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SPEAK UP! Pakistan. Before it is too LATE

October 12, 2012 23:02 IST

The Malala Yusufzai shooting reveals yet again how Pakistan is held hostage to religious bigotry, warns A Jillani.

Malala Yusufzai was shot in Mingora, Swat, a district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in Pakistan, while returning home from her school. She is only 14 years old.

The Swat district is not a regular district, but part of what Pakistan's constitution classifies as a Provincially Administered Tribal Area. The laws of Pakistan do not automatically extend to these areas and have to be notified by the governor of the province.

What was little Malala's crime? She wrote a weekly blog for BBC Urdu's Web site in 2009 when the Pakistan Taliban, under the leadership of Maulana Fazlullah, occupied Swat, bombing schools and preventing girls from attending educational institutions.

A military offensive finally pushed the Pakistan Taliban out of Swat in 2009, but some of its members are gradually returning to Pakistan from Afghanistan as the October 9 attack revealed.

Earlier this year, Pakistan Taliban militants had kidnapped and beheaded 17 Pakistani soldiers in one of several cross-border raids.

Malala came into the limelight after the ouster of the Pakistan Taliban from Swat. She attended various seminars arranged by civil society and made speeches for the right of girls to be educated. She was nominated for an international award and honoured by the Pakistan government.

The Islamic fundamentalists did not like this.

On October 9, two masked gunmen, assigned by the Pakistan Taliban leadership to silence Malala forever, stopped her school van, identified the child and shot her in the head. She is now fighting for her life. According to the doctors, the next 36 hours are crucial for Malala as she fights for her life in a military hospital in Rawalpindi.

Why did the Taliban shoot this child?

'We had no intentions to kill her, but were forced when she would not stop speaking against us,' Pakistan Taliban spokesman Sirajuddin Ahmad, who is now based in Afghanistan's Kunar province, told Reuters.

Ahmed said the Pakistan Taliban leadership unanimously decided to execute the child at a meeting a few months ago.

The spokesman for Fazlullah's Swat Taliban told Reuters that two killers from the maulana's hit squad had been assigned to target the child.

The Swat Taliban militia, known to work under the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, has nearly 100 killers on its roll. It chose two men, in their twenties, residents of the Swat Valley.

Before the October 9 attack, the killers collected information about Malala's route to school, the timings and the vehicle she used.

Did they try to kill her because Malala spoke out against Islam? No, she did not. The child only spoke about the right of girls to go to school.

Is that un-Islamic?

The bottom-line is that the Taliban cannot stand criticism. It does not believe in democracy and it does not believe in any reasoning or freedom of expression or speech. It believes in silencing its critics forever.

This threat of the gun has held Pakistan hostage to these religious bigots.

Religious intolerance, bigotry and terrorism have become the wages of the Pakistan State's policy of appeasement towards the forces of obscurantism.

The Pakistan State now shivers from the terror of these obscurantist forces and its rulers are afraid to even come out in public. President Asif Ali Zardari is apparently so scared after his wife's assassination that he has seldom been seen in public these past four years. Zardari holds all presidential events -- even if he has to inaugurate a site -- at his Islamabad home.

The Pakistan military is stuck with its obsession with Afghanistan and its firm belief in the 'doctrine of strategic depth'. The issue of Kashmir has taken a backseat at present and is not of primary concern to the civilian or military authorities in Pakistan.

As a result, the Pakistan military -- despite its close relationship with the Americans and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation's forces in Afghanistan -- continues to cooperate with the very Taliban network (including but not limited to the Haqqani Network) that attack Western forces in Afghanistan.

At the same time, the army fights a deadly battle with the militants who attack military installations in Pakistan. It is a strange policy which does not make sense and bleeds a nation.

Secular and liberal forces have all but given up. If Pakistan has to be stopped from growing Talibanisation, its people will have to stop playing on the Islamic fundamentalists' wicket. It is time that progressive forces come out into the open and let the nation know their numbers and their worth.

Else, it may be too late for all of us.

We all hope that Malala will live to see the love and respect the nation -- and the world -- has bestowed on her.

But the nightmare is not over yet. The Swat Taliban have now threatened to kill Malala's father.

A Jillani is a senior lawyer based in Islamabad.

A Jillani