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Malala Yousufzai, the Taliban's reign of terror, and the brutal cost of cowardice in today's Pakistan

A novelist laments the suffering of a young Pashtun activist

Bina Shah
Thursday 11 October 2012 16:01 BST

Malala Yousufzai, the young Pashtun girl who wrote a diary of life under the Taliban which was published on the BBC Web site, was attacked by militants this week as she drove home in a van from school.

Shot in the head and neck, the 14 year old peace and education activist still lies in critical condition in the hospital, having become the unwitting symbol of resistance to the Taliban’s reign of terror, but also the symbol of our failure as Pakistanis to support those who put themselves so bravely at the frontlines.

The countrywide reaction to Malala's shooting has been one of uniform, widespread horror and disgust at the Taliban and their methods. Just two days after Imran Khan's anti-drone march, they have shown how they intend to repay the favor - by eliminating an icon of peace, education, and girls' and women's empowerment. They have said that they targeted her because she was a “Western-minded” secular girl who criticized them and that if Malala survives, they will target her again. She will almost certainly have to leave Swat, if not the country, for her own safety - a huge disgrace for the Pakistani government, who cannot provide security for any of its citizens.

Bakhtawar Bhutto said on Twitter that Malala was the symbolic child of Benazir Bhutto, another woman who died at the hands of the Pakistani Taliban and another failure of the state's security system. Imran Khan quickly called a press conference and condemned Malala's attack, while remaining silent over the fact that he wants to bring these very terrorists to the negotiating table. The president, the prime minister, and even the US State Department have condemned the attack on Malala, but the hypocrisy of our politicians, who will all claim Malala as their own and use her attack for their own political advantage makes me want to vomit.

We Pakistanis have abdicated our position as citizens to speak out against militancy and left someone as young as Malala to do it for us. We sit in silence and fear and we let a fourteen year old girl take the brunt of the repercussions of raising her voice against something we all know is wrong. Asad Umar of the PTI, Imran Khan’s party, said: “We Pakistanis love to outsource our political responsibility.” Nowhere is this more true than in the case of Malala, where we have left it to a child to take on the responsiblities that Pakistani adults are too scared to shoulder.

I am, however, all praise for the army who rescued Malala, took her to the local Saidu hospital, air-lifted her to the Combine Military Hospital in Peshawar, and have been caring for her while she fights for her life. She's been moved to the Armed Forces Institute of Cardiology in Rawalpindi today. Senior doctors operated on her this morning and managed to remove the bullet still lodged in her head. She's semi-conscious and stable, which is a huge relief. The military has been doing a stellar job of fighting militants, having driven them out of Swat in 2008, and they continue to bear the biggest losses in human life in this war.

I'm again reminded of the literary project, The Poetry of the Taliban, in which their hateful political ideology cloaked in verse has been given a voice. We are meant to feel these people are humans, that they too have hopes, feelings, and aspirations, as well as a valid viewpoint. But they have shown their complete lack of humanity again and again and again. They are evil in human form, inhabiting not bodies but carapaces, choosing war and death over peace and life.

Reaction pieces have been popping up all over the Internet, paired with a catchphrase growing in popularity: “We are all Malala”. But this is wrong. We distanced ourselves from Malala, we read her diary and watched her receive the National Peace Award, but we did not extend our support for her message until she ended up in the hospital, a bullet lodged in her neck. We have all failed Malala, and it just may be too late to make amends.

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