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Malala Episode: A turning point for Pakistan?

Malala Yusufzai was returning from school when Taliban militants shot and wounded her critically

Written by C. Raja Mohan |
October 15, 2012 1:07:30 pm

Malala Yusufzai,the brave school girl from Swat who took on the Taliban,appears to have stirred,as never before,the conscience of the Pakistani elite against the outrages of religious extremism.

Last week,as Malala was returning from school,Taliban militants shot and wounded her critically. Malala,who has been fighting for her life in a military hospital,has been flown out Monday morning to United Kingdom for extended care.

Malala earned the wrath of the Pakistani Taliban for writing about their obnoxious behavior when they took over the Swat Valley in 2009.

Taliban’s writ over Swat ended after an extended operation by the Pakistan army. Malala has since been championing the cause of education for girl children.

The Pak army chief Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani was among the first to condemn the attack and visit Malala in hospital. Calling Malala an icon of courage and hope,Kayani said the attack shows how low the militants “can fall in their cruel ambition to impose their twisted ideology”.

Fifty clerics of Pakistan’s Sunni Ittehad Council issued a ‘fatwa’ criticising the attempted assassination of Malala as ‘un-Islamic’. They declared Taliban’s acts against the female education are “repugnant to the teachings of Islam”.

Pakistan’s main Islamic parties have criticized the shooting,but have also tried to change the subject away from the Taliban threat to the American drone attacks.

The political parties have expressed anguish,but only the MQM has called for army operations against the Taliban.

There have been major protests by liberal civil society groups against the attack and defending the right of the girl child for education. In the biggest demonstration so far,tens of thousands gathered in Karachi on Sunday to criticise the Taliban.

Could this be a defining moment for a long overdue change in Pakistan’s internal and external orientation? Might this one awful episode bring to an end decades of the elite tolerance in Pakistan of militant Islam at home and the deliberate use violent extremism to destabilize Afghanistan and India.

Those optimistic about Pakistan point to the fact that Gen. Kayani was quick to condemn the attacks. They draw the contrast with Kayani’s deafening silence when Salman Taseer,the governor of Punjab,was killed by one of his security guards in January 2011.

When the assasin,Mumtaz Qadri,was produced in court,the lawyers in Lahore showered him with rose petals.

Pessimists concede that the reaction to the attack on Malala has indeed been different. But they wonder if it has been intense enough to change the course of Pakistan’s dalliance with extremism that was institutionalized since the late 1970s when Gen Zia-ul-Haque took charge of Pakistan.

Realists underline the difficulties of overcoming the institutional inertia in Pakistan,especially since the question of religion is involved.

They also point to the fact that militants have gained so much ground over the last few decades. Marginalizing them,let alone defeating them,would involve the expenditure of much blood and treasure.

A serious confrontation with violent extremism,then,demands,strong will and purposeful leadership,which can only come from the Army.

The army chief has said all the right things. But there is no evidence,so far,that he is ready to take on the Taliban. May be he will,but don’t bet on it.

(C. Raja Mohan is a Distinguished Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation,Delhi and a Contributing Editor for The Indian Express)

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