Tag Archives: Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan

Taliban: Agent or Victim?


In their attempt to assassinate girl-activist, Malala Yousufzai, has the Taliban inadvertently rescued the narrative of violence against women?

By AFIYA SHEHRBANO ZIA 

October 24, 2012

Just as in other patriarchal societies, violence against women (VAW) in Pakistan is endemic and cuts across all classes and ethnicities. Men of all ideological bents instrumentalise the political economy of VAW as a highly lucrative and politically successful strategy of maintaining material supremacy and social power.

Over the last three decades, Pakistan has been at the receiving end of donor-assisted campaigns and gender-empowerment awareness programmes on violence. These projects were sub-contracted to NGOs that had been set up by feminists who themselves, in the 1980s, had been involved in direct action activism on cases of violence. With the sponsorship of international development assistance, “women’s NGOs” steadily embraced the concept and become advocates of linking VAW to neo-liberal development agendas. This has re-directed analysis and activism from its primary focus on survivors and perpetrators of violence. Instead, increasing attention and funding has led to a change that is more in tune with the UN and donor-preferred approach known as ‘Gender-Based Violence’ (GBV).

The shift has meant more than a replacement of acronyms. The impetus of both, VAW and GBV activism, may be the overlapping themes of violence but for the latter, the emphasis is much more on the context and sites where violence is ‘gendered’ and sustained. The long-term developmental aim of GBV is to change power inequalities between men and women in society. Exacerbating factors such as poverty, injustice, discrimination or lack of awareness or dis-empowerment of women and girls, is the core of the GBV agenda. However, the UN preference for GBV linkages with developmental goals has meant that the politics of VAW have deflected or at least, diluted, the focus from the immediate perpetrators, purpose and benefits of violence. Instead, the GBV approach looks closer at socially constructed masculinity rather than material-based patriarchy, to be the direct motivation or cause of criminal intent behind such violence.

Perversely, this is allowing generations of perpetrators to metaphorically but also literally, get away with murder. This is because GBV projects offer to rehabilitate masculinities, change the broader power structures, and improve the justice-education-health systems or gender relations in communities, rather than simply recognize the criminal and his immediate motivation. Nor do GBV projects sponsor punitive methods to address such violations. The recent attack on a 14 year old girl-activist, Malala Yousufzai, by the Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in Swat, Pakistan, has pushed the reset button on the momentum that was being gained by Gender-Based Violence (GBV). The Taliban’s attack may have inadvertently rescued the narrative of the VAW approach, which calls for more direct focus on immediate causes and perpetrators and more urgent responses to cases of violence against women.

Responses to the Taliban attack

The range and multitude of the global response to the attempted assassination of Malala have been far-reaching. They span from Madonna’s puzzling bareback tribute to the young activist at a concert just days after the attack, to the equally jingoistic decision by the government of Pakistan to name three of its Frontier Corps platoons, ‘Malalai’, ‘Shazia’ and ‘Kainat’, as a ‘tribute’ to all three school girls targeted and injured by the Taliban. While the case has received near-universal condemnation, various interest groups in Pakistan are competing to add to the multiple layers of ascribed motivations, causes and responsibilities. There is also much political mileage to be availed in view of the sweep of outrage and sympathy across the world. A virtual supermarket of ‘Blame’ brands are available for commentators ranging from American hegemony, imperialism, drone attacks and even, anti-Islam blasphemous material produced in the West.

Pakistani women protesting with banners and signs
”We demand the end of Extremism and Terrorism” – Protest in Pakistan by left and women’s groups. Photo: member of WAF.

