Malala Yousafzai, Pakistani girl shot for wanting to go to school, vows to battle on


McClatchy Newspapers

The Pakistani schoolgirl whom al Qaida-linked militants shot last year for campaigning for girls education, said Monday that she was prepared to risk her life again for the cause.

In her first interview since a Pakistani Taliban gunman shot her in the head last October, Malala Yousafzai, 15, told Pakistan’s Geo News channel from Great Britain that she’d recovered her eyesight and was able to talk and walk again. Attributing her improvement entirely to the prayers of well-wishers, she said she was getting better “day by day.”

The interview was the talk of Pakistan, and the video was repeated over and over – in Urdu, Pashto and English, Pakistan’s official languages. It was supplemented with interviews with two other girls who were injured in the attack, Kainat Riaz and Shazia Rehman, who expressed joy at the apparent recovery of their friend. “We are with Malala, we are with her mission,” Shazia said.

The shock that the Pakistani Taliban would target a teenage girl as she sat in a van waiting to go home after school had caused an outpouring of sympathy across the country and helped cement public opinion against the Taliban, even among those who for years had excused their behavior by saying they were fighting America or reacting to U.S. drone attacks.

Indeed, the Taliban turned to threatening Pakistani media personalities because of their sympathetic reporting of Malala’s story. Hamid Mir, the country’s best-known news anchor, narrowly escaped a car bomb.

Malala’s face showed the scars of the reconstructive surgery she underwent in Britain, where she was flown for treatment after the Oct. 9 shooting. She’s been through months of rehabilitation at a hospital in the city of Birmingham that specializes in war injuries.

“Men, women, children have all prayed for me. And because of these prayers, God has given me this new life. This is a second life. I want to serve the people,” Malala said.

Only on Saturday, Malala had undergone further surgery, a five-hour operation to mend part of her skull and help restore lost hearing. Doctors have been impressed by her spirit.

"She should be feeling sorry for herself 24 hours after an operation like that, not talking about helping other people," said Dave Rosser, the medical director of Birmingham’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital, where she’s being treated.

Malala’s home district of Swat, a mountainous area in northwest Pakistan, came under the creeping control of the Pakistani Taliban, who are closely linked to al Qaida. The group established a de facto extremist emirate there by 2007. Malala began to write an anonymous diary chronicling the brutal life imposed by the Taliban in Swat when she was just 11, with executions in the street and an attempt to prohibit women and girls from leaving their homes. Eventually, the diary became the basis for a BBC program. Even at that age, she spoke like an adult. Her identify was later revealed.

Under American pressure, the Pakistani military launched an operation in 2009 that ended Taliban rule in Swat, but as the attack on the schoolgirl showed, they remain capable of staging attacks there.

“I am ready to sacrifice myself, again. I want every girl, every child, to be educated. And that in our whole country for there to be peace. And for peace, I will sacrifice myself,” Malala said, speaking in Urdu, in Pashto, the language of the northwest, and in English.

Malala’s father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, who’s also in Great Britain, has said he’s determined to take his family back to Swat. But the Taliban, who issued a detailed justification for the assault on the girl, have made clear they would attack her again.

The airing of the interview came a day after the Taliban offered to open peace talks with the government, though many were skeptical that it was a serious proposal.

The offer came in a video of Pakistani Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan, who demanded “solid guarantors” for talks, proposing former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who heads a mildly Islamist party, and two hard-line Islamist politicians for the job. Sharif’s party is unlikely to take the role. Interior Minister Rehman Malik said Monday that the government was ready for negotiations but that the Pakistani Taliban had to enter the talks unconditionally.

The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for two recent attacks, one Saturday on an army post in the Lakki Marwat district in northwestern Pakistan that killed 23 people, including 10 civilians, and the other Friday outside a Shiite mosque in Hangu, also in the northwest, that killed 30.

Video: Pakistani Girl Malala Says "Getting Better"

Shah is a McClatchy special correspondent.

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