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.