While GBV approaches link the low rate of literacy and abysmal indices for girls’ education in the country to gender based discrimination, the narrative that has spun around Malala’s case has thrown up a host of deeper, unresolved and critical issues with reference to violence. The Taliban has categorically reclaimed religious patriarchy as a deliberate base for the kind of violence it consciously employs. In several press releases, the Taliban spokesman has refuted all the defenses being spun by Islamists and conservatives (such as drone attacks), as the motivation behind the assassination attempt. The statements have impatiently corrected the rationalisations and confirmed that they attacked Malala specifically for her adversarial intent to “secularise society” by educating girls according to a non-Islamic curricula. Her aimed defiance to the Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) qualifies her as anti-Islamic and the Taliban claim, “We did not attack her for raising voice for education. We targeted her for opposing mujahideen and their war”. The aim to kill her was the natural culmination of their larger campaign of systematically blowing up girls’ schools over the last five years, in northern Pakistan.

For decades, women’s rights activists resisted the monopoly of violence claimed by the state, and unpacked the lease of this to men in communities who then target women with impunity under the guise of cultural practices and patriarchal traditions. Over the last two decades, with donor encouragement, several development practitioners became engaged with the idea of instrumentalising Islam as a tool for women’s empowerment. This premise allowed them to pursue the case for educating women and girls through religious didacticism. It also allowed for the co-option of clergy who resisted contraceptive use to become its promoters. Theoretically, it was thought that this strategy would counter what were labeled ‘anti-Islamic’ traditions that sanctioned violence against women. VAW proved far more resilient. What these activists underestimated was that instrumentalising Islam is not a parochial privilege limited to rights based activists. The Taliban and sympathetic Islamists do not doubt nor resist the need for women’s education as a Quranic prescription– just its nature, purpose and ‘secularising’ ends.

The debate is shifting away and being reframed by all the actors involved and reconfiguring around notions of religious and secular forms of violence. As a result, the symbol of woman as a carrier of both the virus and cure, the seed of destruction and resurrection, war and peace, continues to serve as the barometer of Pakistan’s unresolved issue of Islamic vs secular options and pursuits.

Clarity in the Taliban agenda

In the post War on Terror (WoT) period, incrementally, Pakistani women have been the direct targets of Islamic militancy. At first, activists struggled to decode the patriarchal impulses and gendered impact of a more generic conflict. By 2007, however, the Swat Taliban came to have virtual control over Swat. Girls’ schools were bombed, barbers and music shop owners were attacked, women warned not to come to the bazaars or hospitals or to leave their houses alone, and were assaulted when in violation of regulations. Women performers, called the ‘dancing girls of Swat’ were assaulted, and at least one, Shabana, was shot dead and her body hung on display at a crossing dubbed Khooni Chowk (Bloody Crossing) as a symbol of the Taliban’s regimen of moral cleansing. The use of women as a signpost is not exclusive to the Taliban but unlike in inter-community or inter-ethnic murders, Islamic militants leave messages to the state, government and citizens by literally pinning post-its to dead bodies routinely and systematically. So too, Shabana’s body was strewn with currency notes as a mocking reminder of the fate of those deemed un-Islamic (in her case, prostitutes) by the Taliban’s sharia rule.

Unlike men of sub-nationalist movements or even mainstream Islamists, the Taliban are overt and unapologetic in their exploitative and symbolic use of the female body. Despite the self-confessed assassination attempt on Malala and repeated explanations of why they will continue such acts, the Islamists and conservatives in Pakistan have launched a counter-campaign to disassociate this crime (against Malala) from the criminal (the Taliban militant). The argument in the media spin that followed the targeted assassination attempt was that Malala had been attacked by an abstraction – American hegemony, imperialism, Islamic freedom, militancy, Westernisation, class aspirations, honour, nationalism, secularism, women’s rights. By not recognizing the self-confessed murderer, Islamists absolve the criminal and dissolve the crime.

Such unprecedented violence has diverted attention and hindered the struggle of women and human rights activists who were more committed to normative and routine public and private cases of VAW. Activism meant rescuing women under threat, offering legal assistance and providing shelter as well as, pressurizing the state and justice system to deal with the perpetrators. Even as we observed the course of the ‘war on terror’ and its fall-out in Pakistan, the growth of GBV projects continued to divert the emphasis away from direct action and towards developmental and rehabilitative approaches. Islamic militants such as the TTP have directly challenged all apologia that argues that they are victims of some misguided masculinities, brutalized by tribal war and poverty. Neither do they view themselves as jihadi proxies used and discarded by the Pakistani state, or as citizens who are denied justice. They do however agree with some sympathisers who continue to view the Taliban as products and resistance armies of US anti-imperialism. Is it viable to continue viewing the conscious agent as a victim?

