Pakistan medics remove bullet from shot child activist
Pakistani doctors said on Wednesday they had removed a bullet from a 14-year-old children’s activist shot by the Taliban in a horrific attack, as they consider flying her abroad for treatment.
Malala Yousafzai, 14, is in intensive care after being shot in the head in broad daylight on a school bus on Tuesday, in an assassination attempt that has appalled a country used to extremist violence.
The attack took place in Mingora, the main town of the scenic Swat valley in Pakistan’s northwest, where Malala had campaigned for the right to education during a two-year Taliban insurgency which the army said it had crushed in 2009.
Malala underwent surgery overnight to remove a bullet lodged in her shoulder at the Combined Military Hospital in the northwestern city of Peshawar, where doctors describe her condition as critical.
A military officer said a team of doctors will now determine if Malala needs further surgery or should be flown abroad.
“No decision has been announced so far,” he said, adding that the overnight surgery had “removed a bullet from her shoulder”.
Officials at Peshawar airport said two doctors visited an air ambulance, a converted Boeing 737, to examine its onboard facilities.
Provincial government spokesman Mian Iftikhar Husssain said there was a 70 per cent chance that Malala will respond to treatment and not need further surgery.
Pakistani leaders, human rights activists and prominent journalists have strongly condemned the shooting, with the government and former cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan offering to pay for her medical care.
State carrier Pakistan International Airlines told reporters that it was ready to fly Malala abroad if necessary, most probably to Dubai.
“We are waiting for new orders and as soon as we get the instruction she will be flown abroad,” PIA chief Junaid Yusuf told reporters.
Malala won international recognition for highlighting Taliban atrocities in Swat with a blog for the BBC three years ago, when the Islamist militants led by radical cleric Maulana Fazlullah burned girls’ schools and terrorised the valley.
Her struggle resonated with tens of thousands of girls who were being denied an education by Islamist militants across northwest Pakistan, where the government has been fighting local Taliban since 2007.
She received the first-ever national peace award from the Pakistani government last year, and was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize by advocacy group KidsRights Foundation last year.
Commentators said the brazen shooting raises serious questions about why the government did not do more to protect Malala and about a Taliban presence in Swat, three years after the army said it had crushed an insurgency.
Faced with public outrage over the shooting, the Pakistani Taliban issued another statement justifying an attack on a child, on the grounds that Malala had preached secularism “and so-called enlightened moderation”.
The Taliban controlled much of Swat from 2007-2009 but were supposedly driven out by an army offensive in 2009. Its adherents have destroyed hundreds of girls’ schools across northwest Pakistan and its border areas with Afghanistan.
“It’s a clear command of sharia that any female, that by any means plays a role in war against the mujahedeen, should be killed,” said spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan, accusing the media of waging “smelly propaganda” against the Taliban.
Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf telephoned Malala’s father and President Asif Ali Zardari said it would not shake Pakistan’s resolve to fight Islamist militants.
Taliban bombers have killed thousands of Pakistani soldiers and civilians over the last five years, but many in the country blame the United States and its 2001 invasion of neighbouring Afghanistan for the violence.
Malala’s shooting is likely to revive questions about whether Pakistan should do more militarily to eliminate Islamist groups and whether attempts at reconciliation and peace deals in parts of the northwest are ultimately flawed.
“We are infected with the cancer of extremism and unless it is cut out we will slide ever further into the bestiality that this latest atrocity exemplifies,” wrote English-language newspaper The News.
The United States, which uses covert drone attacks to target Taliban and al-Qaeda in Pakistan, condemned the shooting of Malala as “barbaric” and “cowardly”.
Amnesty International said it underscored how female activists in the northwest “live under constant threats from the Taliban and other militant groups”.