The Taliban attack on the life of Malala Yousafzai, a 14-year-old education rights campaigner in Pakistan, has set off a rare nationwide rage and revulsion.
As Malala struggles to stay alive after being shot in the head, Pakistanis are experiencing a potentially defining moment which they can use to change the course of misanthropic destructiveness their country has been pushed on for the past several years. It serves no purpose to analyze what has brought the country to a stage where a teenager advocating education for children generally and girls particularly is so murderously attacked. But Pakistan would do well to remember the consequences of not countering head-on the forces that have overrun significant parts of their national life.
It is not as if Malala is the first case of someone being targeted with such cavalier disregard for human life in Pakistan. And it would be reckless to assert that she would be the last. After all, it was not that long ago (2009) that another teenaged girl was brutally flogged by the Taliban in the same Swat Valley where Malala was attacked. But it is heartening to know that Malala has touched a national nerve and may well force the country to reclaim civil space from the lunatic and murderous fringe which kills only because it can in the name of religious sanction. The 2009 flogging had caused a comparable national response prompting the Pakistani military to mount an extraordinary attack against the Taliban then.
Much as one would like to believe that with Malala Pakistan has reached the absolute limits of its rather reckless and indulgent approach towards groups consumed by misanthropic insanities, I apprehend that this too would become part of the cyclical rage machine. It is undeniable that Pakistani civil society has been profoundly shaken by the attack. So much so that the country’s army chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani visited Malala in the hospital and condemned the “twisted ideology” of the “cowards.” Even the Jamaat ud Dawa, the charity arm of the terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba, condemned the attack as “shameful, despicable and barbaric.” Coming from them it may be a bit thick but the reaction seemed to underscore how the latest attack has come as an opportunity for many to burnish their credentials.
Unfortunately, such rage by its very nature is short-lived and tends not to lead to anything enduringly transformative. It often does nothing more than rudely remind the people that living in our midst are those who would kill without much reflection. Unless Pakistan mounts a long-term national campaign at every level of its national life to end this ideology, Malala will fade from national memory soon.