Agent as victim

To deflect the direct responsibility of a crime away from the individual and place it on the breadth of society, government, the state, global powers or imperialism, then empties the perpetrator of criminal motivation and refills him with a higher, larger-than-life, mission.

The creation of such noblesse oblige is done by converting the agent into a victim. This laundering opens a new line of defense. It suggests (as several Islamists have done) that, under certain circumstances, a case of justifiable homicide may be made. However, in the views of the same sympathisers, this flexibility is a limited moral commodity.  The defense of a higher moral purpose as the motivation for murder is not a universally available tool for all citizens regardless of class, creed or gender. It is a selective application reserved only for those who are deemed Islamic enough and soaked in the cause of promoting/defending Islam as defined by powerful or political clergymen.

In other words, Malala may be worthy of sympathy due to her status as a minor but does not qualify for justice because of her near-fitna (seductive, luring, chaotic) activities. In the minds of these apologists, her would-be assassins were absolved of their crime even before they were caught, despite their stated motivation (which has not been cited as the drone attacks but due to Malala’s adversarial intent to secularise her society) and even prior to a judicial hearing. In such a world-view, justice must not be blind but dependent on the perceived beliefs or religious weightage of the individuals or parties involved.

One of the complaints made by proponents of the Taliban-as-victim group, is that violations against women by secular landed politicians, do not receive as much media attention or outraged response. This is a completely dishonest proposal. The case that is often quoted as ‘exaggerated’ or ‘sensationalised’ to expose the Taliban’s Islamic justice system following the peace deal with the government in 2009, is that of a woman flogged by Taliban ‘police’ in the streets of Swat. The mobile phone amateur video went viral on national and international channels.  In 2008, soon after the new incumbent civilian government was installed, two high profile cases involving the landed politicians of the ruling party were equally ‘sensationally’ splashed across the media. With reference to one of these cases of the alleged ‘live burial’ of girls who refused their arranged marriages, Pakistani women’s groups lobbied, protested and came on TV channels demanding the removal of the cabinet minister from the said constituency. They did so, in protest of his defense of such ‘traditions’, which he offered as a justification for this crime. To suggest that religious militancy is the only crime that is picked up by the media or liberal groups is an intellectually dishonest claim. The spectacle of the flogging caught on video made the case more visual and hence caused more outrage than the other cases.

Reclaiming agendas

This defensiveness stems from a more common refrain used by the apologists of Islamists’ politics of violence – that secular political forces are no better. Feminists, including myself, have persistently made this critique of not only liberal, secular men, but also of the state, as abusers of the political potential of women’s bodies and also because their acts sanction a regulation of women’s sexuality and all its manifestation. However, the Malala case falls outside of this framework. The concern of the Taliban in this case was not to regulate the girls’ sexualities (although it may be elsewhere), nor to accrue material benefit, nor revenge for drones and nor was the purpose to restore ‘honour’, as some communities employ this motivational excuse in cases of VAW. In these non-theocratic cases, perhaps the GBV framework is a useful one. However, the Taliban are not hiding behind socioeconomic or tradition based excuses. It is time for analysts to recognise the self-acclaimed agency of the perpetrators and clearly identify the victim in cases of VAW, rather than defend the criminal as a victim and dissolve the crime as an abstraction.

