October 9, 2012
Taliban Gun Down Girl Who Spoke Up for Rights
By DECLAN WALSH
KARACHI, Pakistan — At the age of 11, Malala Yousafzai took on the Taliban by giving voice to her dreams. As turbaned fighters swept through her town in northwestern Pakistan in 2009, the tiny schoolgirl spoke out about her passion for education — she wanted to become a doctor, she said — and became a symbol of defiance against Taliban subjugation.
On Tuesday, masked Taliban gunmen answered Ms. Yousafzai’s courage with bullets, singling out the 14-year-old on a bus filled with terrified schoolchildren, then shooting her in the head and neck. Two other girls were also wounded in the attack. All three survived, but late on Tuesday doctors said that Ms. Yousafzai was in critical condition at a hospital in Peshawar, with a bullet possibly lodged close to her brain.
A Taliban spokesman, Ehsanullah Ehsan, confirmed by phone that Ms. Yousafzai had been the target, calling her crusade for education rights an “obscenity.”
“She has become a symbol of Western culture in the area; she was openly propagating it,” Mr. Ehsan said, adding that if she survived, the militants would certainly try to kill her again. “Let this be a lesson.”
The Taliban’s ability to attack Pakistan’s major cities has waned in the past year. But in rural areas along the Afghan border, the militants have intensified their campaign to silence critics and impose their will.
That Ms. Yousafzai’s voice could be deemed a threat to the Taliban — that they could see a schoolgirl’s death as desirable and justifiable — was seen as evidence of both the militants’ brutality and her courage.
“She symbolizes the brave girls of Swat,” said Samar Minallah, a documentary filmmaker who has worked among Pashtun women. “She knew her voice was important, so she spoke up for the rights of children. Even adults didn’t have a vision like hers.”
Ms. Yousafzai came to public attention in 2009 as the Pakistani Taliban swept through Swat, a picturesque valley once famed for its music and tolerance and as a honeymoon destination.
Her father ran one of the last schools to defy Taliban orders to end female education. As an 11-year-old, Malala — named after a mythic female figure in Pashtun culture — wrote an anonymous blog documenting her experiences for the BBC. Later, she was the focus of documentaries by The New York Times and other media outlets.
“I had a terrible dream yesterday with military helicopters and the Taliban,” she wrote in one post titled “I Am Afraid.”
The school was eventually forced to close, and Ms. Yousafzai was forced to flee to Abbottabad, the town where Osama bin Laden was killed last year. Months later, in summer 2009, the Pakistani Army launched a sweeping operation against the Taliban that uprooted an estimated 1.2 million Swat residents.
The Taliban were sent packing, or so it seemed, as fighters and their commanders fled into neighboring districts or Afghanistan. An uneasy peace, enforced by a large military presence, settled over the valley.
Ms. Yousafzai grew in prominence, becoming a powerful voice for the rights of children. In 2011, she was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize. Later, Yousaf Raza Gilani, the prime minister at the time, awarded her Pakistan’s first National Youth Peace Prize.
Mature beyond her years, she recently changed her career aspiration to politics, friends said. In recent months, she led a delegation of children’s rights activists, sponsored by Unicef, that made presentations to provincial politicians in Peshawar.
“We found her to be very bold, and it inspired every one of us,” said another student in the group, Fatima Aziz, 15.
Ms. Minallah, the documentary maker, said, “She had this vision, big
dreams, that she was going to come into politics and bring about change.”
That such a figure of wide-eyed optimism and courage could be silenced by Taliban violence was a fresh blow for Pakistan’s beleaguered progressives, who seethed with frustration and anger on Tuesday. “Come on, brothers, be REAL MEN. Kill a school girl,” one media commentator, Nadeem F. Paracha, said in an acerbic Twitter post.
In Parliament, Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf urged his countrymen to battle the mind-set behind such attacks. “She is our daughter,” he said.
The attack was also a blow for the powerful military, which has long held out its Swat offensive as an example of its ability to conduct successful counterinsurgency operations. The army retains a tight grip over much of Swat. But that Tuesday’s shooting could take place in the center of Mingora, the valley’s largest town, offered evidence that the Taliban were creeping back.
“This is not a good sign,” Kamran Khan, the most senior government official in Swat, said by phone. “It’s very worrisome.”
The Swat Taliban are a subgroup of the wider Pakistani Taliban movement based in South Waziristan. Their leader, Maulvi Fazlullah, rose to prominence in 2007 through an FM radio station that espoused Islamist ideology.
After 2009, Maulvi Fazlullah and his senior commanders were pushed across the border into the Afghan provinces of Kunar and Nuristan, where Pakistani officials say they are still being sheltered — a source of growing tension between the Pakistani and Afghan governments.
But over the last year or so, small groups of Taliban guerrillas have slowly filtered back into Swat, where they have mounted hit-and-run attacks on community leaders deemed to have collaborated with the government.
