Since the day Malala Yousufzai was shot by the Taliban in her home town in Swat, social discourse on the subject in Pakistan drifted into two distinct directions. While the international, particularly Western civil society and media, accepted Malala as a heroine and a universal icon for women’s education and rights, many of us in Pakistan generally looked the other way.
On the societal level, all kinds of conspiracy theories were linked with Malala’s plight and growing popularity, especially on the international stage. Meanwhile, at the government level a marked indifference was seen. The new PML-N government didn’t deem it fit to even send a representative to the recent UN special assembly held last week on Malala’s sixteenth birthday.
Even the Obama Administration kept itself away from the celebration and didn’t send any official representative, perhaps because it is itself in talks with the Taliban. One could say the same about the Pakistan government as well, which seems eager to want to establish a dialogue with the Taliban in Pakistan. The Pakistani state is virtually on the defensive while the militants have over time become more organised and aggressive. The latter has happened in large part due to the inaction and confusion among mainstream political parties over the issue of terrorism and how to deal with it.
At the social level, Taliban apologists have quite successfully managed to spread a warped mindset among ordinary Pakistanis, which sees the militants as pious people striving to establish an Islamic state, and their opponents as Western-educated liberal heathens. The apologists have grown more powerful with the emergence of Imran Khan’s PTI, whose main argument with regard to militancy in Pakistan is that it is a reaction to drone strikes.
The conspiracy theories regarding Malala are most unfortunate and they are many. One posits that she is a tool in the hands of the American/Jewish lobby. This line of “reasoning” says that her ‘abrupt fame’ has been fuelled and guided by elements out to conspire against Pakistan. These conspiracy theorists, however, conveniently ignore the fact that the TTP has usually claimed responsibility for the attacks it carries out on Pakistani civilians and on mosques and imambargahs in Pakistan, including the one on Malala. They rationalise their warped way of thinking by “reasoning” that the TTP is actually an American plant as well — again forgetting the fact that the Americans have been at war with the Taliban. The conspiracy theorists are particularly dominant on social media — especially Facebook and Twitter — with many people apparently believing that a young innocent girl either got herself deliberately shot in the head or wasn’t shot at all and that it was all a drama!
It is interesting to note that another icon for women in Pakistan, indeed the entire world, Benazir Bhutto, was also — initially at least — seen as an Indian agent, a Jewish agent and even labelled a security risk. Let’s not forget that when Ms Bhutto first became prime minister of Pakistan, there were many people who couldn’t deal with seeing a woman in charge of running the country and said that a woman’s rule was against religion. Later on, it was revealed that on whose behalf this campaign against Ms Bhutto was conducted.
Thank God, Malala is alive and will be a piercing thorn in the sides of all barbaric forces and their apologists. She is now 16 and has a long life before her. Those who oppose her and call her an “agent” need to open their eyes and listen to the Taliban, who have said repeatedly that they will target her again.
Those who are with Malala Yousufzai stand for peace, harmony, for a pluralistic society and to a future where people can live a life free of violence and militancy. Those who are against her want to take Pakistan back to the Dark Ages.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 17th, 2013.