The TTP has reminded us of the simple core of VAW and reiterated what feminists always knew – VAW removes any threat that the liberationist ‘Woman’ may pose to the religio-patriarchal social order. If eliminating girls’ schools do not do the job, then a stronger signal of directly removing all agents (women/girls), should secure the message for those who may be harbouring plans to disrupt the Islamic order they seek to impose. Foreign donors scramble to rebuild schools, and the state attempts to resist militancy by giving symbolic significance to the services and resilience of girls such as Malala, in order to boost their public relations campaign in the fight against militancy in north Pakistan. Meanwhile, the Taliban has recovered the simple lesson of success achieved by direct action, and the symbolic value and immense ideological success available through the act of removing the obstacle. Will we?

About the author

Afiya Shehrbano Zia is a feminist researcher and activist based in Karachi, Pakistan.  She is the author of,‘ Sex Crime in the Islamic Context’ and several published articles on women, religion and secularism

This article is published under a Creative Commons license. If you have any queries about republishing please contact us. Please check individual images for licensing details.

Articles by Afiya Shehrbano Zia

 Taliban: agent or victim?

AFIYA SHEHRBANO ZIA 24 October 2012

In their attempt to assassinate girl-activist, Malala Yousufzai, has the Taliban inadvertently rescued the narrative of violence against women?

 The gendered cost of NATO in Pakistan

AFIYA SHEHRBANO ZIA 30 April 2012

Pakistan’s Domestic Violence Bill has become the latest fatality in the barter between women’s rights, NATO, and issues of national security, says Afiya Shehrbano Zia

 Female suicide bombings in Pakistan – what’s in it for women?

AFIYA SHEHRBANO ZIA 4 October 2011
Islamic militancy in Pakistan appears to be mobilising women suicide bombers as part of its religious trope. This trend unsettles the conservative divide between the public and private roles of women in traditional societies, and also attracts an anthropological defense of Islamist women’s agency. The question remains: what’s in it for women?

Two million dollars: a patriarchal bargain

AFIYA SHEHRBANO ZIA 29 March 2011
The murder of two men by a CIA agent in Pakistan raised issues of masculinist national sovereignty and honour, and exposed the uncomfortable privilege that religious laws based on power, rather than religion, extend to men, says Afiya Shehrbano Zia

During Zia’s years, liberal forces presented the most radical opposition to the theocracy-military collusion and oppression. Today, we witness a liberal democratic government, with a secular alliance that is paralysed and besieged by its lack of vision and inability to govern, says Afiya Shehrbano Zia

 Donor-driven Islam ?

AFIYA SHEHRBANO ZIA 21 January 2011
Collaboration between western academia and Pakistani women at home and in the diaspora has established a body of donor-funded research with an exclusive focus on Islam. Will development policies based on such research lead to any kind of liberation?
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The Girl Who Changed Pakistan: Malala Yousafzai


by Shehrbano Taseer
Oct 22, 2012

Shehrbano Taseer takes an insider’s look at the 15-year-old girl who may finally turn the tide on extremism.

Malala Yousafzai in 2009 (Photo: Veronique de Viguerie / Getty Images)
Malala Yousafzai in 2009 (Photo: Veronique de Viguerie / Getty Images)

The teenage girls chatted to each other and their teachers as the school bus rattled along the country road. Students from a girls’ high school in Swat, they had just finished a term paper, and their joy was evident as they broke into another Pashto song. About a mile outside the city of Mingora, two men flagged down and boarded the bus, one of them pulling out a gun. “Which one of you is Malala Yousafzai?” he demanded. No one spoke—some out of loyalty, others out of fear. But, unconsciously, their eyes turned to Malala. “That’s the one,” the gunman said, looking the 15-year-old girl in the face and pulling the trigger twice, shooting her in the head and neck. He fired twice more, wounding two other girls, and then both men fled the scene.

Over the screams and tears of the girls, a teacher instructed the bus driver to drive to a local hospital a few miles away. She stared in horror at Malala’s body, bleeding profusely and slumped unconscious in her friend’s lap, then closed her eyes and started to pray.

As of this writing, Malala fights for her life at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, England. Her would-be killers have not yet been caught. But it’s clear who bears responsibility. And in the days since the Oct. 9 assault on her, sadness, fury, and indignation have swept the world.

