On October 9 2012, a group of Pakistani Taliban (as distinct from the Afghan Taliban) stopped a bus ferrying school girls to their school in Swat, northern Pakistan. Their target was a couple of school girls but primarily 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai, one of the students on the bus. After identifying her, the gunman shot her in the head, thought he had killed her, and fled from the scene. It was a miracle that the bullet just missed Malala’s brain and grazing her head, lodged in her shoulder. This brazen attack on an unarmed schoolgirl for her activism for education for girls, provoked huge outrage in Pakistan and other parts of the world. If the Pakistani Taliban were afraid of a mere slip of a girl, afraid enough that is to gun her down, and hoped that they had silenced a pesky opponent, they were mistaken. On the contrary,thousands of young girls in Pakistan demonstrated in solidarity with Malala by proclaiming again and again, “I am Malala!”
Malala’s would-be assassin escaped. He allegedly slipped across the border to Afghanistan and remains to be apprehended by the Afghan authorities and extradited to Pakistan to answer for his crime.
The critically ill Malala was airlifted at the expense of the Pakistan government to a specialist hospital in Britain, where she began her treatment and eventual recovery from her grievous wounds. The Pakistan government also created a position in the Pakistan Consulate at Birmingham, UK, for Malala’s father-a school teacher-so that the family could stay in Britain. This is a move imposed on the family as the Pakistani Taliban has publicly stated last year that they would try to kill her again.
On July 12 2013, her sixteenth birthday, the UN Secretary General Ban ki-moon welcomed Malala to the United Nations. He said, “By targeting Malala, extremists showed what they feared most: a girl with a book. Malala is calling on us to keep our promises-invest in young people and put education first”. In her speech which has been termed inspirational by many observers, Malala called upon world leaders to provide “free, compulsory education for every child”. Addressing the young leaders present on the occasion, Malala stated, “Let us pick up our books and pens. They are our most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one book, and one pen, can change the world. Education is the only solution”.
Interestingly, a Taliban commander responded to the outpouring of affection and admiration for the plucky Malala. This man, Adnan Rashid, an escaped convict and therefore a fugitive from justice, said he was “writing in his personal capacity and not in the name of the Pakistani Taliban”. He blamed the Pakistani schoolgirl for provoking the attack on her because she had “smeared” the Islamists. In a rambling letter blaming the West for spreading its system of education, he advised her to return to Pakistan and join an Islamic religious school.
Undoubtedly, some people might be swayed by these arguments. Conspiracy theories of which this four page open letter is an example, is a form of escapism which is rife in many countries. I am confident, however, that the mainstream in Pakistan would reject these views.In general election after general election, the Pakistani people have rejected the religious parties. The Pakistani people know that violent extremism is at variance to their values. Good for them!
If Third World countries across the globe are to march toward progress and prosperity, they would have to ensure education for their young, both boys and girls. Restricting education for girls, as it regrettably happens in some countries, is a huge drag on development. It is not surprising that these countries lag behind others by a considerable margin in the UN Human Development Indices. This is so because these countries have failed to utilize the productive energy of half of its population.