ALMOST four years ago, when Malala Yousufzai first came to public attention as an 11-year-old whose poignant diary entries, contributed to BBC Urdu, offered an invaluable insight into conditions in Pakistan’s Swat region, the schoolgirl aspired to a career in medicine.

At some point she changed her mind. She decided she wanted to be a politician instead. “This country badly needs sincere leadership,” she told Newsweek correspondent Sami Yousafzai last year. How very true.

Any number of Pakistani leaders have claimed to share the public revulsion occasioned by last week’s attempt to kill Malala. Far too many of them have not, however, been able to bring themselves to blame the Taliban for this act of extraordinary barbarity — notwithstanding the fact that Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) lost little time in proudly taking responsibility for trying to kill a 14-year-old girl.

A spokesman for that organisation declared that the TTP was obliged to eliminate anyone who “leads a campaign against Islam and Sharia” and that Malala’s primary crime was her “pioneer role in preaching secularism and so-called enlightened moderation”.

Malala has not, by any stretch of the imagination, campaigned against Islam. Her activism has chiefly focused on the right of all children — especially girls — to an education.

Yes, everyone knows educated women are the Taliban’s bête noire. Everyone also ought to know this mindset militates against all facets of common sense. It can appeal only to those who are keen to perpetuate and reinforce Pakistan’s dark ages.

These date back to the Ziaul Haq regime’s campaign to enshroud and confine Pakistani women, when the slogan was ‘chaddar aur chardiwari’. It was resisted, of course, yet its consequences were alarming. I recall returning to Lahore in 1983 after three years abroad, and being gobsmacked by the fact that hardly any women were to be seen on the streets. (Karachi, in contrast, served as a useful reminder that humanity indeed consisted of two sexes.)

Even Zia wasn’t quite stupid enough to seek to outlaw education for girls, although many of the Mujahideen he sponsored in Afghanistan, on behalf of the United States, took particular pride in targeting coeducational schools and teachers who taught female students. When the Taliban took over in that country, they immediately took aim at women’s already meagre rights.

In her native Swat, Malala’s particular beef against the Taliban who held sway in the region for a couple of years was their attacks on girls’ schools. One of her diary entries noted that her school had advised girls against wearing their uniforms, for fear of attracting the Taliban’s attention. When the girls turned up in colourful attire, they were told that too might not go down well with the self-anointed purveyors of a primitive, misogynist morality.

This was the sort of fascism in the face of which Malala precociously took a stand. She realised the price it could entail. “Sometimes I imagine I’m going along and the Taliban stop me,” she has been quoted, in the Guardian, as saying on a television talk show last year. “I take my sandal and hit them on the face and say what you’re doing is wrong. Education is our right, don’t take it from us.

“There is this quality in me — I’m ready for all situations. So even if they kill me, I’ll first say to them what you’re doing is wrong.”

The obvious silver lining in the context of last week’s events is that Malala survived the Taliban attack — carried out, tellingly, while she was returning home from school in Mingora — and it remains possible to hope she will make a full recovery.

Another glimmer of hope has resided in the hardly unreasonable expectation that such a dastardly act, followed by the TTP’s outrageous threat to target the courageous child again, would turn public opinion against the Taliban more decisively than before. That has occurred to a certain extent, with condemnation of the attack coming even from organisations previously uncritical or subtly supportive of the TTP.

It hasn’t uniformly been unequivocal, but is welcome nonetheless. At the same time there have been efforts to cloud the issue. Bizarrely, in some public displays Malala’s photograph has been juxtaposed with that of Aafia Siddiqui. Whatever the latter, now imprisoned in the US, may or may not have done, it requires a fairly perverse leap of the imagination to hint at any parallels.

Perhaps inevitably, the relentless American drone attacks in the Waziristan region have been drawn into the discourse. Indignation over the missile strikes has never been a valid excuse for a softened stance on domestic terrorists. There are plenty of grounds for opposing both, while recognising that the latter pose a considerably broader and longer-term threat.

