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Malala, the world and Pakistan

By: Zubair Torwali

AS THE world celebrated Malala Day, we as a nation remained reluctant to stand against extremism that surely is not an effect of the war on terror but a mindset to maim, execute and terrorise the resistant Pakistanis for political power under the garb of religion.

The Taliban attacked Malala Yousafzai out of the rage they felt at her courage to stand for education, especially the girls’ education back in early 2009 when the Swat Taliban had set the Jan 15, 2009 deadline for closure of all the girls’ schools across the valley.

The Swat Taliban blasted more than 200 schools in the region as according to them, the schools stand against their ideology.

After blowing up Excelsior College, one of the prestigious private schools in Swat, spokesman for Taliban Muslim Khan told reporters that his outfit had blasted the college because students, who could get education there, would challenge their ideology.That time to speak against the atrocities of the militants was to invite one’s death. However, people like Malala did what they could and today she is bearing the brunt. Malala had nothing to do with the ideology of the Taliban and the larger discourse on ideology nor does she adhere to any particular form of ideology – right, left, liberal or conservative. She has one dream, education, and through education she wants to bring a change in society. Today, she stands for the progressive, moderate, brave and beautiful aspect of our society, which has been distorted with so many warring doses of different ideologies and their interpretations.

She was attacked by the ubiquitous gunmen inside her school van on a busy street in the Swat’s biggest city, Mingora. Now as the whole Pakistani nation seems to have no clue to the brutal incident, a nationwide outrage is felt, however, though muffled it is. International condemnation is there, and the UN decision to mark 10th of Nov every year as Malala Day is a lasting retaliation telling the extremists within us that the larger world does not approve what they proclaim under the guise of religion.

Whether we can take the right route in the journey of history is well evident from the instant outrage and equally diffusion into confusion. We saw it in the incident of Malala. A nationwide outrage was felt during the two days after the Oct 9 attack on Malala. Condemnation by every political and religious corner, except TTP, was the talk of the day. But soon the brutal attack was polarised; and TTP succeeded in fomenting confusion through their ‘political wings’ in the country. Some quarters suggested a straight head on war against the Taliban.

There was also a counter argument, too, though somewhat defensively in the aftermath of the attack that negotiation is the only option to settle the issue of extremism in Pakistan.

Whatever road the government takes will never be a permanent solution. Negotiations will squarely embolden the obscurantist forces among us. Negotiations with the Taliban will legitimise taking arms for addressing one’s imagined or real grievances.

This strategy, if adopted, will have certain fallout. It will not be different in its impacts from the policy of using militant Islam in fighting India in Kashmir and the former Soviet Union in Afghanistan. This policy will thus encourage more ethnic strife to surface violently and cause further fissures in Pakistan. On the individual and group level, this strategy will further strengthen the rule ‘might is right’ and that ‘right can only be secured through the means of weapons’.

On the other hand, war with them without getting rid of the obsolete and deadly larger security narrative will be disastrous and end in more civilian and military deaths. A committed war against them is seemed the only way but that must be indigenous and supported with ideological clarity; and this will need the Pakistani establishment to give up using religion as a powerful tool in the state’s security narrative.

So what could be a powerful retaliation? The world has done its bit, while Pakistanis have yet to decide about it.

Our education with all its adherent flaws of contents is still deemed by religious extremists by far the most effective weapon to defeat them; and more importantly, education for girls is the main threat conceived by the Taliban. They know well that education is the real challenge for them. They know that an educated mother or sister can change the whole family, not only economically but ideologically as well. If we have to fight them ideologically, we have to take one way to educate our girls all over Pakistan, especially in areas, where the influence of Taliban mindset is instrumental.

It is often held that in rural Pakistan, especially in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the men are patriarchs who do not want their daughters or sisters to get education. This viewpoint is largely taken for granted without any field or participant research. It is not the people, who do not want their girls educated but our successive governments. Unfortunately, our successive governments have failed to provide girls access to education.

Malala is fortunate enough to have a pretty fine school in her city. Thousands of brave, beautiful and bold Malalas are deprived of education in Fata and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa not because their fathers are not Ziauddin Yousafzais but because the state has failed to give them the basic right of education.