For months a team of Taliban sharpshooters studied the daily route that Malala took to school, and, once the attack was done, the Tehrik-e-Taliban in Pakistan gleefully claimed responsibility, saying Malala was an American spy who idolized the “black devil Obama.” She had spoken against the Taliban, they falsely said, and vowed to shoot her again, should she survive.

The power of ignorance is frightening. My father, Salmaan Taseer, was murdered last January after he stood up for Aasia Noreen, a voiceless, forgotten Christian woman who had been sentenced to death for allegedly committing blasphemy. My father, the governor of Punjab province at the time, believed that our country’s blasphemy laws had been misused; that far too frequently, they were taken advantage of to settle scores and personal vendettas.

In the days before my father’s murder, fanatics had called for a fatwa against him and had burned him in effigy at large demonstrations. His confessed shooter, a 26-year-old man named Mumtaz Qadri, said he had been encouraged to kill my father after hearing a sermon by a cleric, who, frothing at the mouth, screeched to 150 swaying men to kill my father, the “blasphemer.” Qadri, a police guard, had been assigned to protect my father. Instead, on the afternoon of Jan. 4, my brother Shehryar’s 25th birthday, he killed my father, firing 27 bullets into his back as he walked home.

My father, one of the first members of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party, was frequently imprisoned and tortured for his unwavering belief in freedom and democracy under the harsh dictatorship of Gen. Zia ul Haq.

But in later life, as he spoke against the blasphemy laws, his views were distorted to suggest—wrongly—that he had spoken against Prophet Muhammad—just as Malala’s views were twisted by both her Taliban attackers and opportunistic politicians peddling poisonous falsehoods for their own gain.

One would think the nightmare and the brutality of the Zia regime ended when the tyrant’s aircraft fell out of the skies in 1988 and he was killed. We were so wrong.

These clerics are raising merchants of hatred, believers in radical Islam (Photo: Lynsey Addario / VII))
These clerics are raising merchants of hatred, believers in radical Islam (Photo: Lynsey Addario / VII))

What the attack on Malala makes clear is that this is really a battle over education. A repressive mindset has been allowed to flourish in Pakistan because of the madrassa system set up by power-hungry clerics. It’s a deeply rooted indoctrination, and it sickens me to see ancient religious traditions undermined by a harsher form of religion barely a generation old. These madrassa, or religious schools headed by clerics, are the breeding ground of Islamic radicalism. The clerics don’t teach critical thinking. Instead, they disseminate hate. These clerics are raising merchants of hatred who believe in a very right-wing and radical Islam, to hail people like Osama bin Laden and Mumtaz Qadri as heroes. They train children how to use guns and bombs, and how not to live but to die.

Since my father’s murder, I have often wondered if Qadri would have killed him had he known my father’s actual views and not what they had been twisted into by media anchors and clerics on a hysterical witch hunt. Maybe if he had listened to what my father really said, Pakistan would not have lost its bravest man and I my center of gravity.

After his bloody deed, Qadri was hailed as a hero by right-wingers and fanatics. In a loathsome display in front of the court where he was to be tried, hundreds of lawyers charged with upholding justice instead showered the murderer with rose petals in praise of him taking a sacred life.

But terrorism bears within it the seeds of its own destruction. What schools with a good syllabus can offer is the timeless and universal appeal of critical thinking. This is what the Taliban are most afraid of. Critical thinking has the power to defuse terrorism; it is an internal liberation that jihadism simply cannot offer.

This time, with the attack on Malala, what is different—and encouraging—is the outpouring of support in Pakistan for this young girl. We cannot, and we will not, take any more madness.

