She just wanted to go to school. But the Taliban had announced a ban on girls’ education in Swat and were blowing up their schools (155 of them this year). Malala Yousufzai and her classmates resisted the onslaught with a quiet resolve to win the right to education. Malala had earlier written in her diary (reported by BBC Urdu online): “the night was filled with the noise of artillery fire and I woke up three times. But since there was no school I got up later at 10:00 am and afterwards, my friend came over and we discussed our homework.” The poignancy and power of such humanity moved the world, so the Taliban shot her in the head. They failed to silence her though. Most Pakistanis, for once, united with the civilised world in their outrage. Even as she lies in hospital, she gives life to the great cause she has carried on her slender frame. One of her teenaged schoolmates testified before a television camera in Mingora “ …every girl in Swat is Malala. We’ll educate ourselves. We will win. They can’t defeat us.”
The clarity and courage of the schoolgirls of Swat is in sharp contrast to the confused and weak-kneed response of the state and mainstream political parties to the Taliban-al Qaeda attack on Pakistan and its way of life. The military awaits an order from the government to enforce the law of the land in areas where the state has lost its writ. But the government dithers: it sought a consensus resolution from the National Assembly to do something ‘practical’ about those who had claimed responsibility for the targeted attack on Malala. The opposition parties significantly blocked the motion and the government meekly withdrew. However, an official bravery award was announced for Malala, which now simultaneously signifies the strength of Malala and the weakness of the government and the political parties.
Two counterposed forms of social existence have now been brought into sharp relief. Reason and a humane sensibility define a civilised society as opposed to the bigotry and brutality of the Taliban. They have flogged, stoned to death young girls in public and now, shot them as they went to school. They have beheaded a number of our soldiers and assassinated politicians. The ideology they propound is the very antithesis of religion, for religion means the re-establishment of the ligament with God: the ligament of adoration and loving care.
Who will stand up for the rule of law and the values that underpin a civilised society? The government and the political parties cower in confusion and fear, while the girl child takes the lead.
In spite of the monstrous nature of the Taliban enterprise, they have been allowed, and for a time, encouraged to spread ignorance, intolerance and violence in significant sections of Pakistan’s society. They have also achieved influence over a number of political parties as well as sections of the media. At the same time, they have penetrated Pakistan’s armed forces and demonstrated their ability to launch successful guerilla attacks against key military installations in recent years, such as the GHQ in Rawalpindi, the key Mehran Naval Base in Karachi and the strategic Kamra Airbase in Taxila. The declared objective of the Taliban is to capture the state of Pakistan. If they succeed in this, then they will establish control over our society through a reign of terror.
It is noteworthy that the successful penetration of society by the Taliban occurred because of the ambiguity of the state apparatus, which, for many years, nurtured some of the most dangerous Taliban groups as ‘strategic assets’. It is not surprising, therefore, that when these groups began to attack Pakistan, the political and military capacity to defend the country was weakened by path dependence: the inertia and resistance to redefining the principal national security threat. Thus the state has so far been unable to formulate a war strategy against the Taliban, let alone implement it with the full strength that the formidable Pakistan military possesses. Malala’s sacrifice makes clear that the time has come to unite and fight for Pakistan and its people.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 22nd, 2012.