Accessibility links

Profile: Shot Pakistani Teen Stood Up To The Taliban

  • Ron Synovitz

Malala Yousafzai was just 11 years old when she began writing an anonymous diary for the BBC's Urdu Service about the Pakistani Taliban's crackdown on girls' education.

Now aged 14 and known throughout the country for her courage in speaking out against the hard-line Islamist group's influence in her home region, she finds herself hospitalized after a gun attack on the minibus she and her classmates were riding in as they left their girls' school on October 9.

Within hours of the shooting in Mingora, the largest city in the northwestern Swat district, the Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan claimed responsibility for the attack.

Yousafzai's online descriptions of life as a schoolgirl under Taliban rule began in January 2009. The Pakistani Taliban had been the de facto rulers of Swat District, located near the border with Afghanistan, since 2003.

Writing under the pseudonym "Gul Makai," Yousafzai described how the Taliban ordered the closure of schools in Swat as part of their ban on girls' education.

Her father, Zaiuddin Yousafzai, was the owner of a private girls' school until the Taliban forced him to shut it down.

At the same time, some 50,000 Pakistani girls across Taliban-controlled territory also were forced to stop going to school.

The Threat Of Taliban Guns

Yousafzai documented the sadness that she and her classmates felt about losing their education under the threat of Taliban guns.

"I felt hurt on opening my wardrobe and seeing my uniform, school bag and geometry box," she wrote on February 8, 2009. "Boys' schools are opening tomorrow. But the Taliban have banned girls' education. The memories of my school flashed before me, especially the arguments among the girls."

Pakistani doctors treat Malala Yousafzai at an army hospital following an attack by gunmen in Peshawar.

Pakistani doctors treat Malala Yousafzai at an army hospital following an attack by gunmen in Peshawar.

Yousafzai's diary related the fears of local children in Swat about Taliban militants who were executing townspeople and destroying school buildings -- particularly girls' schools.

She also eventually described how she and her family, along with most of her schoolmates, fled the Swat region to escape fighting after more than 12,000 Pakistani soldiers launched a government offensive against the Taliban.

After Pakistan's army regained control of Swat, Yousafzai's real identity was revealed to the world.

Bold and articulate -- and fluent in Pashto, Urdu, and English -- she spoke openly to both Pakistani and foreign media about how fear permeated every aspect of life under Taliban rule.

National Peace Award

In late 2011, Pakistan's government awarded Yousafzai with the "National Peace Award for Youth."

She also became the first Pakistani girl to be nominated for the International Children's Peace Prize -- a nomination announced by South Africa's Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmund Tutu.

Although she ultimately did not receive that award, Yousafzai told RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal in late 2011 that being nominated was a "great honor."

"This was the first time that a child from Pakistan was nominated for the award," she said. "This is an honor for Pakistan. And I am also happy because it is an honor for our country."

With the attention of the international media focused on her, Yousafzai also announced her dream to someday form and lead a political party in Pakistan that would focus on the right of girls to receive an education.

"I want to become such an inspiring leader to lead the nation, Pakistan," she said. "Along with that, I also want to serve humanity in whatever shape and form that may be."

In March, Yousafzai was included on a list of "100 Women Who Matter," which was put together by the Pakistani edition of "Newsweek" magazine.

Yousafzai's notoriety and firsthand narratives certainly directed national and international attention toward educational issues in Pakistan. But it also infuriated the Pakistani Taliban.

A spokesman for Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan told RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal in March that Yousafzai had been placed on the militants' "hit list."

Pakistani Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf condemned the attack and called Yousafzai a "daughter of Pakistan."

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland called the shooting "barbaric" and "cowardly."

Leila Zerrougui, the UN special representative for children in armed conflict, condemned the attack "in the harshest terms."

Written by RFE/RL correspondent Ron Synovitz in Prague, with reporting by RFE/RL Radio Mashaal correspondents in Islamabad and Peshawar

Show comments