“I had a terrible dream yesterday with military helicopters and the Taliban. I have had such dreams since the launch of the military operation in Swat. I was afraid [of] going to school because the Taliban had issued an edict banning all girls from attending schools. Only 11 students attended the class out of 27. The number decreased because of Taliban’s edict. On my way from school to home I heard a man saying ‘I will kill you’. I hastened my pace… to my utter relief he was talking on his mobile and must have been threatening someone else over the phone.” (Malawa Yousufzai’s blog, 3 October 2009)
Finally, it seems volatile Pakistan is united by a heinous Taliban act, the October 9th shooting of 14-year old schoolgirl, Malala Yousufzai, along with two of her school mates. Malala’s offense? Her brave, public criticisms of Taliban restrictions on girls’ having access to education. Calls for more aggressive action against Taliban insurgents in Pakistan are now widespread, embracing even conservative Muslim factions.
Up to now, little has been done against the Taliban, who have concentrated their presence in remote northwestern Pakistan, including the Swat Valley where Malala lives. As I write, Malala appears to be making a slow recovery after a bullet pierced her neck and traveled to her spine. While she’s now able to move her hands and legs, following a reduction in sedatives, her prognosis for full recovery remains uncertain.
In a horrid compromise, Islamabad in 2007 agreed to the Talban occupation. After taking-over the Valley, the Taliban forced men to wear beards, blew up schools, many of them for girls, and forbade women access to the market place.
Pakistan’s army entered the valley in 2009 following these outrages, causing Taliban leaders to flee into Afghanistan. Nevertheless, the Taliban remain a formidable presence.
Malala’s ordeal isn’t an isolated incident. It’s happened in multiples, both in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Not long ago, it made headlines when Taliban gassed a school for girls in Afghanistan. In Pakistan, they recently beat-up a girl who wanted to go to school.
It saddens me that in the recent Biden-Ryan debate Malala’s horrid fate never received mention, even when our Afghanistan policy entered into the debate and a woman reporter served as moderator. The unrepentant Taliban leadership meanwhile promises they’ll try again, should Malala survive.
Surely such silence bodes ill for women in Afghanistan when coalition forces leave Afghanistan in 2014. Unless Islamabad opts for a decisive policy change towards its insurgent presence, the duress of women seeking self-realization through the liberation education provides is likely to continue. Up to now, Pakistan has sent mixed signals, more concerned with negating Indian influence in Afghanistan via destabilization than negotiated reconciliation with its neighbor that would also ameliorate life for many of Pakistan’s own beleaguered women.
While presently Pakistan’s military and political elite beat a path to her bedside, it’s probable they’ll re-clothe themselves in silence, unless Pakistanis continue to speak out.
One final thought: What’s happened to Malala again reveals the horrid calumny of doctrinaire ideology, whether religious or political, when polemic turns into hate and spills over into intolerance.