Islamists join Pakistani anger at attack on Malala Yousafzai

Oct 10, 2012

Pakistan unites in disgust at attempt on life of teenage girl who dared to challenge the Taliban

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LIBERALS and Islamists have united in Pakistan to condemn the Taliban following its attempt on the life of Malala Yousafzai, a 14-year-old schoolgirl who spoke out against their oppressive rule in the Swat Valley.

Yousafzai, who shot to fame after writing a blog for the BBC Urdu service about life under the Taliban from 2007 until the militants were driven out of Swat by the Pakistani army in 2009, was shot in the head on the way home from school in Mingora yesterday. The bullet has been removed from her skull and she is now said to be in a stable condition.

Ehsanullah Ehsan, a spokesman for Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, an arm of the fundamentalist militant group more normally associated with Afghanistan, was unrepentant. "She was pro-West, she was speaking against the Taliban and she was calling President Obama her idol," he said.

"It’s a clear command of Sharia that any female, that by any means plays a role in war against the mujahideen, should be killed."

But Pakistanis have reacted with revulsion against the attack on the girl, now known universally by her first name.

An editorial in The News read: "[Malala] would have known that they were going to come for her one day. Yet she carried on despite threats to herself and her family, displaying the courage and stoicism that have marked this young life as so very special.

"Malala Yousafzai is in critical condition today, and so is Pakistan. We are infected with the cancer of extremism, and unless it is cut out we will slide ever further into the bestiality that this latest atrocity exemplifies."

Politicians led the wave of condemnation, with Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf calling Malala the "daughter of Pakistan". President Asif Ali Zardari said the teenager symbolises the quest for knowledge of the girls of Swat and promised to provide every possible support to the women there who want to be educated.

Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, a conservative, said those who attacked the "daughter of the nation" are "cowardly and disgusting" and do not deserve to be called human. Even Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the political arm of the notorious Islamist terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which carried out the 2008 Mumbai commando attacks, condemned the shooting, according to the Hindu.

Ordinary people have also been quick to express their disgust. Murtaza Salangi, the director of Pakistan Radio, told The Guardian that the switchboard at his station’s Peshawar studio had "lit up like Christmas lights" following the attack on Yousafzai – and the outrage extended far beyond the country’s middle classes.

"I think it is a watershed moment because the outpouring of sympathy and support for this young girl is just unprecedented," he said. "She could be a rallying poster for people who think that extremism and terrorism is the biggest challenge, even an existential challenge, for this country."

Twitter was abuzz with messages of support for Yousafzai and denunciations of the Taliban. Hamid Mir, an anchor at Pakistan’s biggest news channel Geo, tweeted: "No-one has the right to attack a schoolgirl just because of political differences. The attackers give Islam a bad name."

Shehryar Taseer, the son of a Punjab governor assassinated last year because of his opposition to Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, accused the Taliban of being "cowards afraid of a teenage girl".

There is hope that something good will come of the attack on Yousafzai. Rana Jawad, Islamabad bureau chief of Geo, told The Guardian that the footage of an unconscious Malala being loaded on to a helicopter might have an effect similar to that of a 2009 video of a woman in Swat being beaten by the Taliban, which horrified the nation.

"The reason the military was successful in its campaign against the Taliban in 2009 is that the whole nation was supporting them after they watched a young girl being beaten by a handful of militants," Jawad said. "Today we have seen the reaction of the people is one of outrage, revulsion and a sense of shame at what has happened to Pakistan."

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