The rest of Pakistan, however, condemned the attack in an unprecedented moment of national outpouring and oneness. The tragedy forced the country to open its eyes to the nature of the Pakistani Taliban, which is more extreme and more closely linked to al Qaida, in operations and ideology, than the original Afghan Taliban.
Apparently seriously rattled by the public revulsion since the assault on the teenager, Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, the coalition of jihadists known usually as the Pakistani Taliban, issued a new seven-page defense of its actions Tuesday, this time in the national language, Urdu. Previous defenses have been in English.
“For this espionage, infidels gave her (Malala) awards and rewards. And Islam orders killing of those who are spying for enemies,” the TTP said. “We targeted her because she would speak against the Taliban while sitting with shameless strangers and idealized the biggest enemy of Islam, Barack Obama.”
For years, Pakistan’s powerful military has supported jihadist groups as its proxy warriors in India and Afghanistan. In the 1980s, that policy was backed and funded by Washington as it helped to battle the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
In the 1990s and 2000s, the Pakistani military, through its Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency, continued to rely on the jihadists, though a 2007 military assault on a radical mosque in Islamabad that turned into a bloodbath, followed by the assassination of Benazir Bhutto months later, prompted made many Pakistanis begin to question the wisdom of that policy.
But zeal to confront the extremists soon dissipated then, and there are signs it may be doing so now.
Some religious conservatives even are trying to smear Malala, calling her an “American agent” and suggesting that the assassination bid was either a deliberate conspiracy to justify future military operations or that the event has somehow been “hijacked” by the West or pro-Western elements in Pakistan. As “proof” of this conspiracy, pictures have been circulated online of Malala meeting Richard Holbrooke, the late former U.S. special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan.
On Sunday, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, a political party, staged a rally attended by thousands for Malala in the southern port of Karachi. Its leader, Altaf Hussain, speaking to the gathering by telephone from exile in London, said, in remarks directed at the military: “Move ahead and crush the Taliban and 180 million people will be standing behind you.”
“You are either with the Taliban or you are against them. There is no third option,” he said.
But such talk is not universal. On Tuesday, Imran Khan, a cricket superstar who’s turned populist politician and urges negotiations with the Taliban, warned at a news conference against military action.
“If, in anger at this tragedy, we do a military operation, our problems will only increase,” he said. “If military action were the solution, this issue would have been solved by now.”