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Malala Of Swat Becomes Malala Of Pakistan And The Wider World

Students in Peshawar pray for the recovery of 14-year-old education-rights activist Malala Yousafzai on October 12, three days after she was shot by Taliban gunmen on a school bus.
Students in Peshawar pray for the recovery of 14-year-old education-rights activist Malala Yousafzai on October 12, three days after she was shot by Taliban gunmen on a school bus.
So where do all the security measures and the claims of victory against the Taliban in Swat stand following the attack on Malala Yousafzai? Is the attack, triumphantly claimed by the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a slap in the face for the civilian and military leadership? And how might religious apologists tailor their statements vis-a-vis Taliban attacks on innocent civilians?

The answers are clear. Calm has been returned to Swat, but that's a far cry from peace. The country's powerful military establishment still appears to be pinning its hopes on so-called strategic assets, and it seems confused about the good and the bad among the Taliban. And religious apologists are campaigning for general elections and hence less likely to offend the Taliban.

So innocent Pakistani civilians -- particularly those who want Pakistan a modern, developing and peaceful country -- are the victims. Fourteen-year-old Malala is one of them.

While the Taliban boldly claimed responsibility for the attack on Malala and warned of another if she survives, religious apologists either stayed silent or issued face-saving statements. After much foot-dragging, bland generalizations like "we condemn terrorism" and "whoever is responsible for the attack must be punished" were issued by leaders and officials of political and religious parties like Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf (PTI), Jamat-e-Islami (JI), Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI), and various factions of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML).

Hardly two days before the attack on Malala, cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan led a rally of his party workers and activists toward Waziristan to drum up sentiment against drone strikes targeting Al-Qaeda and Taliban targets and demanded an end to military operations. There, at the periphery of Waziristan in the district of Tank, Khan called for talks with the Taliban.

"But how can we hold talks with people who are out to kill even our children and boldly claim responsibility for such attacks?" Bashir Ahmad Bilour, a minister in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, demanded to know hours after Malala was shot.

Bashir Bilour's question casts a pall over the Pakistani government's past negotiations and peace deals with Taliban in Swat, Waziristan, and Khyber. All of those deals fell apart within few months and, in the eyes of their most strident critics, further emboldened and strengthened the militants, leading to more bloodshed in those areas.

Accounts from locals in Swat suggest that the military has a vast network of informers across the valley and that even once-powerful men -- khans or landlords -- can't so much as cough without the security forces' knowledge. How Taliban militants enter Swat and carry out occasional attacks like the one on Malala raises major questions for the people of Swat, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and the rest of Pakistan.

While prayers are being directed and praise poured on Malala and her father, Ziauddin, both of whom were on the Taliban hit-list as a result of their battle to ensure girls' education, young Malala has revived the history of Malalai of Mewand, popularly known as Malalai Anna, who rallied Pashtuns against the British during the second Anglo-Afghan war in 1880 at Maiwand, in Afghanistan.

While the Malalai of Maiwand played a heroic role in winning the battle by tending the injured Pashtuns and supplying water and weapons, the Malala of Swat fought with her pen and tongue to encourage her countrymen to send their children to school despite threats from the Taliban. Born in 1998, Malala was only 11 years old when she started her jihad (holy war) against ignorance and oppression.

The power of her unarmed jihad instilled so much fear among the so-called armed jihadists that they tried to kill her, an act both forbidden in Islam and considered a shameful and dishonorable act in Pashtun culture and tradition. Malala's attackers perhaps did not know that the attempt to silence her would produce such a serious repercussion.

Malala's rallying cry has proven stronger and more lasting than the gunshots from her would-be assassin and is resounding in every corner of Pakistan, inspiring her countrymen to stand up and emancipate themselves from the thugs who are out to steal the future of coming generations and snatch their individual and collective freedoms. Yesterday's Malala of Swat has become the Malala of Pakistan and the Malala of the wider civilized world.

-- Daud Khattak