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October 15, 2012

Pakistani Teen in Britain for Medical Care

by Sharon Behn

Pakistani teenage activist Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the head last week by the Taliban, has arrived
in Britain, where she was evacuated to receive further medical treatments.

Military officials said Monday 14-year-old Yousafzai flew in a special air ambulance supplied by the United Arab Emirates to a medical center in Birmingham, Britain. Yousafzai, who had been successfully treated by top Pakistani surgeons, needs skull-bone replacement, as well as long-term and intensive neurological rehabilitation, according to a military statement.

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The teenager was shot last week for her outspoken support of girls’ education and her criticism of the militant network. Yousafzai began speaking out against the Taliban in when she was an 11-year-old living under brutal Taliban rule in Pakistan’s Swat valley.

Political and religious leaders and thousands of others across Pakistan have come out in support of the Muslim schoolgirl. She defied Taliban death threats for years, although few have marched against the Taliban.

Analyst Rasul Bakhsh Rais said that is because even political leaders fear Taliban reprisals.

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“They seem to be scared, fearful of revenge and targeted reaction against themselves, against their children, against their families, against their supporters, so I think it is a kind of defensive political move that they have, and that is unfortunate,” said Rais.

Some political and religious opposition leaders who are facing national elections, perhaps as early as March 2013, have seized on the public outrage over the shooting to further their platforms.

Right-wing religious leader Maulana Fazlur Rehman of the the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam party told local news media conservative religious rule is the only way law and order would be established in the country.  Others have drawn parallels between the attack on Yousafzai with U.S.-led drone attacks against militants in the country’s northwest that have also killed civilians.

But former Pakistan ambassador to the United States, Maleeha Lodhi, said unified public revulsion at the violence has given the government an opportunity to act.

“The responsibility now lies with the federal government. It is hard for me to second guess what they will do," said Lodhi. "But if this government cowers in front of this threat, then I think the people of Pakistan will hold them responsible for any further violence that takes place, because this also is a moment of opportunity.”

Taliban and other extremist militants have killed thousands of Pakistani security officers and civilians during the past 10 years. The Taliban said it tried to kill Yousafzai for her pro-Western thinking, and said if the child survives they would target her again.