On Aug. 3, a Taliban gunman shot and wounded Zahid Khan, the president of the local hoteliers association and a senior community leader, in Mingora. It was the third such attack in recent months, a senior official said.
The military has asserted control in Swat through a large military presence in the valleys and support for private tribal militias tasked with keeping the Taliban at bay. But soldiers have also been accused of human rights abuses, particularly after a leaked videotape in 2010 showed uniformed men apparently massacring Taliban prisoners.
In response to criticism, the army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, announced an inquiry into the shootings. An army spokesman said it was not yet complete.
Shah Rasool, the police chief in Swat, said that all roads leading out of Mingora had been barricaded and that more than 30 militant suspects had been detained.
Reporting was contributed by Sana ul Haq from Mingora, Pakistan; Ismail Khan from Peshawar, Pakistan; Ihsanullah Tipu Mehsud from Islamabad, Pakistan; and Zia ur-Rehman from Karachi.
'Spy of the West': Al-Qaida, Taliban struggle to justify attack on Pakistani teen
By NBC News staff and Reuters
October 19, 2012, 12:54 pm
On Tuesday, al-Qaida's propaganda arm al-Sahab, issued a three-page communique in Pakistan's tribal areas, laying out a justification for the shooting. It is rare for al-Qaida to feel the need to explain an attack, suggesting that the group feels pressured by the strong backlash against Yousufzai's shooting."The girl was part of an agenda perpetrated by the (British Broadcasting Corporation) to run an organized campaign against jihad, Islamic Sharia and purdha or veil," a previously unknown commander, Ustad Ahmad Farooq said in a statement in Pashto. "Now when she was shot, from Pakistan to the United States, everyone is crying about it."
Yousufzai came to public notice for writing a blog supporting the schooling for girls and women for the BBC. Jihad refers to a religious struggle, which a minority of Muslims interpret as an armed fight against the enemies of Islam.
The statement, which asked why NGOs and others decried Malala's shooting but ignored abuses and killings by the American and Pakistani governments, came on the same day that Taliban insurgents said Yousufzai deserved to die because she had spoken out against the group and praised President Barack Obama.
Taliban justified the attack by describing Yousufzai as a "spy of the West." The Taliban denied that they targeted the teen for advocating education for girls and said that they would again try to kill her if she survived last week's attack.
"For this espionage, infidels gave her awards and rewards. And Islam orders killing of those who are spying for enemies," the group said in a statement.
"We did not attack her for raising voice for education. We targeted her for opposing mujahedeen and their war. Shariah (Islamic law) says that even a child can be killed if he is propagating against Islam."
Over the weekend, conservative Pakistani politician Maulana Fazlur Rehman, who originally spoke out against the demonstrators, softened his stance, saying that he condemned the attack on "our daughter."
However, he suggested that other leaders were trying to gain "political mileage" with this issue, according to an article in Pakistan's Dawn newspaper.
$1 million bounty
On Tuesday, Pakistan's Interior Minister Rehman Malik visited Kainat Riaz, one of the girls injured during the attack on Yousufzai, according to Eurovision News Exchanges.
Shazia, another schoolgirl, also was shot but survived. Malik announced a $1 million bounty for Pakistani Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan and offered a pardon to the organization's leader, Hakimullah Mehsud, if he renounced terrorism.
"I want to tell Hakimullah Mehsud and his comrades: 'Renounce terrorism,'" Malik said, according to Eurovision. "I will announce an all-out pardon to you on behalf of the government. If you decide to renounce terrorism, no matter in which part of Pakistan or FATA [federally administered tribal areas], I will come to you all alone. Stand with me and renounce terrorism. Ask forgiveness of the nation. Ask forgiveness from Allah. Maybe the nation will forgive you. And Allah will forgive you," Malik said.
Yousufzai began standing up to the Pakistani Taliban when she was 11, when the Islamabad government had effectively ceded control of the Swat Valley, where she lives, to the militants.
The attack was the culmination of years of campaigning that had pitted the girl against one of Pakistan's most ruthless Taliban commanders, Maulana Fazlullah.
Tight security for teen
Overnight on Monday, two people wanting to visit the teen in the Birmingham hospital where she is receiving treatment were turned away, the hospital and police said.
"They were stopped in a public area of the hospital and questioned by police, who recorded their details and advised the pair that they would not be allowed to see her," West Midlands Police said in a statement, describing them as "well-wishers."
Authorities are highly sensitive about Yousufzai's security given the Taliban's recent threats.
The special hospital unit where she is receiving care has treated hundreds of soldiers wounded in Afghanistan.
NBC News producers and Reuters contributed to this report.
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Reuters. "'Spy of the West': Al-Qaida, Taliban Struggle to Justify Attack on Pakistani Teen - World News." World News. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Oct. 2012. .
Walsh, Declan. "Malala Yousafzai, Teenage School Activist, Survives Taliban Attack - NYTimes.com." The New York Times - Breaking News, World News & Multimedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Oct. 2012. .