Pakistan The Girl Who Dared
Malala becomes the poster child for girls’ education and Taliban resistance.
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.