Current Weather
The Spy FM

A Shooting Foreshadowed By Taliban Threats

Filed by KOSU News in World News.
October 11, 2012

A 15-year-old Pakistani schoolgirl remains in critical condition after being shot in the head for defying the Taliban, and championing the right of girls to go to school. Malala Yousefzai rose to prominence during the recent war in Pakistan’s Swat Valley by writing a blog under a pen-name. NPR’s Philip Reeves reported on that war — and twice met Malala’s father. He sent this account of the tough world in which Malala spent her childhood.

Malala’s father, Ziauddin Yousefzai, is sitting behind his desk in his small, rather tatty, office. He is speaking, rapidly and passionately, between sips of tea. The subject of our conversation is an issue that, for him, represents a daily mortal threat: the Taliban.

It is August 2008. Beyond the office door, amid the heat and bustle of a late summer morning, lies the city of Mingora. In the dusty haze beyond that, there are the rivers and orchards of Swat Valley, gloriously ringed by mountains.

Tourists used to come here from far and wide, to hike the trails and fish the streams and ski. But war has crept down into Swat Valley from the nearby mountains of the tribal belt along the Afghan border. Swat is turning into a battleground in which the Pakistani army and the Taliban are slugging it out.

Both sides are causing havoc. Both sides are committing atrocities.

Scattered around the valley is the evidence of the Taliban’s recent handiwork — the blackened ruins of at least 100 girls’ schools, firebombed by Islamist militants in an effort to ensure the next generation of Swat’s females are imprisoned in their homes.

That is why I have come on this hot morning to talk to Yousefzai. He is the chairman of the Swat Private Schools Association, and head of a girls’ school.

He is also known in Pakistan as a tireless peace campaigner. Many in this troubled valley are afraid to talk publicly, because of the risk of retribution. He is not.

“How can we think of ignoring half of our population … to keep them illiterate and ignorant?”, he says, leaning in, to get closer to my microphone, as the conversation turns to the Taliban’s attempts to obliterate any prospect that Swat’s girls will ever be educated.

A Daughter In Her Father’s Image

Yousefzai’s daughter, Malala, would later publicly and persistently ask the same question as her father. She would pay for doing so with a bullet to the head.

But on this day back in August 2008 I had no idea that Malala exists, or that — aged 11 at that time — she would soon begin secretly writing a diary chronicling the travails of life as a child at war in Swat Valley for the BBC’s Urdu Service.

Yousefzai is a lean and energetic man who looks younger than his 40-odd years. His cheerful manner portrays nothing of the pressure under which he lives. It emerges that each night he sleeps in a different house. He is being threatened by the militants, and wants to protect his wife and three kids, he explains.

We talk about the leader of the Taliban of Swat, a commander called Mullah Fazlullah — known to everyone as the “FM Mullah,” because he broadcasts fundamentalist sermons, beaming them into the valley from transmitters strapped to the back of donkeys.

Fazlullah has been “assigned the task to make trouble in this area,” Yousefzai remarks bleakly.

But Yousefzai takes no sides in this war. He criticizes Pakistan’s government and also its army, whose shelling is killing civilians in Swat, and whose nightly curfews are choking the local economy. He accuses the United States of unnecessarily fueling conflict, by funding Pakistan’s military. Yousefzai’s overriding priority is simply peace.

A Changed City

One year after this conversation, I return to Swat in 2009, and visit Yousefzai again. It is another hot August day. Yet the city of Mingora has changed greatly.

The Pakistani army has finally ousted the Taliban. Battered-looking cars and buses, packed with baggage, are streaming back through the mountains, bringing home a multitude displaced by the conflict.

Shopkeepers are clearing up looted, half-wrecked stores. The valley is still tense. There are regular nightly assassinations, often of Taliban sympathizers. Residents widely believe these killings to be the work of Pakistan’s security services.

Yousefzai is excitedly standing by the gates of his school. He was forced to close the school, first by the Taliban, and then again, in May 2009, when the fighting escalated sharply.

On this day in August 2009 he is opening his doors for the first time since the militants departed. He watches happily as his girl pupils troop in to class. They include Malala.

The people of Swat Valley are Pashtuns, as are the Taliban. They tend to be devout, and highly conservative. Females usually stay in the background. That does not deter Malala, who confidently steps up to NPR’s microphone with an account of the war she’s just endured.

“There was Taliban and army,” she says in English. “The Taliban were blasting schools. They have tortured us, very much. They stopped us from going to school. They banned the girl education.”

Her father chimes in: “They slaughtered us. They killed people. They dishonored women, flogged girls.”

Yet his view is also surprisingly nuanced. If the Taliban had introduced good governance and a just and efficient legal system, Yousefzai says, he would have supported them.

It turned out the militants knew absolutely nothing about building or running education, health, or legal institutions, he says. They simply lived by the gun.

Daring To Speak Out

These are brave words. The Taliban may have left, but they are still active, and still a threat. It occurs to me during this meeting that Yousefzai is one of those exceptional people you sometimes meet in war zones, who refuse to keep silent no matter how great are the dangers.

Once his pupils are in the classroom, and busy studying, I ask him about this.

“You may call me a bit crazy,” he explains, but “God has bestowed me with a mindset that whenever I see something unjust, I can’t forebear it.”

He says his natural optimism helped him pull through the darker hours of Swat’s conflict.

“One has to be an optimist to live,” he says. “For life, optimism is very much important: hope and optimism.”

Some four years on, as his daughter Malala fights for her life, Yousefzai needs every drop of optimism that he can muster. [Copyright 2012 National Public Radio]

Leave a Reply

9PM to 12AM The Night Shift

The Night Shift

All of our hosts live and breathe the lifestyle of their music genre, but none define it like David Goad, host of the Darkwave show, The Night Shift. He has a degree in guitar performance from the Academy of Contemporary Music at the University of Central Oklahoma and is the lead vocalist for two bands, Of the Tower and Kali Ra.

Listen Live Now!

12AM to 5AM The Spy

The Spy

An eclectic mix of the Spy's library of more than 10,000 songs curated by Ferris O'Brien.

View the program guide!

Upcoming Events in your area (Submit your event today!)

Streaming audio and podcasts

Stream KOSU on your smartphone

Phone Streaming

SmartPhone listening options on this page are intended for many iPhones, Blackberries, etc. with low-cost software applications available to listen to our full-time web streams, both News on KOSU-1 and Classical on KOSU-2.

Learn more about our complete range of streaming services

We're perfecting the patient experience - Stillwater Medical Center