LET’S get one thing straight about the attack on Malala Yousufzai. It is not comparable to drone strikes. It is not comparable to the Lal Masjid operation. Nor is it likely to be comparable to other incidents the religious right might use to try to divert attention from the particular evil of this one. Because here is what this incident was: a deliberate attack on a specific teenage girl in retaliation for her activism for girls’ education and opposition to Islamist militancy, a harmless, non-violent cause the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan happen not to like. Drone strikes may be unacceptable in their current form and end up killing innocent children, but doing so is not their intent. The figure of 1,200 women killed in the Lal Masjid operation is highly dubious; this paper’s investigations had indicated that most women left the compound during the amnesty granted before the operation. And yet moves are afoot to position these events as comparisons in an attempt to dampen the widespread recognition of the Malala incident for what it was — the targeting of an innocent girl by an outfit that does not believe in the most basic of human rights and is prepared to attack even children to promote its regressive ideas.
These attempts to fudge the truth and make false comparisons indicate that the religious right feels threatened by the public outcry against Malala’s attackers. But it is also a chilling reminder of the degree to which most right-wing groups harbour sympathies for violent extremism. The Difa-i-Pakistan Council is an obvious member of this club, but even leaders of the more mainstream JUI-F and JI have questioned the focus on Malala, compared the attack to other events or dismissed its real implications by declaring it a conspiracy to trigger an operation in North Waziristan. And while secular political parties have not been as quick to do so, most have shied away from naming the TTP and demonstrating the single-mindedness that is needed to dismantle that organisation’s ability to terrorise Pakistan.
Battle lines have been drawn across the political landscape, and few groups are taking as courageous and clear a stand as is needed. The reaction in the first couple of days after Malala was attacked had inspired hope that a political consensus against the TTP, not just violent extremism, might be formed. But that has not taken place, despite the public’s demonstrated anger at the terrorist group. And as long as political forces hold back, the military will have a reason to hold back too. The moment Pakistan should not have wasted is being squandered before our very eyes.