At 14, she is more courageous than I or Ghulam Ahmad Bilour will ever be. The Minister for Railways caved in recently to the Taliban to have his name struck from the Taliban’s hit list. Malala Yousafzai, however, stared down the Taliban until the very moment they shot her in the head yesterday.
While I write to express my disgust with the extremists from the safe confines of a Canadian suburb, Malala and her father stood their ground in Mingora even when the city fell to the Taliban. And while the Taliban destroyed girls’ schools in the Swat region, Malala, then only 11 years old, emerged as the most articulate and forceful voice for education in Pakistan. Today she lies in a hospital bed fighting for her life.
As the armed men forcibly stopped and boarded Malala’s school bus, she must have known all along that the militants had come for her. I can’t begin to imagine what she must have felt when the militants asked the driver to identify her (Malala Yousufzai sok daa?). While one militant held a pistol to the driver’s head, the other walked up to Malala and shot her in the forehead. Two other girls were also shot in the attack.
It was not very long ago when she spoke to the New York Times while the Taliban were busy establishing their rule in the Swat valley. The Taliban forbade schooling for girls in Swat. Malala and her classmates attended school in disguise as they hid their books in their clothes. Such dedication for education is unheard of in the world. Defying acid attacks and bullets, Malala and other young girls continued to attend school until it was no longer possible. “I will get my education if it is at home, school, or any place,” she said.
This is not the first time in Pakistan that a bus was stopped and civilians were removed and shot at. The only difference is that those killed on the roadside in the past were Shias. For years, Taliban and their sympathizers have stopped buses along the Tal-Parachinar Road and removed Shia passengers to either murder or kidnap them for ransom. Recently, Taliban and their sympathisers have executed several dozen Shias in Quetta and Gilgit-Baltistan region after removing them from buses.
Why is that the State and the society have largely remained silent on the wanton murder of the Shias and other religious minorities in Pakistan? Why is that Imran Khan, Jamat-i-Islami or other religious outfits in Pakistan have never embarked on a long march for the plight of Shias and other victims of sectarian violence? I would argue that had the State and the society acted with resolve against sectarian violence in the past, the extremists would not have felt so invincible as to target an unarmed 14-year old girl in broad daylight.
Pakistan has done a poor job looking after its children. The physical, mental, and sexual abuse of children is widespread in Pakistan. Add to this the food and other insecurities brought about by economic turmoil in the country that is likely to cause stunted growth in the future generations. The attack on Malala is further proof of the fact that the life and welfare of the youth is not safe in Pakistan.
Who is Malala Yousufzai?
As her attackers asked in Pushto who is Malala Yusufzai (Malala Yousufzai sok daa?), they obviously did not know her or of her. Let me answer this question for anyone who wants to know. Malala is what Taliban will never be. She is fearless, enlightened, articulate, and a young Muslim woman who is the face of Pakistan and the hope for a faltering nation that can no longer protect its daughters.
Murtaza Haider, Ph.D. is the Associate Dean of research and graduate programs at the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University in Toronto. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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