x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

Pakistani girls in UAE pay tribute to Malala

Pakistani girls in the UAE, inspired by child activist Malala Yousafzai's fight for women's rights and education, gather in the Pakistan embassy in Abu Dhabi to pay tribute to the victim of the Taliban shooting.

School-children hold up posters in solidarity with Malala Yousufzai at the Embassy of Pakistan in Abu Dhabi, which held a tribute for the 14-year-old that was shot in the head by the Taliban in the SWAT valley a few days ago.
School-children hold up posters in solidarity with Malala Yousufzai at the Embassy of Pakistan in Abu Dhabi, which held a tribute for the 14-year-old that was shot in the head by the Taliban in the SWAT valley a few days ago.

ABU DHABI // Fatima Younas knows the courage it took for Malala Yousafzai to campaign for girls to be educated, in the face of Taliban threats against her life.

Fatima, 13, was forced to stop her education when her family returned to the Swat Valley in Pakistan from the UAE in 2008.

"They say if you go to school they will shoot the girls and they'll blast the school," she said. "I was just sitting at home."

Malala refused to listen, and on October 7 she and two friends paid a dreadful price when Taliban assassins boarded their bus in the Swat Valley and shot them.

Yesterday Fatima, whose family returned to the UAE in 2010, was one of dozens of girls from six schools in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah who joined in prayer for Malala at the Pakistani Embassy.

Malala, 14, who was shot in the head, was yesterday flown by a UAE air ambulance to the UK for treatment. She arrived last night.

"We want to tell the people that we are with Malala and we will support her," said Maryam Imtiaz, 14, a pupil in Abu Dhabi. "Before there was one Malala and now there are thousands in each school."

Pupils held her photograph, lit candles and brought cards that will be sent to her at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham.

Maryam is the daughter of a lorry driver from Kohat, a town on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Her seven siblings, aged between seven and 21, were born in the UAE. It is her dream to study medicine at a college in her hometown.

"Inshallah, my father's wish is that I become a doctor," said Maryam.

She knows Malala's dream could mean the fulfilment of her own.

Fatima and her family returned to Abu Dhabi so she could continue her education at Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Pakistan School. "We were worried about our safety, our education," she said.

At the age of 11, Malala blogged about her daily life for the BBC using a pseudonym, when the Taliban took over the north-western Swat Valley.

Many of the girls at yesterday's tribute were the same age as Malala. Some were raised in the safety of the UAE. Others knew the battle for girls' education at first hand.

All of them identified strongly with her and praised the teenager's courage.

The Pakistani ambassador to the UAE, Jamil Ahmed Khan, saw Malala yesterday when the plane landed in Abu Dhabi before continuing to the UK.

"The recovery is very steady and doctors are very confident," Mr Khan said. He did not say how long her recovery was expected to take.

Bones in Malala's skull need to be repaired or replaced. She will require "intensive neuro rehabilitation", the Pakistan military said.

There is speculation that the Pakistan government will intensify its fight against the Taliban and their supporters after the attack.

Tens of thousands demonstrated for Malala in Karachi on Sunday.

"Our nation, now they are together and they are galvanised to show our resolve that these young girls, that these people, they are able to come out of that fear," said Ms Khan.

"Obviously the government has started making further arrangements after this incident, after making an assessment of the threat which is prevalent by the remnants of the Taliban who were flushed out of the Swat Valley."

He told the assembled pupils to carry on the fight through education.

"My dear children, it's time that we fight it out with the power of pen by acquiring more knowledge and showing these unscrupulous people that we have the resolve to flush them from our society, and to eliminate them once and for all," said Mr Khan.

"We have been through so many challenges in our country. Inshallah, we'll also get through this challenge as well."

azacharias@thenational.ae