ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Outrage swept across Pakistan yesterday 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 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.
Yesterday, 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 mind-set 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 yesterday, the Taliban issued a second statement attempting to justify the shootings.
“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).”