THE news of a gun attack on young Malala Yousufzai, who had become a symbol of resistance in Swat to the Taliban’s obscurant agenda, has been met with revulsion in Pakistan and abroad. The 14-year-old, a crusader for girls’ education and an outspoken critic of the Taliban, had been receiving threats from the latter, and in that respect the attack, claimed by the Taliban, has come as no surprise — even though Malala’s family reportedly did not think that the Taliban would target her.
However, it must be borne in mind that the militants’ targets have over the years become extremely blurred; and apart from state and military installations they have bombed hospitals, marketplaces, mosques and bazaars, killing or maiming thousands of civilians in the process. Besides they routinely issue warnings to people not to support groups working on community welfare projects. With such a regressive thought process, their violent rejection of anything that stands for democracy, secularism, in fact the basic freedoms themselves, is only to be expected. In keeping with their hidebound ideology, they have atomised 2,000 schools — almost all of them catering to girls’ education, to which Malala, since the time the Taliban ordered the school her father ran to be closed down, is inextricably linked.
The attack on Malala was the third such incident in Swat in recent months. In the earlier two crimes, the Taliban had targeted a hotel owner and the chief of the hotel owners’ association. Does the crime in Mingora on Tuesday forebode Swat’s return to tyranny in the name of religion? We hope not, for the tourist paradise has made a remarkable return to normality. The 2009 army operation against Mullah Fazlullah and his men by all accounts was a success story: the militants have been chased into nearby Afghan provinces from where they carry out attacks inside Pakistan — a reminder that their defeat has not been complete. Since their flight, though, Swat has been largely peaceful; domestic tourism has returned, while welfare works have picked up. This turnaround in the situation has been due mostly to the efforts of the people of Swat who suffered under the Taliban, seeing their livelihoods ruined and their traditional way of life disturbed, besides witnessing the group’s barbarity on almost a daily basis. However, there is still no room for complacency, and even sporadic targeted attacks could indicate the presence of a support base for the Taliban in the area. Better intelligence-gathering then is needed to thwart the designs of those who are waiting to once more snuff out the dreams of thousands like Malala.