Pakistani civil society activists carry placards with a photograph of the gunshot victim Malala Yousafzai during a protest rally against the assassination attempt on Malala Yousafzai, in Islamabad. AFP / Aamir Qureshi
One can only wonder what threat a fourteen-year-old posed to the might of the Taliban that they decided to attack her earlier this week with the intent of killing her and setting an example for others.
After the attack, the Taliban not only claimed responsibility but also gave a justification, using the example of a prophet who had a child killed because the prophet knew that the child would grow up to become a tyrant. What the Taliban failed to point out was that neither did they have the foresight of the prophet nor was Malala turning into a tyrant.
Ehsanullah Ehsan, a spokesman for the Taliban, said that Malala was setting a wrong example for other young women in Swat by promoting secularism and ridiculing Islam and the Taliban. He also threatened the media for propagating the beliefs of the West and for encouraging the youth of Pakistan “to be led astray”.
Far from leading them astray, Malala was trying to bring the people of Swat back from the stone ages. What she was doing was challenging the Taliban on their home ground. She was inspiring thousands of people in the troubled Swat Valley to resist the kind of rule the Taliban wanted to introduce.
More important, Malala had become an icon for the education of girls in the valley. From Swat, she was welcomed and heralded in other parts of Pakistan by school-going girls. In Karachi, a girls school was named after her.
Malala’s journey began soon after the Taliban moved into Swat in 2008 and shut down all girls schools. The Taliban said it was a temporary measure so that proper arrangements could be made for the education of girls. For the thousands of school girls of Swat, it was like a death knell.
The BBC wanted someone to write about this and other issues that were plaguing the valley and Malala started a blog under the name “Gul Makay” which soon developed a huge following.
This was a time when people were fearful of writing anything. But Ziauddin, Malala’s father, agreed that his daughter write so that the rule of the Taliban be exposed to the world.
The blog became a window to the world of the Taliban and those who lived under their rule. Every week, Makay wrote about the violence that shook the valley, the fear and oppression that prevailed. She wrote about how girls were being shut in their homes and women were being barred from appearing in public.
Makay wrote about how sons were being taken away from their families. How young men were being made into suicide bombers and how the Taliban were pushing Swat into the stone ages by bombing schools and banning education. She also wrote about families being forced to donate their heirlooms for the cause of the Taliban.
However, soon after, the Pakistan Army started an operation against the Taliban and they fled the valley. It was then that Malala came out into the open and identified herself. She said that she wanted to highlight not only the wrongs conducted by the Taliban but also start a crusade for the education of girls all over Pakistan.
In November 2011, Yousafzai was nominated for an international children’s prize which she could not receive due to logistical and security reasons. In this time, however, the Pakistan government recognised her work and awarded her with the national peace prize.
In 2011 and 2012, Malala made several visits to different parts of Pakistan to spread her message. She talked against the Taliban and in favour of education and women empowerment. In one interview, she said she would join politics as she felt that was the only way to bring change in the country.
The attack on Malala is being traced to the Molvi Fazlullah group within the Taliban who were in control of Swat prior to the army operation. The attack shocked most Pakistanis but there are fears that the Taliban are gradually crawling back into the valley and the attack on Malala was an announcement of the same.