It is around 6 pm in Pakistan. The date is 9 October 2012. According to the news on the local media, the Taliban just shot Malala Yousufzai. Two assailants fired a bullet in her head as she was going home after school in a mini-bus. The girl who lives in Mingora, in the Swat valley, was considered guilty by militants of criticising them on her blog.
Malala is quickly shifted to a military hospital in Peshawar where surgeons are striving to keep her alive. The whole country is shocked. In various cities, people take to the streets to protest against the aggression, widely viewed as cowardly and cruel. Prayers are being said for her. General Kayani, the Army chief frequently considered as the most powerful man of the country, rushes to the hospital to inquire about her. Shortly after, the army press office issues a statement where Kayani strongly condemns the attack. “The cowards who attacked Malala have time and again shown how little regard they have for human life and how low they can stoop to impose their twisted ideology.” Civilian authorities order the Pakistan International Airlines to keep a Boeing ready so that Malala can be transferred in a hospital abroad if needed.
One year later, the mood in Pakistan has changed. Even as people praise the young girl for her courage, many conspiracy theories abound. Pictures with footnotes and annotations showing Malala and her father are said to be ‘proof’ that the Taliban never attacked her. She has been branded as a CIA agent. According to some, she was attacked because the USA wanted to malign Pakistan. The belief that the Taliban are not responsible is startling as they claimed responsibility for it. Taliban commander Adnan Rasheed wrote a letter to Malala and publicly acknowledged the aggression last July. On 7 October, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) spokesperson, Shahidullah Shahid threatened her again. “She is not a brave girl and has no courage. We will target her again and attack whenever we have a chance,” he said to the French press agency, AFP.
Since she became a contender for the Nobel Peace Prize, the context has changed in Pakistan. A year ago, the PPP government was opposing the Taliban and had approved various military operations against them since it came to power in 2008. But last month, an all-party conference summoned by newly elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif stated that the government should talk to the militants. The current government sees negotiations as the only way to stop terrorist attacks in Pakistan. But there is another reason behind this strategy. “The current government is led by the PML-N which has a stronghold in Punjab,” says Ayaz Amir, a local politician and an outspoken columnist. And party members are afraid that the Taliban will carry out various terrorist attacks there if they decide to fight them.” This appeasement strategy towards militant organisations from the PML-N is not new. In 2008, the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ), a terrorist anti-Shia outfit, withdrew its candidate during the election for the provincial assembly, thus paving the way for the election of Shahbaz Sharif who is the PM’s brother. This allowed Shahbaz Sharif to become the Chief Minister of Punjab. A strong nexus remains between the TTP and some terrorist organisations based in Punjab, which the Sharif family never undermined. “As a result, it would be very easy for the TTP to target Punjab. Our problem is that we have a weak leadership at the moment”, explains Ayaz Amir.
This impunity is reinforced by the judiciary’s inability to publicly try and convict Taliban commanders despite the fact that the TTP carried out terrorist attacks that killed 1072 people last year according to the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies, an Islamabad-based research centre. No Taliban commander has been held accountable. “Our judiciary system is not competent to deal with terrorism. The police do not protect judges, prosecutors and witnesses efficiently. And because of the law, a phone conversation that has been tapped or CCTV footage are not admissible as proof in a court”, says Shahzad Akbar, an Islamabad based lawyer. However, on 10 October, the Pakistani president promulgated an ordinance that amended the anti-terrorism act and accepted e-mails, phone calls and text messages as evidence.
Untouched by the law enforcement agencies and the judiciary, the TTP continues to threaten Malala, while Islamist parties claim that the Taliban never attacked her. Undisturbed, the young girl stated that she wanted to fly back to Pakistan and become a politician during a conversation with CNN journalist Christiane Amanpour at a New York City cultural centre on 10 October.