US pays tribute to Malala’s courageous fight as Pakistanis stand by girls’ rights activist

Photo from Malala Yousafzai;s official website.

By Ali Imran 

WASHINGTON, Oct 12 :As the Pakistani nation stood behind Mall Yousafzai in the wake of cowardly Taliban attacks against her, the White House on Thursday paid tribute to the teenaged peace activist’s courageous fight for girls’ rights.

In a statement on this first International Day of the Girl, the White House reaffirmed the United States’ abiding commitment to promoting the rights and status of girls here in the United States and around the world and condemned the Taliban attack on the young Pakistan peace actives in the militancy-hit Swat valley.

“We are reminded of the urgency of this work by the outrageous attack this week by the Pakistani Taliban on 14-year-old Malala Yousafzai,” Press Secretary Jay Carney said in a statement. 

 “Malala’s courage and determination as a champion for girls’ education and opportunity stands in stark contrast to the cowards who seek to silence her.  Like so many Pakistanis and people of goodwill around the world, the American people are shocked by this deplorable shooting of a girl who was targeted because she dared to attend school, and we reaffirm our commitment to working with the Pakistani people toward a future that delivers progress, justice and peace to all its citizens,” the Press Secretary said.

 “As we pray for Malala’s recovery, we honor her bravery, we celebrate the accomplishments of girls here in the United States and throughout the world, and we salute the leadership of all those working to advance gender equality.  On this International Day of the Girl, we pledge to carry on our work and keep advancing our shared vision of a world where our daughters enjoy the same rights, freedoms, and opportunities as our sons,” the statement added.

The Taliban’s brazen gun attack on Malala and other schoolgirls this week set off a global reaction, with President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton decrying the shooting as “reprehensible and cowardly act.” 

In their numerous opinion pieces and commentaries, American analysts, public figures and newspapers, broadcast and social media experts and writers have expressed their strong denunciation of the militant attack.

The story of  Malala Yousafzai represents Pakistani moderates’ resistance against forces of parochialism, and the attack on her continues to reverberate on airwaves and in the newspapers in other parts of the world.

But it is the expression of overwhelming solidarity with the girl in Pakistan that matters more vitally as ultimately it is the Pakistani society and the state that have to lead this long-term struggle against militant mindset to a successful conclusion, for the sake of future generations.

In the last decade, the Pakistani people, politicians and security forces have paid a heavy cost in the fight against terrorists, particularly in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and the tribal areas along the Afghan border. Around 50,000 people have been killed in retaliatory terrorist bombings since Islamabad joined the fight against al-Qaeda and its affiliates in the aftermath of 9/11 terrorist attacks and the consequent US invasion of Afghanistan. Close to $ 100 billion dollars have been lost due to decline in investment and economic activity. The U.S. has been assisting Pakistan economically but experts at a discussion at the US Institute of Peace said this week that the South Asian nation needs continued growth (around 7 percent  of GDP) to overcome financial difficulties, ensure jobs for the young people and improve governance.

It was in the midst of Taliban insurgency that Malala emerged as a beacon of hope for her people in Swat, when she stood up against militants with the support of her father.  Defying the Taliban with immense  courage and strong will, she started writing a blog to spread awareness for girls’ right to education. In 2009, the militant thugs were threatening to overrun the entire Swat area in a bid to  subject the population to their own narrow interpretation of religious edicts. The Pakistani government and civil society recognized Malala’s work last year and instituted a national award.

But a lot of work still remains to be done. On the one hand, Pakistan has to deal with hard core Taliban elements militarily.  On the other hand, the military actions need to be backed up by a comprehensive civilian and economic programs to defeat the Talibanization, particularly in Pakistan’s  seven tribal agencies along the Afghan war,  Swat valley and the Malakand division.

In Swat, a couple of years ago the Pakistani political leadership, army, and above all the people, joined forces to flush out militants from the scenic valley, once one of the most popular and fabled tourist resorts in the region.

English: Swat Valley, Pakistan

English: Swat Valley, Pakistan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

However, providing jobs to the people and empowering the marginalized communities, girls, women and strengthening the moderates through a combination of economic, educational and administrative programs will be the key to the long-term project. And it is here that Pakistan will need a consistent inflow of investment and assistance from its international friends, particularly the United States.

Meanwhile, the mainstream Pakistan and the overwhelming majority of moderates is witnessing  a countrywide wave of support for Malala’s mission in the media and on the streets since the dastardly attack. Malala’s mission is simple :  to ensure girls get education in the remote areas, where militants can and have denied the people their basic rights to progress.

The top political and military leaders – President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf and Chief of the Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani –  and civil society leaders and rights activists have united like never before. The TV and newspaper images of young Malala bleeding from bullet wounds have raisid a cry of national anguish, turning the incident into a rallying point for the moderate and progressive people, who are in majority but have not spoken loudly enough from fear of Taliban terror.

Significantly, a group of 50 Islamic scholars also issued a declaration Thursday against the Taliban attack on Malala in the city of Lahore, which is the cultural heart of the country, fostering and promoting music and arts. The move may look belated but it is still not too late as Pakistan has so many positives to build on for a bright future.

The nation must seize the moment and turn it into a movement to rid the country of Taliban terrorism for good.  The Taliban apologists in the society, religious parties and the media need to come clean and stop misleading the people by overly linking the issue of militancy with extraneous factors. Mere talk will not help. The Taliban backers would have to give up the pro-militant option for ever and focus on consolidating Pakistan’s democratic gains to strengthen the country from within.

The unity in anti-Taliban sentiment shown by the nation on Friday would have to be followed up by a sustained societal movement against the militant mindset and sectarian violence, if Pakistan is to heal its wounds from decade of violence and almost daily bombings. The state, the legal fraternity and the judiciary must move decisively against the Taliban who try to disrupt such a movement. 

Meanwhile, Pakistani doctors have removed the bullet lodged in Malala’s neck and say she has a 70 percent chance of full recovery, thanks to the quick response of the medical team, prayers of her well-wishers and the indomitable spirit of the teenaged girl, who has rightly been hailed as the ‘symbol of hope’ for Pakistan.

The nationwide outcry against the Taliban’s brutal tactics and moral bankruptcy is resounding like a ringing call for concerted societal campaign against the extremist mindset. It may  prove to be a defining moment in the country’s struggle against militancy.

 

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