Malala Yousafzai, a 14-year-old campaigner for human rights, was shot in the head by Taliban militants on Tuesday while she was returning home from school in a van in the Swat area of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province.
Today, the entire nation is in shock. Everyone is condemning the Taliban and praying for Malala. She has become a role model for her country’s young generation. She has won.
Malala is the victim of Talibanization, the radical mind-set spawned from a theocratic and obscurantist interpretation of Islam. Talibanization is about forcefully imposing a theocratic agenda on the people. It is about radicalizing them. It is about creating more and more suicide-bomb squads in the name of jihad against liberals and moderates, Muslims and non-Muslims. The attack on Malala liberated many shackled and Talibanized minds. She has won.
Malala was advocating the ideology of love. She was a young ambassador of peace. By attacking her, the Taliban attempted to warn all the youngsters not to follow her ideology. But after the attack, Malala’s followers have multiplied across the country. She has won.
The attack exposed the brutal face of the Taliban. It also raises questions about even holding talks with a group that plays with the lives of innocent citizens and does not spare anyone — it even targets kids.
There is not just one Malala but thousands of Malalas who have fallen victim to this ideology of hate. The Taliban, projecting a campaign against polio as a cover for espionage, has put hundreds of thousands of children at risk by banning polio vaccinations in its strongholds in North and South Waziristan.
In their former stronghold of Swat, the Taliban banned education for girls, condemned the state judicial system and ran a parallel justice system until 2009, when Islamabad launched a full-fledged military operation to quell a Taliban-led insurgency there. While the Taliban were attacking and destroying girls’ schools, Malala posted her diary on the BBC’s Web site, exposing the Taliban’s atrocities against women, its excesses, and its obscurantist approach to interpretation of Islamic laws. Last year, she was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize by the advocacy group Kids Rights Foundation. She has won.
But the Pakistan Taliban’s version of Islam and the agenda they want to forcibly impose remains a threat. The group deems democratic elections part of the “secular” system and has announced that any political leader who plans to contest elections will be attacked if he visits the tribal areas.
The Taliban’s declaration that the democratic system in Pakistan is un-Islamic and its criticism of Imran Khan, the former Pakistani cricketer-turned politician, as a liberal infidel exposes the peril of violent radicalism that surrounds Pakistan. Yet Khan, the leader of the Tehreek-e-Insaf, or the Movement for Justice, is widely criticized for being “too soft” on the Taliban. To protest drone strikes, he recently led a peace march to the border of South Waziristan, where it was halted by the Pakistan military for security reasons. Instead of appreciating his move, the Taliban condemned his “liberal” politics and threatened to kill him.
The Pakistan Taliban recently distributed pamphlets in the markets in tribal areas threatening shopkeepers who sell mobile phones to give up that business or face dire consequences. Mobile-phone dealers were told to stop uploading songs, movies and pictures, which the Taliban says promote “un-Islamic acts.”
The Pakistan Taliban’s plan to remake our nuclear-armed country according to its vision of an Islamic state raises international concerns about proliferating Islamist violence and its threat to regional and world stability. But the attack on Malala revived and resurrected the true Islamic ideology of peace across the country. She has won.
Malala was fighting for the right to education — the highest long-term investment in containing Talibanization. Only education can bring about a change in the radical mind-set. Malala has become a beacon of light. She has won.
Syed Fazl-e-Haider is a development analyst in Pakistan and a columnist for Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper.