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Originally published October 10, 2012 at 8:51 PM | Page modified October 11, 2012 at 4:04 PM

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Taliban shooting of girl student stirs outrage in Pakistan

Outrage swept across Pakistan on Wednesday over the Taliban's attempt to kill a 14-year-old girl who had spoken out against militants' attempts to ban education for girls.

Los Angeles Times

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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Outrage swept across Pakistan on Wednesday over the Taliban's attempt to kill a 14-year-old girl who had spoken out against militants' attempts to ban education for girls.

Malala Yousafzai was recovering from surgery to remove a bullet that had lodged in her neck and appeared to be out of danger, doctors said.

On Tuesday, gunmen in the Swat Valley city of Mingora stopped the school bus she was riding in and shot her in the head. Two other girls were also shot but were not seriously hurt. The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, calling it revenge for the girl's advocacy against the group.

While Pakistan has grown accustomed to years of suicide bombings and other terror acts by Islamic militants, the attempt on Yousafzai's life sent shock waves through the country, largely because this time the target was a young girl admired for her defiance of a movement bent on denying girls the chance to go to school.

Yousafzai emerged as a national figure in 2009 when she contributed diary entries to a blog published by the BBC Urdu Service. Those missives described the trials of trying to attend classes at a time when Taliban fighters had taken control of her Swat Valley homeland and were bombing schools and issuing edicts barring girls' education.

On Wednesday, Pakistani commentators and columnists denounced the attack on Yousafzai as a barbaric act and expressed hope that it would galvanize the country against Islamic extremism.

One newspaper, the News, wrote in an editorial that Pakistan was "infected with the cancer of extremism, and unless it is cut out, we will slide even further into the bestiality that this latest atrocity exemplifies."

The country's top military commander, army Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, visited Yousafzai at her hospital bed in the northwest city of Peshawar. He later issued a statement saying "such inhuman acts clearly expose the extremist mindset the nation is facing."

"In attacking Malala, the terrorists have failed to grasp that she is not only an individual, but an icon of courage and hope," Kayani said. "We will fight, regardless of the cost. We will prevail."

Kayani, arguably the country's most powerful leader, rarely issues public statements on nonmilitary incidents and matters.

Across Swat, private schools were closed to protest the Taliban's actions. The attack drew condemnation from virtually every corner of Pakistani society, from politicians and the media to civil society organizations.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan called it "exceptionally cowardly. This is a new low even for the Taliban. ... It is also a wake-up call, if another one was needed, for those pining to appease the extremists and going out of their way to advocate making peace with the Taliban."

On Wednesday, the Taliban issued a second statement attempting to justify the shootings.

Taliban justification

"We are dead against coeducation and secular education," Taliban spokesman Ihsanullah Ihsan said in a statement released to the media. "Malala was targeted because of her pioneer role in preaching secularism. ... And whom so ever will (do the same) in the future will again be targeted by the (Pakistani Taliban)."

The U.S. has offered assistance to Malala, mentioning possible air-ambulance transport to a facility suitable for her treatment if it becomes necessary.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton praised the young Pakistani girl.

"She was attacked and shot by extremists who don't want girls to have an education and don't want girls to speak for themselves, and don't want girls to become leaders," she said.

At the United Nations, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the attack on Yousafzai, calling it a "heinous and cowardly act," U.N. spokesman Nartin Nesirky said.

2 views of Taliban

Even with such an outpouring of grief and outrage in Pakistan over the young girl's shooting, it was unclear whether it would indeed trigger a shift in public opinion against the Taliban.

Many in Pakistan view the group as waging a noble fight against U.S. troops that invaded another Muslim country, Afghanistan, and they argue that the Taliban problem within Pakistan will fade once American forces leave. They argue that Taliban attacks against targets in Pakistan aim to punish the government of Pakistan for its alliance with the U.S.

"Pakistan society is polarized on who is doing terrorism," said Hasan-Askari Rizvi, a political analyst in Lahore. He said that divide has been evident even in the public condemnations of the attack, with some people speaking out strongly against the Taliban while others have criticized the government for failing to protect Yousafzai.

Omar Quraishi, the editorial pages editor at Pakistan's English-language Express Tribune newspaper, questioned whether the public outrage had reached such a critical mass that it would indeed mark a turning point.

He said Kayani's strong statement in support of the girl may be an attempt to see if there is enough public outrage to support a sharp response from the army against the Taliban.

The general, said Quraishi, doesn't want to be in a position where people are asking: "Why are you fighting America's wars?"

The military's role

The Pakistani military has been waging a deadly fight in the tribal regions against militants at a cost of about 4,000 soldiers killed.

But critics, especially in the U.S., accuse the army of going after militants that attack the Pakistani state while cultivating others that it feels will be useful someday in Afghanistan.

Still, there is a precedent in Pakistan of Taliban excesses provoking public outrage, which the military has then capitalized on to move against the militants.

In 2009, after a video of militants publicly whipping a woman, purportedly in the Swat Valley, triggered a wave of public revulsion, the army felt empowered enough to launch a major offensive against the Taliban in the area. Government forces flushed the militants out of the scenic valley, but failed to capture or kill the movement's senior leaders.

Zulfiqar Ali in Peshawar, Pakistan, contributed to this article,

which includes material from

The Associated Press.

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