WASHINGTON — A teenage Pakistani girl made global headlines a year ago when she was shot in the head by the Taliban because of her advocacy for girls' education. Malala Yousafzai survived the attack and now lives in Britain, where she continues her campaign despite continued threats on her life. Her story shines a light on Pakistan, where more than one-third of elementary-school-aged children do not attend school. Enrollment figures are even lower for girls, especially in rural areas.
Today, the Taliban have lost control over the Swat Valley, where Malala grew up, but continue to stage sporadic attacks there and have threatened to attack her again.
Cultural anthropologist Peter Eltsov claims the Taliban and some tribal leaders in the remote northern regions of Pakistan target secular education because they see it as foreign.
“I never faced more hostility towards what one would call -- if I can still use these words -- Western culture, Western civilization, as in the tribal territories of the Northwest Frontier and Baluchistan," said Eltsov.
Eltsov also noted that western arts and entertainment are especially disliked in areas like Waziristan, Baluchistan and Yousufzai's native Swat Valley.
During the two years they ruled in Swat, the Taliban destroyed hundreds of schools -- especially girls' schools. Eltsov pointed out that although the Taliban enjoyed some support among Pakistan's conservative politicians, most Pakistanis want education for women. Unfortunately, Eltsov continued, many remote villages have no schools for either boys or girls.
"Basically, there is no education, there is no medicine. You walk through these villages, you don’t see any women in the streets, you don’t see children in the streets. It’s a mud-brick-house culture," recalled Eltsov.
By law, education is compulsory in Pakistan for children up to 16, but Eltsov says the government is not able to enforce that in the tribal regions.
"If you talk to people, say, in Quetta (the capital of Baluchistan province) or Waziristan about who is in charge of things, they don’t want to see Pakistani government as being ahead of them. They see their tribal law, their legal system, their family relations as their primary law,” explained Eltsov.
Most children in Pakistan's urban areas do attend at least elementary school and the participation of girls is much higher than in rural areas. In Pakistani cities, there is also less fear of foreign culture. Fashion model Nadia Hussain says the world should know that.
"The foreign media does need to know that these are the kind of events that also happen in our country, and it's not just about extremism,” said Hussain.
Yousafzai's memoir, I am Malala, has been released in the United States and Britain and will soon be released in other countries as well. However, it is not yet clear how many people will be able to read it in her native country, where the Taliban has threatened to destroy book stores that try to sell it.
Eltsov says Malala is already a hero in her country regardless of the threats and some discontent about her publicity in the West. He says that throughout history, people like Yousafzai have changed the world.