The fallout from Tuesday’s shooting of a 14-year-old Pakistani girl activist continues to grow, with protests, vigils and worldwide condemnation over the Taliban’s assassination attempt on a school bus in broad daylight spreading from Islamabad to New York to Kabul.
While the girl herself, Malala Yousafzai, lies in intensive care after surgery Wednesday to remove the bullet that lodged in her neck after passing through her head, schools across Pakistan shut their doors in protest and vigils were held to pray for Yousafzai. She is said to be in stable condition, although the next 48 hours are seen as crucial.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called the attack “heinous and cowardly,” US President Barack Obama said it was “reprehensible and disgusting and tragic” and President Hamid Karzai of neighbouring Afghanistan telephoned his Pakistani counterpart Asif Ali Zardari to condemn the shooting.
But nowhere is the shock and sorrow more intense than in Yousafzai’s home town of Mingora in Pakistan’s volatile Swat Valley. It was from there that the teenager waged her years’ long campaign for girls’ education, something forbidden under the Taliban’s extreme interpretation of Sharia law.
After Pakistan’s military said it ousted the militants from the region in 2009, Yousafzai began writing a blog about life under the Taliban in Mingora under a pseudonym for the BBC Urdu’s service.
In an entry dated 3 January 2009, Yousafzai wrote about a “terrible dream” she had the night before. “I was afraid going to school because the Taliban had issued an edict banning all girls from attending schools. Only 11 students attended the class out of 27,” she wrote.
“On my way from school to home I heard a man saying 'I will kill you'. I hastened my pace... to my utter relief he was talking on his mobile and must have been threatening someone else over the phone."
Yousafzai also talked about how the Taliban banned women from going to the market and even banned shopping once they came to Swat. Across the region, they burned girls’ schools.
It was that kind of unusual outspokenness that earned Yousafzai the first national peace award from the Pakistani government last year. She was also nominated for the International Children's Peace Prize.
All in the family
"I never imagined that this could happen because Malala is a young innocent girl," said her father Ziauddin, who is himself an education activist and runs a local private school.
"Whenever there were threats, relatives and friends would tell Malala to take care but Malala was never fearful," he said. "She would frequently say 'I am satisfied. I am doing good work for my people so nobody can do anything to me'."
Yousafzai was said to be currently working on a fund to allow poor girls to get an education. Said one of her classmates, “If the Taliban kill one Malala, there are thousands and thousands more brave girls like Malala in Swat."
The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attack. And they have vowed to target her again.