Malala was only 11 when she started blogging entries from her diary for the Urdu-language website of the BBC. Her nom de plume was Gul Makai, meaning cornflower in Pashto and the name of the heroine of many local folk stories. A star student with olive skin, bushy eyebrows, and intense brown eyes, Malala wrote about life under Taliban rule: how she hid her schoolbooks under her shawl and how she kept reading even after the Taliban outlawed school for girls. In an entry from January 2009 she wrote: “Today our teacher told us not to wear colorful dress that might make Taliban angry.” She wrote about walking past the headless bodies of those who had defied the radicals, and about a boy named Anis, who, brainwashed by the Taliban, blew himself up at a security checkpoint. He was 16 years old.

Encouraged by her father, Ziauddin, a schoolmaster, Malala quickly became known as she spoke out on the right to an education. Ziauddin had two sons also, but he told friends it was his daughter who had a unique spark. She wanted to study medicine, but he persuaded her that when the time came she should enter politics so she might help create a more progressive society—at the heart of which was education for all. In Pakistan, 25 million children are out of school, and the country has the lowest youth literacy rate in the world.

"For one Malala shot and silenced, there are now thousands of younger Malalas who cannot be kept quiet,” says former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. (Photo: Arshad Arbab / EPA-Landov)
“For one Malala shot and silenced, there are now thousands of younger Malalas who cannot be kept quiet,” says former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. (Photo: Arshad Arbab / EPA-Landov)

“I hope you won’t laugh at me,” Ziauddin wrote in an email to Adam Ellick, an American filmmaker, after Ellick had stayed with the family in Swat for several months. “Can I dream for her to be the youngest to clench a Nobel award for education?”

In the film that Ellick made for The New York Times in 2009, the bond between Ziauddin and his daughter is evident as is his pride in his young daughter’s accomplishment. “When I saw her for the first time, a very newborn child, and I looked into her eyes, I fell in love with her,” Ziauddin says at one point in the film, beaming. “Believe me, I love her.” (Her mother, a homemaker who speaks only Pashto, is also supportive of Malala’s work; she wasn’t depicted in Ellick’s film for cultural reasons.)

At the time, the Taliban had swept through Swat, banning girls’ education and attacking hundreds of schools in the province. But Ziauddin—who, in addition to running a school, is also a poet, a social activist, and head of the National Peace Council in Swat—defied the Taliban by refusing to cancel classes, despite continued death threats. “They were so violently challenged,” says Ellick, who is still close to the family.

As Ziauddin explained his motivation at one point: “Islam teaches us that getting an education is compulsory for every girl and wife, for every woman and man. This is the teaching of the holy Prophet,” he said. “Education is a light and ignorance is a darkness, and we must go from darkness into light.”

Ziauddin “has given Malala a love, strength, and confidence that’s rare,” agrees Samar Minallah Khan, a Pakistani journalist and filmmaker who knows the family. “She has an incredible spirit and a mind of her own because of the confidence he has given her.”

In three short years, Malala became the chairperson of the District Child Assembly in Swat, was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize by Desmond Tutu, was the runner-up of the International Children’s Peace Prize, and won Pakistan’s first National Youth Peace Prize. More recently she started to organize the Malala Education Foundation, a fund to ensure poor girls from Swat could go to school.

Sharing her father’s eloquent and determined advocacy made Malala a powerful symbol of resistance to Taliban ideology.

Former British prime minister Gordon Brown said the attack had given rise to a children’s movement, with children proudly wearing “I am Malala” T-shirts and defiantly asserting their rights. “Young people are seeing through the hypocrisy of … their leaders [who] deny millions of girls and boys the opportunity to rise,” Brown said in an email. “For one Malala shot and silenced, there are now thousands of younger Malalas who cannot be kept quiet.”

Ziauddin is reportedly shattered by the attack on his daughter and unable to speak, yet he plans on returning to Pakistan once her treatment is complete. He wants to return to their work on education with renewed commitment and strength. He told Ellick: “If all of us die fighting, we will still not leave this work.”

