Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Taleban "Disgraced" by Attack on Child Activist
Malala Yousafzai attends the prize-giving for an essay-writing competition, December 2010. (Photo: IWPR)
“The Taleban are digging their own graves with acts like this,” Kabul resident Mohammad Yunus said, shaking with rage at the shooting of 14-year-old blogger Malala Yousafzai in northwest Pakistan.
"The attack on Malala showed up the group as weak and impotent against a child. I see it as vindication and victory for Malala, and a disgrace for the Taleban."
Malala was shot in the head by gunmen who singled her out on a school bus in Pakistan’s Swat Valley on October 9. Pakistan doctors managed to remove a bullet lodged in her neck, and she has now been taken to Britain to receive specialist care. (See Shooting a Free Spirit.)
The Pakistani Taleban Movement, closely associated with the Afghan Taleban, was quick to claim responsibility, and said it would target the girl again if she recovered.
Malala Yousafzai attracted the militants’ attention by campaigning for girls in Pakistan to be able to go to school. She began writing a blog in 2008, when the Pakistani Taleban controlled her native Swat Valley and included a ban on girl’s schooling among the many draconian rules they imposed.
As a PR exercise, attacking a child has proved counterproductive, galvanising public opinion across the board against the insurgents, in Afghanistan as well as in Pakistan. There are parallels with atrocities that Afghan insurgents have committed against minors, such as the hanging of an eight-year-old boy in Helmand province in 2010, supposedly for “spying”. (Outrage at Afghan Boy's Murder for “Collaboration”.)
Mohammad Yunus’s sense of outrage was shared by many other Afghans interviewed by IWPR, as was his prediction that the attack would generate a backlash against insurgents operating on either side of the border with Pakistan.
"This act, by those who attack children and innocents in cowardly fashion, bears no relation to Islam,” Qaramatullah Siddiqi, director of Islamic studies at Afghanistan’s religious affairs ministry, said. “They are in fact committing two sins – first as murderers, and second as enemies of Islam who pretend to be adherents of the sacred religion yet abuse its pure name."
According to Afghanistan’s education ministry, nearly ten million school pupils across the country said prayers for Malala’s recovery on October 13.
"We raise our voices because this is an attack not only on humanity but on the right to education," Education Minister Faruq Wardak said at a meeting at Kabul’s Rabia Balkhi High School the same day.
Wardak said 4,500 teachers and pupils in Afghanistan had been killed or injured in militant attacks over the past decade.
There was universal condemnation from Afghan women and school pupils.
"It was a barbaric attack, unforgivable in Islam or indeed any other world religion,” said Parwanama Yusuf, who heads a group that offers legal aid to women and children. “Those who carried out this attack…. are the enemies of our sacred faith."
Soraya, a teacher at the Aisha Durrani girls’ school in Kabul, said pupils there were left downcast by this attack on someone like them.
“If the Taleban are so brave and zealous, let them fight a national army, not a 14-year-old girl," she said.
Maryam, a pupil in the 12th grade at the Rahman Mina High School, was worried that the attack on Malala Yousafzai might be the start of things to come in Afghanistan.
"I’m afraid that after this incident, extremist groups might incorporate attacks on school pupils into their war tactics in pursuit of their political aims,” she said.
At the same time, political analyst Abdul Hamid Mobarez suggested that the attack on Malala showed that in Swat Valley, at least, the insurgents were in retreat and getting desperate.
“Life started deteriorating for people there when the Taleban came,” he said, referring to the Taleban’s 2007-09 occupation of Swat before they were driven out by the Pakistani army. “There’s a kind of covert war going on between people there and the Taleban. Malalai wrote articles against the Taleban for the media, the BBC in particular, and she might have accelerated that dynamic. So they attacked her.”
Mobarez concluded, "In my view, this incident will mark the start of a new movement against fundamentalism in Pakistan."
Mina Habib is an IWPR-trained reporter in Kabul.
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