Doctors treating a 14-year-old girl shot in the head by Islamist militants because she dared to advocate schooling for girls said Wednesday that they hoped she would make a full recovery from her wounds after nightlong surgery to remove the bullet.
Pakistan rallied around the girl, Malala Yousafzai, who’d become a national heroine in 2009 for defying the Pakistani Taliban’s rule in the tourist district of Swat. Prayer vigils were held throughout the country, television channels gave blanket and emotional coverage to developments, and politicians across the spectrum denounced the shooting.
Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, arguably the country’s most powerful official, made an unusual trip to be at Malala’s bedside, afterward issuing a statement whose final lines were spelled out in capital letters for emphasis.
“WE REFUSE TO BOW BEFORE TERROR. WE WILL FIGHT, REGARDLESS OF THE COST, WE WILL PREVAIL, INSHA ALLAH (God willing),” the statement read.
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Malala’s attackers were unrepentant, however, with Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan issuing a detailed and chilling justification for the assault, which targeted the girl as she sat in a van waiting to be taken home from school Tuesday afternoon.
Relying on references to the Quran, Islamic history and Shariah – Islamic law – the statement, in English and containing eccentric capitalizations, misspellings and grammatically awkward phrases, left no doubt about the wide gulf that separates the Taliban from the mainstream of Pakistani thought.
“It’s a clear command of Shariah that any female that by any means plays (a) role in war against mujahideen (holy warriors) should be killed,” the statement said. “Malala Yousafzai was playing a vital role in bucking up the emotions of Murtad (apostate) army and Government of Pakistan, and was inviting Muslims to hate mujahideen.”
The statement cited passages from the Quran that the Taliban said justified the killing of children as well as women, and it said that killing someone engaged in rebellion against Islamic law was not just a right but “obligatory in Islam.”
“If anyone thinks . . . that Malala is targeted because of education, that’s absolutely wrong, and a propaganda of (the) Media,” the statement said. “Malala is targeted because of her pioneer role in preaching secularism and so called enlightened moderation. And whom so ever will commit so in future too will be targeted again by TTP.” Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan is the largest faction making up the Pakistani Taliban.
Malala gained fame as an 11-year-old in 2009 when she defied the Islamist militants who then governed her hometown, Mingora, first in a diary that became the basis for a series of reports on life under the Taliban carried by the BBC’s local Urdu language service, and then in television appearances in which she decried the Taliban’s efforts to limit schooling for girls.
The Taliban had seized control of Swat, the district where Mingora is located, in 2007. The Pakistan army launched an offensive in 2009 that supposedly pushed the Taliban out of Swat.
On Tuesday, an assailant approached a school van loaded with children and asked which one was Malala. When another student pointed her out, the assailant opened fire.
Malala was taken by helicopter to a military hospital in the provincial capital, Peshawar, where doctors operated through the night after she developed swelling in her brain. They removed a bullet lodged close to her spinal cord, doctors told reporters, and she was place in intensive care, still unconscious.
Two other girls were injured in the attack, one of whom reportedly was in critical condition.
Police arrested the driver of the school van and a school security guard, along with dozens of others, but those detentions appeared to be a general roundup, rather than a breakthrough in the case.
Meanwhile, Malala’s father, Zia-ud-Din Yousafzai, told the Reuters news agency that he had turned down a government offer of security guards for the girl, citing the traditions of his Pashtun ethnic group that forbids unrelated men around females.
Her father, who was the headmaster of the school Malala attended and was one of the few people brave enough to speak to foreign journalists about the Taliban when they ruled over Swat, added: “We did not want her to be carrying her schoolbooks surrounded by bodyguards. She would not have been able to receive education freely.”
“I never imagined that this could happen because Malala is a young, innocent girl,” her father said. “Whenever there were threats, relatives and friends would tell Malala to take care, but Malala was never fearful.”