In order to operate, the Taliban need the acceptance—or submission—of the population. A Gallup poll conducted two years ago shows that only 4 percent of Pakistan’s 180-plus million population views the Taliban in a positive light. But the TTP, as they are known, have capitalized on the mounting anti-Americanism spurred by civilian casualties of U.S. drone strikes. Keen to cultivate favorable public opinion, Mullah Omar, the spiritual leader of the Taliban, issued a “new code of conduct” in 2010 that banned suicide bombings against civilians, burning down schools, and cutting off ears, lips, and tongues. On the Web, the TTP rallied against drone strikes, condemned attacks on shrines, hospitals, schools, and marketplaces. In practice, however, the code was spottily enforced and did not necessarily mean a gentler insurgency. Critics claim that any changes were cosmetic—a tactical shift in preparation for a long-term fight.

The assault on Malala seemed a departure from Mullah Omar’s “charm offensive”—a desperate but well-known attempt to spread fear. Even among those who had supported the TTP’s ideological goals in the past, there was revulsion at the attack on the little girl. “The shooting could be an attempt to show that they are still active,” says author and analyst Zahid Hussain. “They want to send a message.”

Instead of being chastised by the popular outrage both in Pakistan and in the West, the Taliban has responded by threatening local journalists who have covered the attack on Malala. The TTP has even threatened cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, claiming he is a liberal and therefore an infidel. The threats surprised many since “Taliban Khan”—as many refer to him—is perceived as an apologist for the extremists. In fact, in the days after the attack on Malala, Khan was strongly criticized for not taking a more forceful stance on her shooting. (Khan said he could not speak too openly against the Taliban because that could imperil the lives of his supporters in the north.)

“Pakistan has arrived at its with-us-or-against-us moment,” Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the son of the president, told Newsweek by email. The 24-year-old Bhutto Zardari succeeded his mother, Benazir Bhutto, as chairman of Pakistan’s ruling party after her assassination in 2007. (The family believes that the Taliban killed her, though an al Qaeda commander initially claimed responsibility.)

Even as Malala fights for her life, people continue to twist her views and words to suit their own incendiary narrative. Samia Raheel Qazi, herself a mother and a senior figure in Pakistan’s largest religious party, Jamaat-e-Islami, posted an image of Malala, her father, and the late U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke on Twitter, adding a caption that falsely claimed that Malala had attended “a meeting with American military officers.”

In Pakistan such character assassinations and conspiracy theories are unfortunately not uncommon—and they benefit the Taliban’s odious campaign. “Liberals would like to believe this is a turning point for Pakistan,” says journalist Najam Sethi. “That’s what they thought when a Swati girl was publicly flogged by the Taliban in 2009.” Pakistanis were at first outraged, but the anti-Taliban consensus soon evaporated, he recalls. Sethi believes that upcoming Pakistan elections will further politicize the attack. “The government will make the right noises but fall in line with exigencies of party politics. No general or civilian will risk precipitous action.”

Pakistan’s government is funding Malala’s treatment and will present her with a national award for courage. It has also promised jobs to the family members of the other two girls who were shot. But many fear that—despite the arrest of almost 200 people—the investigation into the attack will conclude as most investigations do: with a failure to prosecute those responsible. Our antiterrorism courts have a shoddy record of convictions. The judiciary and law-enforcement agencies clearly lack both the will and the means to bring perpetrators to justice. “If we do capture the terrorists who attacked Malala, I do hope they are brought to justice,” says the government spokesman, Bhutto Zardari. But sounding less than convinced, he cautions in the same email: “This is a war zone. Just as NATO or the U.S. will not capture every terrorist in Afghanistan we cannot capture every terrorist in Pakistan.”

Malala’s English teacher, who is close to the family, clicks his tongue when asked if he believes the attackers will get caught and punished. “I don’t think so at all,” he says. “When have they ever?”

There is talk now in Pakistan of further military sweeps of militant strongholds. But it is clear that the solution cannot be purely military. The government must address the root causes of terrorism as Malala argued. “If the new generation is not given pens, they will be given guns by the terrorists,” she said before she was shot. “We must raise our voice.”

Reproduced from The Daily Beast

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