And, since last week, it is possible at least to understand the emotional charge behind an outburst by one of Malala’s former teachers, whom Sami Yousafzai quotes recently as saying: “I was a supporter of … Imran Khan. Now I’m challenging Imran Khan: your march against the drone attacks was wrong! Let the US eliminate the Taliban! They are a burden to our civilisation and all humanity!”

It’s not as straightforward as that, unfortunately. The Taliban, their obscurantist allies and their primitive mentality can be eliminated only by Pakistanis. By trying to murder a child who symbolises a brighter tomorrow, the forces of darkness have struck a more-or-less nationwide chord.

Whether it proves to be a watershed moment remains to be seen, but if such a shock to the national psyche fails to kickstart a vigorous fightback — through ideas, as Malala has been doing, not just weapons — then it’s hard to say what will. Pakistan’s future is on life support. If those who would murder it are to be stopped, the time is now.

mahir.dawn@gmail.com

Updated Oct 17, 2012 12:05am

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Comments (28) (Closed)


Sher
Oct 18, 2012 02:18am
They are doing for Allah. Can they be wrong?
malik
Oct 17, 2012 04:01am
In the 80's there were lot of women seen on the streets flaunting their latest fashion clothes. It is now that we dont see any women and even if we do they are all burqa clad. I miss those 80's badly.
Saad
Oct 17, 2012 03:51am
almost useless article. I have not found anything new or interesting or thoughtful in it. no conclusion, no objective !!!
Alizai
Oct 17, 2012 05:34am
She wanted to be a doctor but foreign agencies used BBC, Newsweek, and others to persuade her father to change her direction and used her for propaganda spokesperson against Taliban. This propaganda was then used to pollute western mind-set against Pakistan, Molvis, Muslims, Islam, and Taliban. Payments and gifts were made through her father. Any normal girl wants be be a doctor or nurse but never a politician. Never. But would do what her father tells her to do.
ahmed41
Oct 18, 2012 03:25am
"------ your march against the drone attacks was wrong! Let the US eliminate the Taliban! They are a burden to our civilisation and all humanity!”---" Let the US eliminate the TALIBAN ?!!!! But Sir, 10 years in Afghanistan and the US could not do it ....! Taliban stand for an ideology. This has to be opposed bya counter-ideology of a creative type~~~guns and drone are only one way. Think of all possible ways and set them in motion~~~ just talking about the problem will not work.
Ahmed Khan
Oct 17, 2012 05:24am
Excellent article and sound advice, but will Pakistanis have the courage and political will to unite and eliminate the menace of the "Talibans" from their society and country ? Doubtful !
Sandip
Oct 17, 2012 01:49pm
And you got this information from....?
Siraj
Oct 18, 2012 03:51am
It is much easy to blame others.
Agha Ata (USA)
Oct 17, 2012 12:54pm
Malala is our Joan of Arc. She didn't live, but The maid of Swat will!
Faraz
Oct 18, 2012 07:24am
This is common sense Sandip :) Anyway, things should not be viewed with one angle only. Maligning principles and values of a whole religion on the basis of the acts of some violent miscreants means propaganda my friend. I have got no proof of that but I can smell it very easily.
Blazer_UK
Oct 17, 2012 12:27pm
Actually people like you with your weak excuses for horrific acts that have polluted western mind-set against Pakistan, Molvis, Muslims, Islam, and Taliban
Cyrus Howell
Oct 17, 2012 01:14pm
The young believe people are good.
BRR
Oct 17, 2012 04:35am
Putting the whole weight / burden of combating the Taliban on the frail shoulders of a child is neither proper, just or even humane. Why can't 200 million Pakistanis instead lift the burden off malala's shoulders and do children a favor - provide education? Clearly, the pakistani people do not deserve a Malala.
kausik
Oct 17, 2012 04:50am
This closest the world came to this Diary writing young girl malala and her courage and desire for education in spite of all odds and threats and faced bullets.I will not be ashamed to admit i would have quit unlike courageous malala.
