x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Pakistanis say 'enough' to the Taliban after Malala attack

That attack on a schoolgirl in Swat is a sign of Taliban weakness, not strength.

Last Tuesday afternoon, a 14-year-old girl was riding the bus on her way home from school. A gunman stopped the vehicle, identified young Malala Yousafzai and shot her twice, once in the head and once in the neck. Two other girls were also injured, but are in stable condition.

Malala's crime? She comes from a relatively backward area of Pakistan, the picturesque Swat Valley, and in 2008 - at the age of 10 - she started writing on a blog, opposing the jihalat of women, which translates roughly to keeping them in a state of ignorance. Her efforts drew international recognition and she was awarded Pakistan's first "National Youth Peace Prize". The award was then named after her.

Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, the TTP, have claimed responsibility for the attack, which has left Malala in critical condition in a Rawalpindi hospital, and have promised to try again if she survives.

What kind of animals are these people who would target a child because of her desire to seek knowledge? Grotesquely, the word taliban in Urdu is a derivative of the Arabic Taalib-e-Ilm, a seeker of knowledge - a person with a quest for knowledge, not just a mere student.

Malala's chances of surviving are improving. But these animals have sworn to target her again if she survives. I try to imagine what her parents must be feeling.

If she survives, should she return home, demonstrating her courage, but knowing that these "seekers of knowledge" will try again? Or should she take her courage with her to another country and live without fear?

Who are these "saviours" of Islam who are so threatened by the courage of a 14-year-old girl? Malala has become a beacon of light and hope for Pakistan, and yet her courage brought out the very worst of humanity in the TTP.

In 1995, I buried my 26-year-old old son. I know the curse of burying your child. But there used to be just a few of us who had experienced this tragedy. Today, thousands of parents across Pakistan are cursed with this pain. Drone strikes this year have already killed an estimated 300 people or more, while the victims of suicide attacks and improvised explosive devices account for many more.

I remember a different time from when I was young. We enjoyed Christmas with Christians, Nowrooz with Parsees, Diwali with Hindus, and all of these groups joined us to celebrate Eid. When our Shia brethren commemorated Ashura with self-flagellation rituals, Sunnis lined the sidewalks with medicine and water to tend to those who were injured.

Life in Pakistan was never ideal, but it was not what it is today. Our mothers were educated, enlightened women who helped shape who we are.

It is obvious that the increase in religious extremism is a worldwide phenomenon, not confined to Muslims alone. But there can be no excuse for this act - the attempted murder of a young girl simply because she sought knowledge - made in the name of a misguided pretence of Islam.

However, it is not all bleak for Pakistan. The fact that the TTP targeted Malala proves how afraid they are of her. She is a symbol for many Pakistani women who seek not only knowledge, but also liberty, freedom and equality, and have the courage to stand up for it. This terrifies the Taliban. If this movement grows in strength, there will be no space left for the jihalat that the Taliban seek to impose.

As long as there are only a few Malalas, the Taliban can target them, but if they multiply the extremists will be helpless. Has the Taliban made a mistake in this instance? Has this attempted murder of Malala inspired others, in the thousands, to emulate her courage? It certainly seems so. On Friday, Pakistan's daily newspapers carried a common message: "Today, we are all Malala". Support has come from around the world.

After the furore caused by Innocence of Muslims, the idiotic Islamophobic film trailer produced in the United States, Muslims all over the world were outraged. Pakistan saw two days of murder and mayhem, during which more than a dozen lives were lost and massive property losses were incurred.

A day after those two days of destruction, hundreds of young students, men and women, organised themselves in Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore, and swept the streets. They repainted what they could, and also protested - not only against the film, but also against the form of protest of the previous few days.

They numbered only a few hundred in each city, but they shamed and inspired millions.

There has been an undercurrent of "enough" in Pakistan, which has been growing in recent years. This cry comes from the youth: enough of corruption; enough of inept leaders; and enough of jihalat. We will not give in to the Taliban.

The attempted murder of this brave girl may have created the very catalyst to bring Pakistani women back to public life in search of knowledge, liberty, freedom and equality. The murderous animals might have sounded their own death knell.


Brigadier Shaukat Qadir is a retired Pakistani infantry officer