Pakistan’s Heartening Response to Hideous Attack

The Taliban’s outrageous shooting of the fourteen-year-old Pakistani feminist Malala Yousufzai has brought home to horror that these fanatics would perpetuate. Fortunately, much of Pakistan has come together to condemn the near-murderous assault.

“The cruel and inhumane actions of the Taliban have brought shock to the citizens of Pakistan,” activist and journalist Kiran Nazish reports for Forbes magazine. “Government functionaries, including the president, prime minister, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa [the state Malala is from] chief minister, parliamentarians, politicians in opposition and the military leadership have condemned the attack. Even politicians thought to be soft on the Taliban, like Imran Khan, along with top military commander General Ashfaq Kiyani, have condemned the attack and visited the hospital.”

Yousufzai became famous for courageously speaking out for her own education and against Taliban-imposed restrictions in a blog she did for the BBC. Her fame was enhanced when she received an international award and the Pakistani government honored her. The Taliban decided she was fair game.

“She is a Western-minded girl,” a Taliban spokesperson said. “She always speaks against us. We will target anyone who speaks against the Taliban.”

No further proof is required of the Taliban’s dementedness. In fact, the group has cold-bloodedly said that it will continue to pin the bull’s-eye on her if she survives.

The assault on Malala is just the most visible instance of the damage that the Pakistani Taliban is causing.

“Together, the attack on Malala Yousufzai, the orchestrated and continuing bombings of schools, the murders of Farida Afridi [an activist] and Ghazala Javed [a singer] represent the forced eviction of women from the Pakistani public sphere,” writes Rafia Zakaria (a Progressive Media Project contributor) in a blog for Amnesty International. “While the world pays attention only to the most grisly of the Taliban’s barbaric attacks, Pakistanis are becoming weary of the staple of fear, intimidation, and brute violence being forced down their throats by a group whose definition of piety has reduced Islam to only what is visibly anti-Western.”

The main problem in Pakistan has been the security establishment’s ambivalence toward extremist outfits. It has played a double game, using militant groups as proxies in India and Afghanistan. This attitude has not only damaged relations with its neighbors, but has also harmed Pakistan itself deeply, as evidenced in the tens of thousands of Pakistanis killed since Sept. 11, including thousands of Pakistani security personnel. So, what is required along with public outrage in Pakistan is a change of heart among the ruling elite.

“Public opinion is totally anti-Taliban,” Professor Taimur Rahman of the Lahore University of Management Sciences tells Forbes. “But this is not enough. The public must put pressure on state and government to use all its resources to once and for all finish the Taliban.”

And lest we get too smug, the United States has been complicit in the rise of these forces. In the late 1970s and 1980s, the Carter and Reagan Administrations entered into an alliance with the loathsome dictator General Muhammad Zia ul-Haq to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. Zia made sure that the funding provided by the CIA was routed to the most hardline elements of the mujahedeen, elements that were the precursor to the Taliban and Al Qaeda. He simultaneously imposed a hardline brand of Islam that has continued to bedevil the country.

And the United States does not seem to care all that much for what Malala almost laid her life on the line. U.S. aid to Pakistan has been skewed by Washington’s security obsessions. Less than 10 percent of the overt post-9/11 aid to dictator General Pervez Musharraf (a Bush favorite) went toward developmental efforts, with the vast majority allocated for security purposes. A grand sum of $1.16 per Pakistani child per year was dedicated to education, according to a Center for Strategic and International Studies report.

Though things have improved since then, there is still a lopsided emphasis.

“American aid is mainly about supporting the Pakistani army,” writes Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times. “We have tripled aid to Pakistani education to $170 million annually, and that’s terrific. But that’s less than one-tenth of our security aid to Pakistan.”

Pakistan needs to, with Washington’s help, remove the conditions that are allowing the Taliban to flourish. Malala’s suffering cannot be in vain.

If you liked this article by Amitabh Pal, the managing editor of the Progressive magazine, please check out his article entitled "Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters on Palestinian Rights."

Follow Amitabh Pal @amitpal on Twitter