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Pakistani soldiers shift injured Malala Yousafzai from a helicopter to an army hospital following an attack by gunmen in Peshawar, Pakistan on 9 October. Photo: AFP (AFP)
Pakistani soldiers shift injured Malala Yousafzai from a helicopter to an army hospital following an attack by gunmen in Peshawar, Pakistan on 9 October. Photo: AFP

Malala Yousafzai fights the Taliban

She has been speaking out eloquently against the Taliban at a time when world leaders are busy appeasing the unruly group

As I write this, Malala Yousafzai is fighting for her life. She is 14. She was on her way home from her school in Mingora in Swat Valley in North-West Pakistan. She was shot, bullets lodged in her head and neck. And the Taliban in Pakistan has now claimed responsibility for attacking her in the vehicle in which she was travelling. This was not a random attack. They knew she was there. They have said that if she survives, they will attack her again.

All she wants is to go to school with her friends. Sometimes she wants to study law and perhaps join politics. Sometimes, to be a doctor. But the Taliban does not want any of that. She has been speaking out eloquently against the Taliban at a time when world leaders are busy appeasing the Taliban. And the Taliban does not like her because she represents the future they want to destroy.

Weeks after Al Qaeda’s attacks on 11 September 2001, the US attacked Afghanistan. Arresting Osama bin Laden and dismantling Al Qaeda were certainly major priorities for Americans, but many American leaders also expressed another objective: to emancipate Afghan women. It was a noble priority, for only the sort of people that British-Pakistani writer Tariq Ali has described as “bearded lunatics" would defend what the Taliban did to the women.

Many schools did get built in Afghanistan, which the Taliban predictably attacked once it had regrouped. It could do that because the Bush administration decided to fight two wars on different fronts at the same time, and attacked Iraq. The Taliban regained strength, and spread its pernicious influence in Pakistan, contaminating the society whose fundamentals had weakened since General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq’s time.

Like in Afghanistan, the Pakistani Taliban placed severe social controls such as banning music and closing girls’ schools in the areas they controlled, and targeted anything that would make the society modern. Led by Maulana Fazlullah, they controlled the Swat Valley, where Yousafzai lives, between 2007 and 2009. Many analysts have warned about the Taliban, but as the Western troops are winding down, there is an air of inevitability about the Taliban gaining some power in Afghanistan. Writers like my former colleague Ahmed Rashid have been warning what that might mean for Pakistan. It is in that environment that Yousafzai went to school and spoke out for her right to do so.

Yousafzai’s vivid diary, which the BBC published online—initially anonymously—on its Urdu website, reveals her emotions. She writes with the simplicity and clarity that we lose as we grow older and lose our innocence.

She writes using a pseudonym, GulMakai. Friends of her parents show them printouts of her diary not knowing Yousafzai is the author, and her parents have to conceal their pride. After the Pakistani army regained control, Yousafzai could say she had written the diary, and she was called a national heroine, and won an award.

“My Swat is also very beautiful, but there is no peace," she writes. She talks of her not being able to wear a uniform, nor being allowed to wear colourful clothes either. She is pleased that curfew is lifted in one town and so one of the popular teachers will return to teach. But then she writes about her disturbed sleep because of artillery fire, and wakes up to discuss homework with her friend. She writes: “I was afraid going to school because the Taliban had issued an edict banning all girls from attending schools." Only 11 out of 27 girls have come to the class. A friend asks her: “For God’s sake, answer me, honestly, is our school going to be attacked by the Taliban?" Some families decide to move from Swat to other parts of Pakistan, where they can send their daughters to school safely. “I may not go to school again," she writes with resignation, looking at the school one last time before leaving.

One night she has a terrible dream with military helicopters fighting the Taliban. These dreams recur. In a chilling passage, she writes: “On my way from school to home I heard a man saying ‘I will kill you’. I hastened my pace and after a while I looked back if the man was still coming behind me. But to my utter relief he was talking on his mobile and must have been threatening someone else over the phone."

On Tuesday morning, they came for her. Imagine hardened militants so insecure that they see an enemy in a 14-year-old child.

Lately, some analysts are warming to the idea that Imran Khan can lift Pakistan out of its misery. He led a protest march recently—not against the attacks on Ahmedis, not the destruction of Sufi shrines, not the suicide bombs, nor against those who shot at Yousafzai—but against drone attacks. Once those stop, he thinks, all will be well. Meanwhile, the poison spreads further.

Salil Tripathi is a writer based in London.

To read Salil Tripathi’s previous columns, go to www.livemint.com/saliltripathi

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