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October 26, 2012

Pakistan's profile in courage

It’s hard to imagine a more heinous crime than the recent shooting of Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani schoolgirl-turned-blogger whose online criticism of Taliban efforts to crack down on girls’ education in her native Swat Valley made her a target for the extremist group.

While on her way home Oct. 9, Malala’s bus was stopped and boarded by two gunmen, who asked “Which one of you is Malala Yousafzai?” One aimed at her and fired twice, hitting her in the face and neck, before shooting two other girls and fleeing.

As horrifying as her story is, the reaction to Malala’s shooting in Pakistan and worldwide proves that even the worst cloud can have a silver lining. The most important news, of course, is that after traveling to the United Kingdom via a United Arab Emirates air ambulance, Malala underwent successful surgery to remove the bullet lodged in her neck. She emerged from sedation days later, and this week Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik announced that she has started to speak again.

Malala can take also solace in the broad worldwide condemnation of the attack, which has even come from Arab heads of state, such as Abu Dhabi crown prince Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who said it was “not only an attack on a defenseless child, (but) an attack on her and every girl’s right to a future unlimited by prejudice and oppression.”

Massive crowds denouncing the Taliban have marched in numerous Pakistani cities, and the lower house of Pakistan’s parliament unanimously passed a resolution condemning the attack and demanding punishment for her attackers. Even Pakistan’s clerics were outraged; more than 50 signed a joint fatwa declaring the attack an un-Islamic crime against innocent people.

Most surprisingly, some clerics have even urged the government to launch a military campaign into Taliban-controlled lands. The likelihood of this is doubtful; Pakistan’s government can’t exert the same sort of control over its military leadership that a stable, functioning state can. And Pakistan’s powerful military and intelligence establishment has a history of sponsoring clandestine militant groups for use as proxy forces against Pakistan’s neighbors.

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