By: TALLAT AZIM
It was coincidentally the day of the girl child on October 11 when the announcement for the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for 2013 was to be made. Among the favourites to win was Malala Yusafzai of Pakistan. She is only 16 and a slip of a little girl who has the world acknowledging her cause and lending her its support. There was much waiting, speculation and a very genuine interest in this particular category because of Malala being a leading contender. That the prize has been given to OPCW (Organization for Prevention of Chemical Weapons) by the Norwegian Nobel Committee has not been disappointing either. It is the bigger picture and may the bigger picture always be visible where it matters most. Malala, at age 16, has made an indelible mark on this world and is shining like a light that cannot be dimmed. She has won more than what anybody could have thought possible. She also has time on her side as far as more accolades are concerned.
It goes without saying that Malala’s cause of education, particularly for all females, will gather strength as she leads and symbolizes the struggle which still has a long way to go. From a single personality this will become a galvanized force of youth, all inspired by her ideals, all over the world wherever education and equality are threatened for little girls. It will be then that she may be nominated all over again.
While the awards are rolling in and just about everyone whether they are from the East, Middle East, Europe or USA, who has heard or interacted with her, are quite in awe and just so struck by her, there are some in Pakistan who continuously deride her and actively crusade against her and her family. This is quite apart from the TTP whom she challenged and who admit to targeting her again whenever they get a chance. It is perhaps because we have been completely robbed of believing that actual good is possible. We can only accept some (horrendously foolish even) conspiracy theories. Our ability to take anything at face value has been shattered so we like to take refuge behind these theories. That the voices of those who are against Malala, even if their numbers are not so high, are so shrill and full of so much hatred is disturbing and revealing. There seem to be insurmountable gaps in the arguments. This was one time for the whole country to come together and take pride in the moment and the possible.
Malala came in to the lime light when the media spotted her in Swat during the times that all the schools for girls were shut down by the fear of the Taliban who had made a regular habit of bombing them. I chanced to meet her too a couple of times and was amazed at her confidence and composure as well as her intelligence. She could respond so logically to any query put to her and one could only wonder how this was possible with her real-life exposure being a very basic school in Swat. But her demeanor at age 13 or 14 just defied that fact!
So given this and while not disagreeing with the stance of educating all girls in Pakistan why are there people in Malala’s own country who are not ecstatic about her. A friend summed it up thus, “The controversy raging in Pakistan is not about the ‘rightness’ of Malala, it’s about the ‘wrongness’ of selective sympathy. When you put a face and a life story to a struggle and a tragedy the world empathizes and a Malala becomes a peace prize favourite. When you kill indiscriminately and hide the faces and life stories of the victims, thousands of Malalas go unsung, unacknowledged. May no child be victimized like her and may Malala’s acknowledgement by the world serve the girl child well”.
Post Script: Somethings are peculiar just to Pakistan. Perhaps, nowhere else does an Army chief has to announce to the world that he is not considering taking another extension and that he will retire at the end of his second tenure. While there was a general heaving of relieved sighs all around at this common sense thinking, there was also that wonderment at why he was compelled to say this. He is part of the system and things like retirements should happen in the normal course of things.
Besides, the furor that breaks loose on the media after his statement further leads one to believe that there are people who continue to view the Army as an institution that is parallel to the system of democracy and not subservient to it – despite the good track of its last five years. It has also never happened that the choices available for those who could become the next heads of the institution are debated so thread barely on all the television channels and in such minutest detail! The Army has always, one assumed, had its own systems of evaluation and all its discussions were kept between corps commanders behind closed doors. The media is behaving like the new set of corps commanders as it discusses the merits and demerits of each potential candidate. One could not have guessed that this was not an election or a popularity contest. In the difficult times that we are, let’s hope that whoever is appointed is able to lead the institution well besides further nurturing the plant of democracy, like the outgoing chief has done.
The writer is a public relations and event management professional based in Islamabad.