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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.

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Three years ago, a military operation followed the flogging of a girl from Swat, Chand Bibi, at the hands of Taliban, which triggered anger across the country. Now the attack on Malala has triggered nationwide anger and international condemnation, and there is some hope that it will effect a change again. 

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Pakistan's military chief visited the military hospital Wednesday to see Malala. "Such inhuman attacks clearly expose the extremist mindset the nation is facing," Gen. Parvez Ashfaq Kayani said in a statement. "We refuse to bow before terror, we will fight. Regardless of the cost, we will prevail, inshallah," the military chief said, triggering speculation that this attack might spur Pakistan's military to go into North Waziristan.

Unflagging determination

Malala, with her rosy complexion, twinkling eyes, and unflagging determination, charmed everybody with her courage and confidence in her public appearances. Fluent in Urdu, English, and Pashto, she had a flair for communication.

Her father, Zia Yousafzai, a Pashtun left-wing educator, almost always accompanied her on outings and interviews. He runs a chain of schools in Swat valley, the Khushal Public School, named after a famous Pashtun poet. I met father and daughter many times, and discussed with Malala the possibility of her hosting a show to interview leading politicians and dignitaries for the TV channel where I work.

"That will be fun, countering mullahs," she replied, but said she wanted to focus on her studies. Her father, bursting with pride, was cautious. "It's not the right time. She has already been in limelight in the national and international media. Her life can be under threat and she has to go a long way," her father told me.

The last time that I was with Malala, my 9-year-old daughter, Risa, called me to ask when I was coming home.

"I am with a hero, a very courageous girl. She has defeated the Taliban," I told her.

"The horrible Taliban? She must be so brave. Can I talk to her?" my daughter asked, and the girls chatted on the telephone for a few minutes.

On Tuesday, when my daughter called me, Malala was being rushed to the hospital. When I spoke to Malala's father, he said he was standing next to her, holding her hand. "Don't worry, Baba. I am going to be fine and victory will be ours," he said Malala told him in broken words before falling unconscious.

I came home that day heartsick and angry. My daughter had fallen asleep on top of her book titled “Mulan,” a folk tale we have read together about a heroic Chinese girl who fought against Mongols and saved her village. I held her tight, trying not to wake her because she had school the next day - which was Malala's dream.


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