x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Malala did for Pakistan what the government failed to do

The teenager who was shot by the Taliban for supporting the education of girls represents the dream of a democratic and progressive Pakistan.

Not winning the Nobel peace prize did not matter for Malala Yousafzai, Pakistan’s 16-year-old campaigner for girls’ education, for she has already won the hearts of millions of people all over the world.

Her loss was good news for the Pakistani Taliban. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) reportedly said in a statement: “We are delighted that she didn’t get it (the Nobel Peace Prize). She did nothing big so it’s good that she didn’t get it.”

A year ago, the Taliban shot her in the head on her school bus, but fortunately she survived. She had emerged as a voice of oppressed schoolgirls in 2009 in Swat, the former Taliban stronghold in Pakistan’s northwest, and has now become an international voice and a global ambassador for children’s rights. As she won more admiration, love and respect from across the world, the Taliban received more condemnation and odium for brutality worldwide.

Malala was an effective drone against the Taliban and a role model for young boys and girls. She has become a sort of ideology for combating the Taliban on the ideological front.

The Taliban feel threatened not by Malala but by what she represents. That is why the TTP recently warned booksellers in Pakistan not to sell I am Malala – the book she published this month. The TTP recently warned: “the Taliban will not lose an opportunity to kill Malala Yousufzai and those who were found selling her book will be targeted.”

Malala as an idea is about peace through sacrifice, tolerance, love and education. It rejects theocratic and radical interpretations of Islam.

True Islam equates the murder of an innocent human being with the murder of all humanity. The TTP, on the other hand, endorsed the attack last month on a Peshawar church in the country’s north-west in which more than 80 innocent people were killed. The TTP declared it in accordance with Islam.

Most Pakistanis, directly or indirectly, are victims of religious extremism. The extremists who want to impose their brand of Islam have targeted mosques, churches, temples and the saints’ shrines. With a violent mindset, the Taliban want to turn Pakistan into a nation in their own image. They are fiercely against female education and have destroyed hundreds of girls’ schools in tribal areas and in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

In Afghanistan under the Taliban before the US attack in late 2001 and in Pakistan’s Taliban-stronghold Swat region in 2009, the Taliban banned women from working and education. They showed intolerance to religious minorities such as Christians and Shia. They forcefully imposed their theocratic agenda and beheaded those who dared to speak up against their actions.

In this context, Malala is a true heroine fighting for the soul of a democratic and progressive Pakistan, where every citizen, regardless of religion or sect, has the right to practise his or her creed.

Malala the idea aims to deal with the root causes that produce the extremist mindset. She considers ignorance and lack of knowledge as the greatest forces behind Talibanisation in tribal areas along the Afghan border.

Malala considers herself not yet eligible for the Nobel Prize, for she is determined to wage a long struggle and work hard to fight for the right to education of the children in troubled regions. She has to go a long way still in her struggle for peace through education.

Malala has done for Pakistan what the country’s government could not do despite having the resources. She has projected a soft image of Pakistan, a nation considered one of the most dangerous in the world due to the Taliban’s violence and extremism. The nation is proud of her.

Malala the idea is a fitting answer to the Taliban’s ideology. She considers education, particularly female education as the most effective weapon to combat the Taliban. She did it and proved it.

She has won support from the international community for her ideology of love, while the Taliban have earned international condemnation for their ideology of hatred and violence. She knows the long-term counter-productivity of the US drone attacks in the country’s tribal areas and she asked for a stop to drone attacks during her recent meeting with the US president, Barack Obama. 

Malala’s struggle has drawn a clear line between pro-Taliban and anti- Taliban in Pakistan and between those who regard war on extremists as their own war and those who still deem it an American war.

She is currently under fire from hardline Islamist groups and right-wing political parties. She is being projected as an American agent working on an agenda to serve the US interests.

Her critics do not want to see “more Malalas” challenging the radical and theocratic mindset and emerging as role models for the young generation in Pakistan. The campaign against Malala is aimed at reducing the number of her followers by maligning her.

In a recent television interview, she said: “The next day people in Pakistan said, ‘I am Malala’. They did not say, ‘I am Taliban’.” Malala defeated the Taliban who shot her. Her victimisation at the hands of the Taliban has inspired thousands of Pakistani schoolgirls who want to become a Malala. 

Today, the country has thousands of young, bold and energetic Malalas to carry out her mission. This is the impressive outcome of her struggle against the scourge of extremism.

Syed Fazl-e-Haider (www.syedfazlehaider.com) is a development analyst in Pakistan. He is the author of many books, including The Economic Development of Balochistan