Young Pakistani rights activist Malala Yousafzai, who was attacked by Pakistani Taliban on Oct. 9 at Mingora in the Swat Valley, is fighting for her life in a Peshawar hospital and will be sent abroad for urgent medical treatment following emergency surgery. The 14-year-old girl was shot in the head by gunmen who waited outside her school, and then followed her on to the bus. Two other children were injured in the attack. Malala, like her father, has been a vocal advocate of girls’ rights to education—making them both a target of local Taliban militants. Speaking from an undisclosed location, Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) spokesman Ihsanullah Ihsan told reporters that the TTP accepts responsibility of the attack, accusing Malala of “promoting Western culture” and “secular” thought among the youth of the area. He also pointed out that she had recently expressed her admiration for Barack Obama. “This was a new chapter of obscenity, and we have to finish this chapter,” he said.
In March, Ihsanullah Ihsan had announced that Yousufzai was on the militants’ “hit list,” along with another local activist, Shad Begum, who was among 10 women honored that month by the US State Department’s International Women of Courage Award. Yousufzai had just received the first National Peace Award for Youth from Pakistan’s former premier Yousuf Raza Gilani for her “courageous and outstanding services for the promotion of education and peace under extremely hostile conditions” in Swat. A February 2009 video documentary by the New York Times profiled Malala, then 11, who broke down in tears after sharing with the interviewer her dream of becoming a doctor. At that time, more than 200 schools for girls had been blown up by the Taliban, according to the filmmakers. “After January 15, girls must not go to school,” a Taliban radio broadcast declared in the Times video.
Later in 2009, Malala began blogging for the BBC Urdu service with her “Diary of a Pakistani schoolgirl,” written under the pseudonym Gul Makai. She detailed what life was like under the Taliban, and was vocal about her support of female education. She wrote about her pain and anguish while blogging for BBC Urdu under the pseudonym Gul Makai. She describes herself as a “politician” on her Facebook page, which had more than 3,400 fans on the morning she was attacked—a number that had jumped above 6,000 by the afternoon. The attack has been widely condemned by political parties across the spectrum within Pakistan. (Global Post, Dawn, Indian Express, BBC News, Reuters, Oct. 9)
The Swat Valley, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (the former North West Frontier Province), has been under effective control of the Taliban since 2007. In 2009, Islamabad attempted to buy off the militants with a “peace-for-sharia” deal, but Taliban abuses of women and religious minorities led to outrage by Pakistan’s political elite and resistance by local villagers. Renewed fighting led to a “humanitarian catastrophe,” but failed to restrain the militants. The Swat Valley is today the most significant area of Pakistan outside the Federally Administered Tribal Areas to be targeted by US drone strikes.
See our last post on the women’s struggle in Pakistan.