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C Uday Bhaskar

Malala Yousafzai, a brave 14 year old Pakistani girl is fighting for her life in a hospital in Rawalpindi where she is on a ventilator after being brutally attacked by the  Tehrek-e-Taliban (TTP)  in Mingora in the Swat valley  on Tuesday (October  9) . Her crime , according to  her assassins was that she was determined to go to school  and  complete her education  in defiance of the Taliban diktat against girls.

Pakistan is anguished and  the world outraged – but the Taliban who attacked her are determined to  kill her if she survives.  Media reports have quoted a  Taliban spokesman, Ehsanullah Ehsan,  who described  Malala’s   crusade for education rights for girls  as an “obscenity.”  He added that  “she has become a symbol of Western culture in the area; she was openly propagating it.”

Malala came into focus in 2009, when as a 11 year old girl she maintained a personal diary about life under the shadow of the Taliban menace – a project that was supported by the local BBC . At the time, in February 2009, the young girl wrote in her diary when the Taliban forced girls schools to be closed:  “I am sad watching my uniform, school bag and geometry box.  I felt hurt on opening my wardrobe and seeing my uniform, school bag and geometry box. Boys' schools are opening tomorrow. But the Taleban have banned girls' education.  The memories of my school flashed before me, especially the arguments among the girls.”

Over the last three years, this young girl became an icon   of hope and courage in the Taliban scarred Swat valley , as she pursued her own studies and set a benchmark both for her supporters and detractors. Affectionately referred to as ‘the Pride of Swat’, young Malala spoke about her desire to become a doctor first and more recently felt that perhaps she could join politics and do more for her people.

Alas, all that will have to remain on hold as she battles for her life amid  the outpouring of support  for Malala through national prayers across Pakistan which  is gratifying. Yet there are many  subterranean elements and patterns of collective behavior  that warrant review and   which  the Pakistani state and civil society  must objectively  confront  at this moment of  sorrow.  

The seeds for the current  distorted, gender iniquitous   and violence-prone  interpretation of the tenets of Islam began during the Musharraf era.  It is more coincidence than design that  Malala was attacked  last week -  for  it was on October  12, 1999  that the Nawaz Sharief government was overthrown by General Musharraf in a dramatic coup.

In the nine years that he was at the helm of the Pakistani state – and the Army – General Musharraf  fine-tuned his ability to play both sides of the religious divide in Pakistan. On one hand he projected himself as a liberal  (who supported gender equity ) but was willing to cut cynical deals with the Islamic right-wing parties  and the mullahs to stay in power and legitimize his rule.

Thus was born the coalition of religious parties  -  the Muttahida Majilis-e-Amal (MMA), which came  to power in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. (former North Western Frontier Province)  through the ballot-box and the  manipulated 2002 election.  This marks a turning point in Pakistani politics, wherein  it was  often averred that the  Islamic  parties did not garner more than five percent of the vote – and hence had no electoral future. General Musharrf created a socio-political  eco-system that was sympathetic to the inflexible, wahabi-salafi  variant of  Islam and this had corrosive implications.

The erstwhile NWFP with its  tolerant and non-violent  political tradition of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, also known as   the Frontier Gandhi (1890 – 1988 )  and the Awami National Party  was replaced by the MMA’s  islamic slant that encouraged the ascendancy of  right-wing ideology both in the NWFP and the  tribal belt adjoining Afghanistan.

Given the post 9-11  milieu in Pakistan and the covert support to such ideology by the Musharraf regime, it  was  only a  matter of time before the Tehreek-e-Taliban was formed in late 2007 under the leadership of  the notorious Baitullah Mehsud .  The TTP was conceived as an umbrella  apex  that brought 13 different  extremist/terrorist  groups together – with  common  objectives  - opposition to the Pakistani state for getting too close to the USA in the war against terror ;  plan operations against the  US led  western  military forces in Afghanistan ;  and the imposition of  Islamic sharia law and codes of conduct as prescribed by them.

Again during the Musharraf era, Pakistan was confronted with the 2007 Lal Masjid  challenge wherein  the deep-state,  which had tacitly supported a certain toxic ideology  was pitted against the same entrenched clergy. This battle for  Lal Masjid marks the beginning of the end of the Musharraf era and the tipping point, wherein the support for the ideology espoused by the Taliban  permeated large sections of    the Pakistani state and civil society outside of the madrassahs.

From 2008 onwards, even with the departure of Musharraf and the return to civilian governance under President Zardari, the hold of  ruthless  right-wing ideology in Pakistan is  disturbing. This was on display in the pre-meditated killing of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer and   Shahbaz Bhatti, the federal minister for minorities. The assassins were from the security  forces and were cheered by some sections of  Pakistan civil society including lawyers.

Post Salman Taseer, (January 2011 )  the silent majority in Pakistan that does not support terror or the ideology of the TTP were angry and anguished – but remained silent. No senior political leader including  Nawaz Sharief  or the emerging Imran Khan were willing to unequivocally condemn such acts. It was more opportune to pander to the right-wing and blame the US for the internal hemorrhaging that now afflicts Pakistan.

Unless the Pak military   does a mea culpa and completely severs its links and support to terror groups across the board and the Pakistani political establishment with the sincere support of the clergy  distances itself from the ideology of the TTP – Malala’s  struggle both for her life and the cause she  embodies  would be in vain.

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