The negligent Pakistani

18 Oct 2012


On October 9, 2012, Malala Yousafzai, at 14-years-old, was shot in the head and neck. This changed a lot of grey in Pakistan to an unwavering black and white. A wave of introspection began to take its course. People began to realise that there was a choice: the future Malala wanted, or something else (whatever that something else was).

For most, this came as a mix of shock, resentment and disgust, all directed towards the incident itself. For me, it was a source of sorrow and disdain – because we let this incident take place.

They say that the Taliban are to blame for this, but to me that seems like the easy answer. Easy because it’s obvious; easy because it’s convenient. This vast oversimplification of who’s at fault is blatantly indicative of who is really responsible. Upon this, my sorrow solidifies to frustration, my disdain to anger.

An atmosphere of fear has pervaded its way into every breath of being Pakistani, and I am disturbed that we have allowed it to do so. When 27 bullets claimed Salmaan Taseer because he spoke out against the misuse of a law used to persecute minorities, Pakistan was quiet. Before his death, there was an influx of articles, of people charged with emotion, ready to struggle to amend the law for a better Pakistan. After his death, politicians were silenced. People stood dumbly as the threat of death become so much more real. I blame the Pakistani society for allowing this fear to perpetuate.

Pakistanis have shown that they, collectively or individually, are not ready to stand for causes that they believe in. But Malala is different. And her perseverance, her dedication should make us all ashamed. She is not a product of the Pakistani society or the Pakistani mentality. She started writing at 11 – not in a comparatively safe haven like Karachi or Lahore, but in Swat; not from a privileged background with no security threat and generous wealth, but from a modest one. She didn’t grow up with the opportunities that you and I grew up with, or the access to information or knowledge that you and I had thrown at us, yet she grew up stronger. She grew up better.

Now, once the damage has been done, we acquire a voice. Incidents like this spark passionate responses from us Pakistanis. We champion such causes as our own, though always when it’s too late. But what’s worse is our half-hardheartedness; what’s worse is how minimally we contribute, how ineffectively we help.

People took to Facebook and Twitter to vent their frustration. But history suggests that this is going to be just another link shared, another disapproving status written, or, if one were very generous, another profile picture changed. We did this for the Blasphemy Law. We did this for the flood. We did this for Shahbaz Taseer. We did this for the Ahmadis. We did this, and we forgot. We moved on.

We often ask in dejection: What can our one voice do. Turn to Malala; look at what it can do. It gets arguably the most feared faction in the world to dread a 14-year-old girl. She stood alone and defended her cause because she knew that if she wouldn’t, no one would. She was – is – “scared of no one”.

Malala stood for her cause from the tender age of 11 – something we cannot, and should not forget. She stood for her cause and did not let herself get distracted. We are slowly doing the opposite. News of her health and condition flooded media outlets. Politicians, policymakers and people ran to her defense, condemning the act as one of cowardice, one of terror. But few condemned the Taliban. This was treated as an incident, not the manifestation of a mindset.

People now argue whether Madonna’s tribute in the form of a striptease was too scandalous, or why the media doesn’t focus on the innocent 14-year-old girls killed by drone strikes. But this is not relevant. I blame the people who deflect the attention from where it should be, and the ones who allow this deflection.

I blame said messiahs like Imran Khan who say that the war against extremism is “not our war”, and I blame the educated elite who allow that mentality to flourish. That belief is a form of indirect sympathy for the Taliban, and direct ignorance towards a mindset that claims the minds of an overwhelming number of Pakistanis. The declaration that this war is not our duty is harmful beyond words. It sheds us from all responsibility of creating a monster on our territory, a monster that is fighting our people. If this is not something that we have the duty to fight, then we are being apathetic towards causes like Malala’s. Malala did not believe that this war is not ours; she fought it single-highhandedly and refused to surrender.

The Taliban have vowed to kill Malala if she survives, and have vowed to kill her father, who is as heroic as she. Our fear, our apathy and our ignorance gave way for an incident we regret. But now, the same fear, the same apathy, and the same ignorance can lead to her death, to her father’s death. We have been given another chance, and I fear it is our last.

People say that the Taliban did this to Malala, but I think that we did. I think our silence causes and continues to cause our future to darken. People say that Malala represents Pakistan and its struggles, but I don’t think she does. I think she is one of the few who struggled for change, that she is one of the few that fought for a voice, that she is one – in one hundred and eighty million.


S. Azam Mahmood is an undergraduate studying Cognitive Science and Neuroscience.



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