Malala Yousafzai

Pakistan needs Malala's courage to thwart Taliban

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 25 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 25 October, 2012, 2:42am

For a moment, Pakistanis were united in their anger at the Taliban for shooting 14-year-old schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai, a symbol of defiance against Muslim extremism. They could not have done otherwise. She had been airlifted to a British hospital with serious head wounds after gunmen boarded a school bus in her Swat Valley homeland and opened fire at close range. She had done nothing more than campaign in a blog for education for girls. Two weeks later, though, the outrage has wilted and authorities are dithering, their voices lacking the conviction necessary to find the perpetrators and crush the militants.

This is not what most Pakistanis want. The violence being carried out in the name of the Taliban's stilted ideology has been dragging the country backwards, sowing mayhem, economic ruin and despair. Pakistan's military and intelligence services have a history of working covertly with militants to gain advantage, be it to seize power or against India. It is the reason that the Taliban, based in neighbouring Afghanistan, has been able to gain a foothold in bordering tribal areas and spread its fundamentalist teachings.

Military chief General Ashfaq Kayani hinted at a shift after Malala's shooting, praising the girl as "an icon of courage and hope". She is recovering, but the Taliban has promised to kill her if she returns to Pakistan. The military knows where key extremists are, but no order has been given to mount an operation against them. The coalition government has held off on a parliamentary resolution and the opposition has been conspicuously muted. The reason may lie in yet-to-be-called general elections. No politician dares inflame religious passions or spark turmoil at so sensitive a time.

Afghanistan's Taliban leaders are biding their time on Pakistani soil, waiting for the pullout of Nato troops in 2014. Pakistan has its own murderous extremists, their targets including Christians and Shiite Muslims. Malala's shooting was a chance for politicians and generals to push for peace. But there is no chance of that while they lack her courage.