KARACHI, Pakistan – Tens of thousands rallied in Pakistan’s largest city Sunday in the biggest show of support yet for a 14-year-old girl who was shot and seriously wounded by the Taliban for promoting girls’ education and criticizing the militant group.
The Oct. 9 attack on Malala Yousufzai as she was returning home from school in Pakistan’s northwest horrified people inside and outside the country. At the same time, it gave hope to some that the government would respond by intensifying its fight against the Taliban and their allies.
Pakistan’s mainstream political parties are often more willing to harangue the U.S. than direct their people power against Islamist militants shedding blood across the country – partly out of fear and partly because they rely on Islamist parties for electoral support.
One of the exceptions is the political party that organized Sunday’s rally in the southern port city of Karachi, the Muttahida Quami Movement. The party’s chief, Altaf Hussain, criticized both Islamic and other mainstream political parties for failing to organize rallies to protest the attack.
He called the Taliban gunmen who shot the girl “beasts” and said it was an attack on “the ideology of Pakistan.”
“Malala Yousufzai is a beacon of knowledge. She is the daughter of the nation,” Hussain told the audience by telephone from London, where he is in self-imposed exile because of legal cases pending against him in Pakistan.
The leaders of Pakistan’s main Islamic parties have criticized the shooting, but have also tried to redirect the conversation away from Taliban violence and toward civilian casualties from U.S. drone attacks.
Cyril Almeida, a columnist for Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper, said this type of “obfuscation” prevents Pakistanis from seeing “there is a continuum from the religious right to violent Islamism.”
“The religious right creates an enabling environment for violent Islamism to recruit and prosper. And violent Islamism makes state and society cower and in doing so enhances the space for the religious right,” Almeida wrote in a column Sunday.
Yousufzai earned the enmity of the Pakistani Taliban for publicizing their behavior when they took over the northwestern Swat Valley, where she lived, and for speaking about the importance of education for girls.
She was shot in the neck, and the bullet headed toward her spine. Two of her classmates were also wounded in the attack.
Doctors at a military hospital operated on her to remove the bullet from her neck, and she was put on a ventilator. Her condition improved somewhat on Saturday when she was able to move her legs and hands after her sedatives were reduced.