, saying that she is a “secular-minded lady” and vowed to target her again if she survived. The spokesman added that this was a warning for all youngsters who were involved in similar activities and that they will be targeted as well if they do not stop. But the question remains: why did the Taliban – the brave warriors of Islam, the self-proclaimed ‘mujahideen’, the militants who claim to have reduced the military forces of NATO and Afghanistan to null – attack an innocent 14 year old girl?
To understand the targeting of Malala Yousafzai, one must go back to January 2007, when the peaceful Swat valley was slowly but surely falling to the Taliban, led by the ferocious Mullah Fazlullah. The area was off-limits to local and foreign journalists, and there was no way of independently ascertaining what was happening in the area.
It was then that a young 11 year old girl started blogging for the BBC series “Diary of a Pakistani schoolgirl” under the pseudonym “Gul Makai”, containing anecdotes and first-hand accounts of a city under siege by militants, with civilian law enforcement authorities and military forces losing control, and the implementation of a brutal version of Sharia law that meted out ghastly punishments to offenders, real or otherwise. The militants also blew up more than 150 girls’ schools – according to their version of Islam, educating girls was forbidden. “Gul Makai” wrote of fear and lawlessness; she wrote of men who proclaimed to be faithful Muslims but acted like brutal hooligans and cut-throat mercenaries; she wrote of dead bodies being hung from Mingora’s city’s main square, which had then been labeled ‘Khooni Chowk’ or ‘Bloody Chowk’ because of all the bodies that had been strung up by the Taliban. These were all opponents of the Taliban – peaceful or otherwise – and they had been ‘awarded’ an unimaginably brutal death.
This blog was one of the few true depictions of the reality of Swat that were available to the world at large; it exposed the helplessness of the citizens and the state, and the brutal form of government that extremist militants wished to impose in Swat (and, as they hoped, all over Pakistan). When this reality became apparent and clear, the Pakistan Army was forced to launch operations in 2009 in order to rid the area of these brutal militants and restore peace and stability in Swat.
If it were not for brave Pakistanis like Malala Yousafzai, the real author of the “Diary of a Pakistani schoolgirl” blog, the world would not have known the real face of the Pakistani militants or their real designs for the country. Despite all odds, and in the face of many dangers, Malala Yousafzai and many other citizens of Swat used non-violent means to oppose and eventually defeat the Taliban, forcing them to retreat from Swat. Afterwards, Malala’s efforts were appreciated nationally and globally; for her courageous and outstanding services for the promotion of peace under extremely hostile conditions, she was awarded the first National Peace Award by the Pakistani government on 19 December 2011. She also expressed her intent to support the cause of girls’ education all over Pakistan, and the Government Girls Secondary School, Mission Road, was immediately renamed Malala Yousufzai Government Girls Secondary School in her honor. Malala was also nominated by the Kids Rights Foundation, an international children’s advocacy group, for the International Children’s Peace Prize. Malala thus became the face of a progressive Pakistan, and of the Swat valley in particular. She spoke at various platforms for the need to unite against militancy and extremism, whether it was preached in the name of Islam or for the cause of any other faith or tradition. According to Waseem Ahmad Shah of DAWN News, her meteoric rise to fame was not because of sheer luck rather it was because of her struggle and her candid views regarding what had happened in Swat valley and how Taliban had inflicted damage on the education sector by blowing up dozens of schools.
The Pakistani Taliban realized that it was not only the security forces that had beaten them back; they had sworn to exact vengeance on the people of Swat who opposed their brand of Sharia law, and citizens like Malala – who is named after the famed Pashtun poet and warrior woman Malalai of Maiwand – were under obvious threat from the militant rump that remained in the lawless areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is a glowing tribute to the bravery of Malala and her family that they refused police protection thrice, despite being on the Taliban’s ‘hit list’.
Yesterday, after Malala was done from school and on her way home, she was intercepted by TTP militants and shot twice. Luckily, she was rescued and taken to the military hospital in the area, where her wounds were immediately treated. As soon as news broke of the attack on Malala, people all over Pakistan were shocked and stunned – many prayed for the health and recovery of the girl, barely 14 years old now, while others vociferously condemned this cowardly attack by self-proclaimed warriors of Islam on a young, helpless little girl who was returning home from school. State functionaries from the Swat district to the corridors of power in Islamabad have vowed to hunt the culprits, and have promised the world’s best medical assistance to Malala; for if she dies, the hope of a progressive, enlightened, moderate, tolerant Pakistan dies with her.
Malala’s only crime – in the eyes of the Taliban – is that she wants to be educated. Malala dreams of a Pakistan where all children, male and female, have access to quality education. Malala wishes for a Pakistan without fear of sudden attack or threats of death. She espoused these beliefs not because of her parents or her upbringing, or because of her hatred of the Taliban – she was roused to action by the rampant destruction of girls’ schools by the Swat Taliban, and at the tender age of 11, she knew that if there was no school in her city to impart knowledge to her, then she would be forced to lead an unfulfilled and desolate life, devoid of the illumination of knowledge and wisdom.
As Pakistan and the rest of the world prays for Malala’s speedy recovery, and condemns this brutal and cowardly act of terrorism, the people of Pakistan must redouble their efforts against extremism and militancy of all forms – they must renounce support for all those entities who wish to impose their narrow vision of religion and life onto the masses, and must actively work against the forces of intolerance and violence. As Malala fights for her life on a hospital bed, Pakistan fights for its survival as well; Pakistan is fighting a daily struggle for freedom from a brutal and illegitimate version of Sharia law – a brand of extremism and Islamic fundamentalism that militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan are fighting to impose on the Muslims of these countries.
The attack on Malala is an attack on all peace-loving, progressive, tolerant Pakistanis. This attack must not cow down the people of Pakistan, or the youth of the country – rather, it should energize the resolve of the people and the youth to such an extent that the ideologies of extremism, militancy and Islamic fundamentalism die a painful death, or be enervated to such a degree that they would never be able to pose an existential threat to the Pakistani state, to the lives and property of its people, and to the promise and hope of an enlightened and progressive future that all Pakistanis still yearn for.
If Malala can continue her fight against death from a hospital bed, then it is incumbent upon all Pakistanis with a sane and rational mind – and with hope for peace and a progressive, tolerant future – to continue Malala’s fight against the forces of extremism, terrorism and tyranny all over Pakistan. Whether the youth of Pakistan – who are gathering in various cities all over the country to protest this cowardly and dastardly attack – are up to the task or not, remains to be seen. But Malala has set a grand example for all Pakistanis to follow.
Let us take a moment to hope and pray that Malala survives her ordeal and recovers fully, but let us also resolve to make Malala’s fight to protect and save Pakistan our own fight. Let us now pledge that Malala will not be alone in her struggle for a peaceful, progressive, tolerant, and educated Pakistan; a Pakistan that offers a bright future to its children and its youth.