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Middle East and North Africa

Child activist Malala Yousafzai contacted by Taliban

This month has seen a flush of recognition reaching 16-year-old Pakistani educational activist Malala Yousafzai this month, including the declaration by the United Nations of July 12, her birthday, being Malala Day, representing the goal of education for every child. On that same day, Yousafzai addressed the U.N. General Assembly and entreated world leaders to make education free, accessible, and compulsory for every child.

But amidst these accolades was a note of darkness for Yousafzai, as she was written a letter by a commander from the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the organization that initially attacked and shot her last October, putting her in critical condition and bringing her cause to the forefront of the international news.

This commander, Adnan Rashid, who attempted to assassinate former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf and who broke out of prison last year, addressed Yousafzai personally as a member of the same tribe, in four pages of stilted English. In the letter, he took no personal responsibility for her attack, and even claims he “wished it would never happened [sic].” Nor, he claimed, was he writing as an affiliate of the TTP or the Taliban abroad, but rather on a personal basis. Rashid also claimed that the “Taliban or Mujahideen are not against the education of any men or women or girl.” 

But this friendly, non-threatening pretense belied a highly ideological and political agenda. Rashid entreated Yousafzai to move back to Pakistan from the United Kingdom, where she has been seeking continuing treatment and rehabilitation and where her family has asylum, and to enroll in a madrasa, a term that in Pashto, Persian, and Arabic can refer generically to any school, but which Rashid clearly means as an Islamic religious school. 

The reason? According to Rashid, in siding with the U.N.’s stance on universal education and shoring up support from the international community, she is fighting for the wrong cause, and actually working against Pakistan. He cited Pakistan’s history of being colonialized by the West, and the negative impact of this colonialism on the country’s economic and social development.

Rashid also accused Yousafzai of being a propagandist for a global Jewish conspiracy, into which he included everybody from former American Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to the British people. 

This letter from a Taliban higher-up is but an extreme example of how Yousafzai’s activism has not been particularly well received by Pakistan as a whole. Not only was Malala Day not acknowledged by the Pakistani government in any form, but many Pakistanis claimed the incident where Yousafzai was shot was a hoax or a stunt to get asylum to the U.K. According to Pakistani journalist Huma Yusuf, this may be because if Yousafzai is being fully truthful about her assassination attempt by the Taliban for her education and activism, it does not portray Pakistan in a good light, and so many Pakistanis may feel uncomfortable supporting Yousafzai as a point of national pride.

Yusuf also notes that many Pakistanis, including Rashid as expressed in his letter to Yousafzai, feel that the West’s adulation of the girl belies a certain hypocrisy, because such pains are not taken for victims of American drone strikes in the region.

By Laura Gates

Source: The New York Times, The Huffington Post

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