Reluctantly, Malala

Many in Pakistan reject her. Her own country remains impervious to her message.

Written by Khaled Ahmed | Updated: May 26, 2018 12:01:20 am
Reluctantly, Malala Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai waves as she arrives for an event with students at Tecnologico de Monterrey University in Mexico City, Mexico. (Reuters/ File Photo)

Pakistani Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai visited Pakistan for five days in March this year. She is Pakistan’s second Nobel Laureate and has been rejected by most Pakistanis; the first laureate, Dr Abdus Salam, was also rejected. Pakistan supports Aafiya Siddiqi instead, an al Qaeda agent serving 86 years in an American prison, whose release has also been demanded by Pakistan as well as by the terrorist organisation, Islamic State.

A girl from the picturesque Swat Valley — once visited by the Chinese traveller Hsuan Tsang in search of ancient Buddhist scriptures — won the Nobel Peace Prize for 2014. At 15, Malala, who had openly objected to the Taliban’s policy of destroying girls’ schools, was shot in the head at close range by a Taliban terrorist. The Taliban’s psychopath chief, Mullah Fazlullah, had ordered her execution from his hideout in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, a popular TV channel in Islamabad aired a “morning view” on October 13, 2014, saying Malala’s Nobel was a Great Game conspiracy aimed at Pakistan.

Pakistanis abroad also rejected her. They listened to Abu Baraa, a senior member of Shariah4Pakistan, linked to Anjem Choudary, a British-Pakistani currently in jail for abetting terrorism in association with an Arab cleric, Omar Bakri, leader of Al Muhajiroun, now ousted from the UK. Choudary was also linked to the Britain-based al Ghurabaa, whose Pakistani leader was then hiding in Karachi as a part of the plot that killed Daniel Pearl. Abu Baraa said from London: “There will be a fatwa issued regarding Malala Yousafzai, taking into account the full story of her injury, including her public statements in support of the occupying US army in the region and mocking of key symbols of Islam such as hijab and jihad.” Back in Pakistan, the government of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa banned Malala’s book from the premises of Peshawar University.

Malala was not supposed to go to her native Swat but she did sneak away from Islamabad for a short visit to see her friends. She has spent her Nobel Prize money to build a school in the Shangla district of Swat, the beautiful valley where the armies of Islam created an inferno of sharia in 2008, driving three million inhabitants out of the valley and destroying all schools. In 2009, Pakistan felt that the army of jihad fighters it had gestated were going to fall on Islamabad not far away from Swat, and got the army to oust Fazlullah from there. Three years later, Fazlullah nearly killed Malala while she was going to school, putting a bullet through her head.

But many politicians and clerics were not in favour of challenging Fazlullah. To the frog-chorus of intellectuals recommending “negotiations” with the al Qaeda-led elements, one could only offer a glimpse of what the warlord in Swat wanted. As a topic for discussion, he put forward three demands: One, evacuation of the army from Swat so that he can legitimise his occupation of it; two, enforcement of sharia in the area — which of course means the kind of sharia enforced under Taliban; and three, scrapping of all criminal cases registered against his men. Last time Islamabad had negotiated with the Taliban in Waziristan, it had agreed to remove its checkposts and virtually leave the territory to those patronised by al Qaeda.

Swat was destined to be the state al Qaeda wanted to create as an Islamic utopia manned by the likes of Fazlullah who had the money and the manpower to run it. With tax on trade of all sorts and the vehicle “token system”, the warlord had enough revenue to finance his 30,000-strong army and even send it into all parts of the Tribal Areas to help other Taliban elements. He also has a contingent of suicide-bombers whose outreach included the entire length and breadth of Pakistan. Salaries paid to the ranks and officers ranged from Rs 10,000 to Rs 25,000.

In 2018, Malala’s response to Fazlullah has come in the shape of a three-storey tall school for girls complete with a computer lab, a playground and a library. This is also her challenge to what Pakistan tried so hard to become. The people of Shangla don’t want too much publicity about the school because the Taliban, now led by Fazlullah in Afghanistan, can still send in their killers at will. There are 183 girl students in the school today, most between the ages of five and 12, 38 of them orphans.

But in the rest of Pakistan, Malalas are still not treated right. If you are not a cleric or “drunk with the wine of faith” you can yet be an isolationist hating anything to do with the West from where the funds come to ease the birth of Pakistan’s civil society. When laws are infructuous, the suffering population leans on interest groups for advocacy and the few Pakistani women who know the real plight of their deprived gender rise in their defence. The state that wins no wars shows masculinity against defenceless NGOs, calling them agents of foreign powers set to destroy Pakistan’s pristine culture. And the woman goes on suffering, exploited by her own family while vulnerable to an indifferent state.

The writer is consulting editor, Newsweek Pakistan

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