Pak­istan The Girl Who Dared

Malala be­comes the poster child for girls’ ed­u­ca­tion and Tal­iban re­sis­tance.

Southasia - - Contents - By S.G. Ji­la­nee

The as­sas­si­na­tion at­tempt by the Tal­iban on Malala Yousufzai, 15, has shocked the world. Shot in the head and neck, she was flown to the U.K. and is cur­rently re­cov­er­ing un­der treat­ment at the pres­ti­gious Queen Elizabeth Hospi­tal in Birm­ing­ham.

The US sec­re­tary of state and the Bri­tish for­eign sec­re­tary were prompt in con­demn­ing the at­tack. In Pak­istan, the event trig­gered a groundswell of anger and re­vul­sion. School­child­ren brought out ral­lies in her sup­port. Can­dle light vig­ils were held. A rare fatwa was also is­sued de­nounc­ing the at­tack.

But, ex­cept Altaf Hus­sain, no other po­lit­i­cal leader spoke out to con­demn the crime. He hailed Malala as the “Daugh­ter of Pak­istan,” called for im­me­di­ate mil­i­tary ac­tion in North Waziris­tan and of­fered the full sup­port of his work­ers in fight­ing shoul­der to shoul­der with the army. All other po­lit­i­cal par­ties re­mained mute. Maulana Fa­zlur Rah­man even tried to di­lute the im­pact of the crime by equat­ing it with the drone at­tacks that kill in­no­cent girls and Dr. Afia Sid­diqi’s con­vic­tion.

The army chief went to Malala’s bed­side, flew her by army heli­copter to Pe­shawar for ur­gent med­i­cal as­sis­tance. He un­equiv­o­cally con­demned the at­tempt on her life, ex­press­ing his re­solve to fight the evil. “We will fight, re­gard­less of the cost we will pre­vail,” he as­serted.

And now, it is re­ported that the EU par­lia­ment has paid trib­ute to her as well. The UN has de­cided to ob­serve Novem­ber 10 as Malala Day. Ear­lier An­gelina Jolie sug­gested that she should be nom­i­nated for No­bel Peace Prize, while Des­mond Tutu has al­ready nom­i­nated her for the In­ter­na­tional Chil­dren’s Peace Prize.

Such uni­ver­sal re­ac­tion to the in­ci­dent was nat­u­ral due to the spin given to the story as it was re­layed. Which eye will not be moist; which heart will not bleed when told that a school­girl in her teens was the tar­get of an as­sas­si­na­tion at­tempt be­cause she tried to defy the Tal­iban’s ban on ed­u­ca­tion?

For el­e­ments that have been bay­ing for Tal­iban blood, this was a wind­fall; an ear-shat­ter­ing cry call­ing for im­me­di­ate army on­slaught in North Waziris­tan to avenge the at­tack. Gen­eral Kayani’s words at Malala’s bed­side seemed to sig­nal such a pos­si­bil­ity. This, as De­clan Walsh of the New York Times called it, was the “Malala Moment!”

The anti-Tal­iban lobby went into or­gas­mic ec­stasy. No less pleased was Amer­ica. At last, the army would be do­ing what the former had wished and the lat­ter had long been forc­ing it to do: elim­i­nate the Tal­iban from North Waziris­tan.

The me­dia went berserk. Some lead­ing English lan­guage news­pa­pers car­ried up to three op-ed pieces a day. Writ­ers of all hues be­gan jostling for a place in the com­pe­ti­tion for how much force­fully each could blovi­ate on the theme of de­nounc­ing Tal­iban and de­ify­ing Malala.

For about 10 days the hur­ri­cane raged in full fury. Then it sub­sided. The “moment” had passed.

What took the wind out of the an­tiTal­iban lobby’s bal­loon was the want of po­lit­i­cal con­sen­sus and pub­lic sup­port on which Gen. Kayani fac­tored the push into North Waziris­tan. The rul­ing party tabled a res­o­lu­tion in the Na­tional As­sem­bly for mil­i­tary ac­tion. But it failed to take off when the op­po­si­tion de­clined its sup­port.

There can be no ques­tion that from day one the lib­eral lobby hi­jacked the tragic in­ci­dent and ex­ploited it cyn­i­cally to ad­vance their own agenda. No won­der that, de­spite all the show of sym­pa­thy, no col­lec­tive prayers were of­fered and not a goat sac­ri­ficed for Malala’s safety and re­cov­ery as hap­pens when Pres­i­dent Zar­dari sneezes or Altaf Hus­sain coughs.

The facts lead­ing up to the at­tempt on Malala’s life tell a dif­fer­ent story. Born in 1997, Malala Yousufzai was 11 years old in 2008 when the Tal­iban took over Swat and be­gan to ban girls from go­ing to school. She was one of the girls who tried to defy the ban and spoke out against it at a press con­fer­ence in Pe­shawar in Septem­ber the same year.

In early 2009, her fa­ther of­fered Malala’s ser­vices to BBC Urdu for writ­ing blogs on life un­der Tal­iban. Be­cause a girl study­ing in Class VII could not write blogs of the kind re­quired, it was ob­vi­ous that she would have been guided and her draft “di­aries” edited for clar­ity and im­pact by her spon­sors.

For Amer­ica, Malala was a pre­cious find as a lethal weapon in its war with the Tal­iban, be­cause the words of a “child” could pen­e­trate far deeper into the hearts and minds of the Amer­i­can peo­ple than vol­umes of state­ments by older men or women.

The West­ern me­dia swooped upon Swat. The New York Times made a doc­u­men­tary on her. Notably, while Obama re­gret­ted hav­ing in­cluded his kids in an in­ter­view he gave to the tele­vi­sion se­ries ‘Ac­cess Hol­ly­wood” in 2008, -- Malia is just one year younger than Malala -- it was kosher for the lat­ter to give reg­u­lar in­ter­views to the print and elec­tronic me­dia. Even US spe­cial en­voy to Afghanistan and Pak­istan, Richard Hol­brooke, in­vited her for a meet­ing in which she is said to have asked him for US in­ter­ven­tion to fight the Tal­iban.

By mid-2009, the army had driven the Tal­iban out of Swat. Nor­mal­ity had re­turned. Schools re­opened. And Malala re­sumed her stud­ies. With the Tal­iban gone, her at­tacks on them should have ceased. But, egged on by her han­dlers to con­front the Tal­iban her lan­guage be­came only more acer­bic and in­tem­per­ate.

For in­stance, last year Malala was quoted in the Guardian, say­ing on a tele­vi­sion talk show; “Some­times I imag­ine I’m go­ing along and the Tal­iban stop me. I take my san­dal and hit them on the face and say what you’re do­ing is wrong.” Yet, none of her wor­ship­pers raised their eye­brow and said, “the lan­guage you are us­ing is wrong.”

In homi­cide cases provo­ca­tion is con­sid­ered a good de­fense. And there is no ques­tion that Malala gave them enough provo­ca­tion. She was Amer­ica’s an­swer to Tal­iban’s teenage sui­cide bombers, fight­ing on the pro­pa­ganda front.

What hap­pened on Oc­to­ber 9 was, there­fore, the log­i­cal con­se­quence of her end­less at­tacks on the Tal­iban. As their spokesman, Eh­san­ul­lah Ehsan said in a state­ment, “Tal­iban ex­e­cuted the at­tack on an adult girl only af­ter she emerged as a piv­otal char­ac­ter in the me­dia war against us.” S. G. Ji­la­nee is a se­nior po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst and former ed­i­tor of SouthA­sia Mag­a­zine.

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