Malala Yousafzai is one more Pakistani whose story symbolises this nation’s resilience, talent and strength. Unfortunately, it is also a story on its way to becoming controversial because of the tug of war over who gets to pull Malala on the side of their agenda.
This controversy is despicable to say the least. And nearly everyone is practicing it, from Pakistani commentators and politicians, to Americans, Indians, and even Madonna.The story is simple: A brave Pakistani girl and her friends are attacked in the most inhuman way possible by a bunch of thugs and criminals using the name of religion. They choose her because she is an easy way to get back at Pakistan’s government and military that roundly defeated the terrorists three years ago.
The story can and should be exploited for a good cause. It is an opportunity to rally Pakistanis and others for the cause of educating girls, a noble cause that faces tremendous challenges not just in Pakistan but several other countries, like our two neighbours Afghanistan and India. The latter has been identified by the United Nations as the place that tops the world in the number of cases of female infanticide for social and religious reasons.
Malala’s story is also a good opportunity for Islamabad to firmly raise the question of the TTP terror safe havens operating under the watch of the American and allied forces in Afghanistan. We can fight these criminals for a hundred years and it would make no difference if the US military fails to act against terrorists inside the territory it controls. In some Pakistani quarters, the issue raises concerns about whether the US military is tolerating anti-Pakistan terrorists as a way of nudging Pakistan for more cooperation in other issues. Whatever the American motive, incompetence or collusion, Pakistan is yet to exploit the attack on Malala to properly raise the question of Afghan terror safe havens.
But our government’s strange silence has given all types of opportunists the chance to exploit Malala. One of the worst cases is Madonna, the American pop singer who pounced on Malala for self-publicity. “The most inappropriate show of support,” writes Anna Edwards in UK’s Daily Mail. “Madonna, 54, dedicates onstage striptease to Pakistani girl.”
Madonna is not alone. Laura Bush, whose husband started the messy, decade-long occupation of Afghanistan, used Malala to ‘cheerlead’ for the lost war. In a widely published op-ed, the former first lady tried to whitewash America’s Afghan war as an effort to save girls like Malala.
The Washington Post used Malala to endorse Pentagon’s hardliners and take a swipe at Obama and Biden’s policy of negotiation with the Afghan Taliban, never mind that Malala was not attacked by the Afghan Taliban but by the TTP, a loose alliance of criminals focused on killing Pakistanis.
In Pakistan, Malala should have united all Pakistanis. Instead, some short-sighted commentators are using her to aggravate the divide among Pakistanis. For example, there are those who want to use Malala to put religious-minded Pakistanis on the defensive and paint all of them as culprits. In retaliation, other Pakistanis raise a question that appears legitimate: Why those who never raise a voice on the deaths of Pakistani girls killed by CIA drones, are now exploiting Malala to condemn all religious-minded Pakistanis, who do not approve of what happened to Malala in the first place?
Lastly, there is the pro-US lobby in Pakistan that, as expected, was hard at work to discredit the anti-CIA drone campaign and pounced on Malala’s tragic incident to use her to justify drone attacks.
The campaign over Malala’s wounds must end. The Pakistani nation has known for years that the TTP terrorists are the killers of our people. We have religious extremists in our midst but hardly any apologists for the TTP murderers. The situation of education given to girls has improved tremendously over recent years. So the constant lecturing that Pakistanis should ‘hang their heads in shame’ should end. Instead, everyone should use Malala to unite all Pakistanis, secular and religious. That is what she would want too.
While some lobbies in Pakistan continue to seek foreign interference, as in CIA drones, to kill, we should learn from Saudi Arabia, where they didn’t invite American drones to bomb their own misguided people. They dealt firmly with terrorist leaders by eliminating them but helped the rest – the so-called foot soldiers – undergo rehabilitation and ‘re-brainwashed’ them to renounce their wrong ways and reintegrate into society. The experiment has been a resounding success.
But whatever we do, our military operations in Swat and Afghan border areas won’t be effective as long as the United States military and its allied forces in Afghanistan continue to turn a blind eye to terrorists who attacked Malala.