By: Ghazi Salahuddin
Malala is the messageThe spectacle of how a 16-year-old girl has restored the pride of a country that is otherwise deemed to be a failing state is something we need to carefully examine. Yes, Malala Yousafzai was not awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. But the glory she has earned internationally is still unique in many ways. So, what does it mean for Pakistan in our present circumstances?
At one level, the big question is whether Malala’s shadow would fall on the negotiations that our government is holding – or about to hold – with the Taliban? That would naturally depend on the capacity of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his advisers to decipher the issues that are embedded in the message that Malala has delivered.
This may as well be a divine intervention to awaken the conscience of a nation confronting a threat to its survival. After all, it was Malala versus the Taliban when she was attacked in Swat exactly one year ago. This, then, has been a competition between two different and antagonistic world views. But where do our rulers belong in this fateful conflict?
Unfortunately, the Taliban’s attempt to murder a young girl who had become a symbol of girls’ right to education could not become a catalyst. The then government, which professed to be liberal and progressive in its political stance, was unwilling to launch an operation against the Taliban who not only accepted the responsibility for the attack but also vowed to kill Malala. A larger failure was the inability of the rulers to resolutely challenge the Taliban mindset in the battlefield of ideas.
We do have some clarifications in that respect because Malala is now a greater and globally acknowledged symbol of education for all children and the Taliban have reiterated their resolve to get her. Meanwhile, the world has seen that this teenager is truly exceptional. The fact that she was the front-runner among nominees for the Nobel Peace Prize is in itself a matter of great pride for us.
But the manner in which she has conducted herself on the world’s stage where leaders of nations do sometimes stutter is God’s gift to a people desperately seeking hope. That, perhaps, is the gist of it all. Malala represents hope for Pakistan. Our salvation lies in education, particularly of girls. That Malala’s talents bloomed in the troubled valley of Swat that the Taliban were able to plunder for an excruciatingly long period is also a parable to consider.
She did not belong to a rich, privileged and superficially westernised family. She did not go to exclusive, high-priced English-medium schools in Karachi or Lahore. In fact, she came into the limelight after writing her Swat diary in Urdu for the BBC, under a pseudonym. At the same time, her articulation in the English language is so impressive. And it is not restricted to a prepared speech that could also be rehearsed.
What does this mean? Exceptional she is but there are bound to be many more Malalas out there in the desolate villages of Pakistan. We need to find them and nurture their potential to liberate our society from the curse that is represented by the Taliban, in a generic sense. This is the main issue for our rulers, irrespective of how they are in thrall to the religious extremists. Lack of education and enlightenment has infected the Pakistani mind with primitive ideas and intolerance.
The situation on the ground is not really encouraging. I am reminded of the hostility that was expressed against Malala by a number of young boys at the Children’s Literature Festival held in Peshawar in November last year, just a few weeks after Malala was attacked. I had attended that festival and was shocked by some slogans scrawled on a wall designed to acclaim Malala’s courage and contribution to the cause of education.
Even now, there is no dearth of Malala’s detractors – including in some corners of what may be described as the modern sector. A number of them suspect her of being some kind of a CIA conspiracy. Such suspicions need to be aired in objective discussions. Partly, these views are rooted in the widespread disapproval of the American foreign policy. We do not often realise how this attitude gets reflected in our irrational aversion to western ideas of democracy and human rights.
In any case, if they in the west are rooting for education for girls in Pakistan, what should we do? Should we bomb the girls’ schools as the Taliban have been doing? Should we hide ourselves in medieval darkness so that the sinful enchantments of the modern world are not able to find us? Should we deny our society the inspiration that comes from brave, educated and gifted women?
This aspect of how Malala represents the power of the Pakistani women I am unable to pursue in this brief column. I am thinking of some examples of how women of Pakistan have gained international recognition for their courage and commitment. There was Benazir Bhutto. I may mention Asma Jahangir and Mukhtar Mai. Now, we have Malala.
I cannot, also, go into any details about why the present government should put the Malala issue on the table in their negotiations with the Taliban. It is also necessary for the government to spend more time in thinking about who is the legitimate stakeholder of Pakistan – the militant who holds a gun or a little girl going to school? There is a lot of debate about conditions on which talks are to be held. If the Taliban remain unwilling to allow girls to go to schools and if they still want to try to kill Malala, as they have openly stated, would the government still want to talk to them? Be a man, Mr Prime Minister.
Malala was passed over by the Nobel committee. Still, she is continuing to be applauded by the world. She has won so many other awards. On Thursday, she won the European Union’s prestigious Sakharov human rights prize. On the same day, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim called Malala a symbol of hope and courage for children across the world.
A columnist in the Washington Post, writing after the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the UN-backed Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, said that “the world has, in a sense, already given Malala Yousafzai the prize for peace this year”. A reference is made to her remarkable interview with Jon Steward. “You watch Malala for only a few minutes and you can see why oppressive power is afraid of educating girls and women”. Brother, can you spare a few minutes?
The writer is a staff member. Email: [email protected] Com