Up for Nobel Prize, Malala still targeted by Taliban

The Pakistani Taliban shot the young education activist on her way to school last year. Now the militant group says given the chance it would go after Malala again.

Luke MacGregor/Reuters
Pakistan's Malala Yousafzai gives a speech after receiving the RAW (Reach All Women) in War Anna Politkovskaya Award at the Southbank Centre in London October 4, 2013.

One year after a Taliban gunman stunned the world by shooting Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai as she rode the bus to school, the difference between the Taliban and Malala’s ideology remain stark. While Malala called this week for dialogue with the Taliban, their spokesman said the group would target Malala again if given the chance.

"The best way to solve problems and to fight against war is through dialogue," Malala told the BBC Monday in her first in-depth interview since the Oct. 9, 2012 attack.

Malala, now attending school in England, said the Taliban “must do what they want through dialogue.”

"Killing people, torturing people and flogging people… it's totally against Islam,” she said. “They are misusing the name of Islam."

But Shahidullah Shahid, a spokesman for the Pakistan Taliban, told CNN Monday that the group would go after Malala again if given the opportunity, as it would with anyone who opposes the group.

Mr. Shahid said the Pakistani Taliban singled-out Malala because she was “used in propaganda” against the Taliban and denied that the group homed in on Malala because she was an outspoken advocate for girls education.

At the time of the shooting, Malala was a 15-year-old schoolgirl already well known within Pakistan for her articulate defense of the right to education for girls. She wrote the anonymous blog “Diary of a Pakistani Schoolgirl” for the BBC, and spoke openly on Pakistani television and in a New York Times documentary about her determination to stay in school.

Malala's autobiography, "I am Malala," to be published Tuesday, describes her memories from the attack for the first time. In an excerpt from the book, Malala writes:

The man was wearing a peaked cap and had a handkerchief over his nose and mouth. Then he swung himself onto the tailboard and leaned in over us. “Who is Malala?” he demanded.

No one said anything, but several of the girls looked at me. I was the only girl with my face uncovered.

That’s when he lifted up a black pistol.

The gunman shot Malala three times, nearly killing her and injuring two of her classmates. Malala recovered in a British hospital and has not returned to Pakistan since the shooting.

Despite the threats, Malala said she plans on eventually returning to her native country and entering politics. 

"I will be a politician in my future. I want to change the future of my country and I want to make education compulsory," she told the BBC.

In July, Malala continued to advocate for girls' education when she addressed the United Nations and she’s in the running for the Nobel Peace Prize, due to be announced Friday.

The Malala Fund, supported by UNESCO, the Pakistan government, and a Washington-based non-governmental organization, is paying to send 40 girls to school in the Swat Valley, Malala’s home region.

Yet, as The Christian Science Monitor's correspondent Annabel Symington reported last month, while the Swat Valley was cleared of the Taliban by a Pakistani military operation in 2009, “it’s taken a while for girls to fill the schools again.”

Girls struggle to simply get to school in the remote mountainous region and the persistent issue of poverty remains key. The Taliban is considered a greater threat in areas that border the valley, but activists here say there's a need to make sure girls as well as boys are educated in order to avoid a repeat of the past.

“There is a feeling [in Swat] that if we are not educated these things will happen again," says Hazer Gul, a local activist. "The Mullahs misinformed us. They [the community] have understood that education is the key to avoiding militants.”

Today the number of girls' schools in Swat is substantially less than the number of schools available to boys: 717 primary schools for boys compared with 425 for girls, according to official figures.

While Monday's statement by the Pakistani Taliban underscores the continued threats to Malala, a different Pakistani Taliban commander wrote to Malala in July and urged her to return to Pakistan.

"When you were attacked it was shocking for me. I wished it would never happened and I had advised you before."

"At the end I advise you to come back home," Rasheed wrote, adding that she should join a female Islamic school and "use your pen for Islam".

"Taliban believe that you were intentionally writing against them and running a smearing campaign to malign their efforts to establish Islamic system in Swat and your writings were provocative,” he wrote.

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