My conversations with Malala Yousafzai, the girl who stood up to the Taliban (+video)
Pakistani journalist Owais Tohid recalls his conversations with Malala Yousafzai, the outspoken 14-year-old girl whose shooting by the Taliban has outraged the world.
"Which one of you is Malala? Speak up, otherwise I will shoot you all," a hooded, bearded Taliban militant asked a bus full of schoolgirls on their way home earlier this week. "She is propagating against the soldiers of Allah, the Taliban. She must be punished," the Taliban militant shouted louder. Then, recognizing her, he shot her at a point blank range.Skip to next paragraph
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Malala Yousafzai gained fame when it came out that she was the girl who was highly critical of the Taliban's ban on girls' education in the Swat valley, and blogging about her views and about the atrocities of Islamic militias controlling the valley from 2007-2009. The BBC blog, which was written in Urdu under a pen name, was nominated for several awards.
"I wanted to scream, shout and tell the whole world what we were going through. But it was not possible. The Taliban would have killed me, my father, my whole family. I would have died without leaving any mark. So I chose to write with a different name. And it worked, as my valley has been freed," she told me when I invited her for an interview for the TV station I am heading now, ARY News.
Doctors treating Malala now say bullets have been removed from her head and neck, but her condition is still critical. The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) have claimed responsibility for the attack and have a $100,000 government bounty against them.
Malala's friend, Shazia, who was also injured that day, recounted the event to me as her eyes filled with tears.
"They stopped our school van. They were riding on a bike. The masked man kept pointing guns at us and the other was shouting ‘where is Malala?!’ I froze with a flashback to the old dark days: I remembered the headless bodies, slaughtering of rivals – merely on dissent or slightest doubt of spying –the grotesque violence."
Just a few moments before, she said, the girls had been singing a traditional Pashtun folk song on their way back from school, its lyrics professing to sacrifice life for motherland, the beautiful valley of Swat.
"With a drop of my sweetheart's blood, Shed to defend the motherland, I will put a beauty spot on my forehead, Such would put to shame the rose in the garden," they sang. The song was made famous by Malala’s namesake, Malalai of Maiwand. The 19th century national folk hero fought against the British troops in the Second Anglo-Afghan War.