The horrific shooting of 14-year-old National Peace Award winner Malala Yousafzai by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in Swat is a grim reminder of the continuing violence convulsing Pakistan’s northern areas.
A vociferous critic of the Taliban, Malala won international recognition for her BBC blog cataloguing the atrocities wrought by the TTP in Swat after militants led by Maulana Fazlullah burned down a girls’ school.
The Pakistan Army had wrested back control of the Swat valley from the Taliban in 2009. But a fragile impermanent peace prevailed and ensuing political instability enabled the TTP to take possession of the valley once again.
As the TTP consolidated power in the once peaceful and progressive Swat valley, the multivocal experiences of brutality and hardship endured by the locals was recorded by the brave Malala under her penname Gul Makai, ensuring that their plight was not obscured from public and social consciousness. At a time of great fear and oppression, her diary was a liberating space, a forum to prevent the erasure of peoples’ harrowing experiences at a time when public executions were a routine occurrence and businesses, homes and schools were destroyed.
Refusing to give in to the TTP’s draconian restrictions on education, Malala spoke up against the Taliban’s ban on education for girls. In the past, Swat set an exemplary precedent with its sustained and committed investment in education. The first Wali of Swat, Miangul Gulshahzada Sir Abdul Wadood, popularly known as Badshah Sahib, built the first girls’ school in 1933 in Saidu Sharif, the capital of Swat. Education for boys and girls was compulsory.
Forbidding girls from receiving education is just another brute tactic to disseminate fear and attain control. Without education, girls will be limited, ignorant, malleable and highly exploitable. Depriving them of education is effectively robbing them of awareness, independence, critical life skills and keeping them in a state of unremitting poverty. They will remain lambs for the slaughter, wholly dispensable. Deprived of education, women and girls will continue to be the subjects of abuse, violence and exploitation without redress or the hope of protection, deepening their disenfranchisement.
Sadly, the story of Malala is just one of innumerable attacks against women and children. Often conflicts are waged without witness, secretively in remote places without the world’s knowledge. Malala is a brave witness and narrator of a dark chapter of the history of Swat which sadly shows no signs of ending.