kausik
Oct 17, 2012 05:03am
All the Leaders who did not publicly condemn this Heinous act on school girl malala do not deserve the vote of Pakistani's whatever their political affiliation. I am Particularly shocked that Imran khan whose cricketing abilities i admired shamelessly backed away from commenting against TTP. Pakistani people must demand the politicians stand and views on girls education before they vote.
Hriday
Oct 17, 2012 11:05am
Couldn't agree with you more.The article is of course excellent. Will the Pakistani politicians & media too ,have the courage too stand up to the Fascist Pakistan Talibans ? Malala & other brave little girls like her need protection & strong support from all of us who believe in humanity.
Shahrukh Khan
Oct 18, 2012 12:11am
Those criminals involved in this heinous crime should be publicly beheaded. But What amaze me how Pakistani politician are trying to score points. They have no sham. In Pakistan there are countless Malala go un notice because of the corrupt and unjust system, and these MNA , MPA are responsible for that . you will never see these pigs say a word unless some like Malalal puts her life on the line Sharam tum ko magar nahe ati
ZZX-1
Oct 18, 2012 01:15pm
Nonsense...!
aqabdulaziz
Oct 17, 2012 10:35pm
Through divine sources located in his madressah.
bnath
Oct 17, 2012 09:22pm
If this article didn't inspire you, I don't know what will.
Sam
Oct 17, 2012 06:18pm
Any "normal" girl will opt to be a doctor or a nurse...But Malala is not normal...she is extraordinarily mature for her age...a fact that you are unable or unwilling to grasp
Zazi
Oct 18, 2012 06:44pm
That was a powerful yet an humble disarming answer. Smart, very smart.
Sam
Oct 17, 2012 05:32pm
It is a tragic event so we are sorry to disappoint you for not making it interesting. And if you don't find this article thought provoking, God knows what will? Within the greater war in the AfPak region we are fighting a civil war of ideology in Pakistan. The whole event of Taliban vs a schoolgirl is a clash of ideologies and civilization. Read into it, my friend.
Sceptic
Oct 17, 2012 01:57pm
Excellent article, this is the kind of writing Dawn should print which is fair and balanced. Makes one think intelligently about the issues and the solutions. This writer is erudite, intelligent and his analysis is spot on.
Gulshan
Oct 17, 2012 03:08pm
@Kausik I have said this on other platforms and I am repeating it here: "Malala and her class mates should send their Coloured Bangles for Imran Khan, Fazlu Rehman, Fareed Pracha and Nawaz Sharif, hoping to induce some guts in these power hungry politicians and make men out of them. " To regain some dignity and credibility in the International World, Pakistan Needs men like Malala.
Sufi Shah
Oct 17, 2012 02:49pm
Alizai, You seem to be a Taliban spokesman. Shame on you for maligning a 14-year-old girl who was shot and critically wounded.
KKRoberts
Oct 17, 2012 12:44pm
Even if Pakistan eliminate the last Taliban , it will not be easy to eliminate taliban mentality already ingrained in many pakistani minds.Pakistan has a fundamentalist Islamic society. The educational system in Pakistan is radicalized by Islamic teaching that projects Islam as the only true savior in the world.It demands that Islam be understood as the only true way of life, and creates in the mind of a school children a sense of siege and embattlement by stressing that Islam is under threat everywhere.Militant jihad has become part of the culture on colleges.Unless Pakistan cleans up its educational system, more taliban will be born inside.
G.A.
Oct 17, 2012 12:28pm
People are confusing the Taliban for the Afghan 'mujahideen' who fought the Soviets. While the latter were peasants and farmers with families who were encouraged by the CIA and allies to take up arms against foreign occupiers, the Taliban were brought up in Madrassas as foot soldiers. Often from poor background, orphans or kidnapped children, they were trained to shun worldly life and become soldiers. For that to happen, man's most basic instinct, desire for women, had to be removed. Partially, this is why the revulsion against women.