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Reaping the whirlwind

On Tuesday, Malala Yousafzai, a 14-year-old schoolgirl, was on her way home from school in Mingora in Pakistan’s Swat province when a gunman shot her through the head and neck. Unconscious, she was taken to the intensive care in Peshawar army hospital for treatment.

On Wednesday, doctors removed a bullet which had passed through her head and lodged in her shoulder. She was then moved to the Armed Forces Institute of Cardiology critical care unit in Rawalpindi. She remained unconscious, but doctors said she had a 70 percent chance of recovery.

Ehsanullah Ehsan, a spokesman for the militant ‘Islamic Fundamentalist’ Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP or Student Movement of Pakistan) told the AFP news agency by phone that his organisation claimed responsibility for the attack. He said she was openly propagating ‘Western culture’ in the area and that his organisation would not spare her if she survived. He called her activities ‘a new chapter of obscenity’ adding ‘we have to finish this chapter.’

Malala was a member of the Swat Qaumi Jirga, an anti-Taliban group. In January she announced that she would form a new political party. She first came into prominence when it was revealed that she was the anonymous ‘Gul Makai’, who wrote a diary for the BBC’s Urdu Service describing life under Taliban.

The TTP had banned women from going to market or wearing colourful clothes and prohibited girls from attending school - burning many schools in the process. In 2009, the Pakistan Army demolished the terrorist’s rule in Swat, although they continue to maintain an underground presence in the province.

Symbol of resistance

After that, Malala began publicly to advocate female education, especially on Television. Last year the KidsRights Foundation nominated her for the International Children’s Peace Prize and the government awarded her the National Peace Award. She has become a symbol of resistance to Taliban and its obscurantism.

The TTP was formed by Pakistani former fighters of Taliban and other militias who fled Afghanistan in the wake of the 2001 US-led invasion. It inherited its weird version of Islam from its Afghan namesake.

The holy Prophet did not lay heavy strictures on women, least of all on their education. His wife Aisha bint Abu Bakr, who was known to have ridden a camel into battle, was not merely well educated herself (being consulted by learned Muslims) but was an advocate of women’s education.


Malala Yousafzai

The suppression of women appears to have come about because of the need for feudal aristocrats to control their subjects. Indeed, parents were told that if their children (boys as well as girls) went to school, they would go to hell. In Afghanistan, as late as the mid-70s, there was 90 percent illiteracy.

The Taliban obtained its dogma from the right-wing Madrassas in Pakistan, run by the feudal landlord class, in which its cadres (as well as those of the TTP) received their religious instruction. This backward thinking was not confined to Taliban: in 1992 the US-backed regime of Burhanuddin Rabbani issued an edict which said ‘Women should be banned from working in offices and radio and television stations, and schools for Women... must be closed down.’

In April 1978, a leftist government came to power in Afghanistan. It legalised trades unions, distributed land to the peasants and inaugurated an education and literacy programme (especially for women). ‘Privileges which women, by right, must have,’ wrote Dr Anahita Ratebzad, the first woman to play an active role in government, ‘are equal education, job security, health services, and free time to rear a healthy generation for building the future of the country.’

Women’s basic rights

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) began beaming anti-government broadcasts into Afghanistan and training terrorists. The then Secretary of State Zbigniew Brzezinski later admitted that the Americans decided to aid the new government’s enemies in order to suck the Soviet Union into ‘a Vietnamese quagmire’ in Afghanistan. Through its surrogates, the CIA launched a campaign targeting civil servants and teachers, especially those engaged in educating women.

The narcotics trade to finance its operations. The lorries and mules used to transport US weapons into the country took opium out. The CIA recruited ‘Islamists’ such as Gulbeddin Hekmatyar - who had begun his political career at University throwing acid into the faces of women who were unveiled - as opium suppliers as well as ‘resistance fighters’.

Another CIA-backed terrorist was Yunis Khalis, a former Royalist civil servant who established control over the heroin supply from the Eastern Nangahar Province, and who gave shelter to Osama bin Laden in 1994. His deputy Jalaluddin Haqqani, a CIA ‘asset’ who received millions of dollars from the US, first helped Osama build up his mercenary force in the 1980s.

Mohammed Omar, who founded Taliban, fought for a period under Khalis. Later, as Taliban drove the Rabbani forces back, both Khalis and Haqqani joined it, the latter as a minister following the fall of Kabul, being appointed Taliban military commander in 2001.

Congressman Charlie Wilson, who facilitated funding for the rebels, described Haqqani as ‘goodness personified’. Parenthetically, Wilson was responsible for the supply to Afghan insurgents of ‘Stinger’ anti-aircraft missiles, some of which ended up in the hands of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

When Taliban captured Herat in 1995, restricting the rights of women and expelling thousands of girls from schools, (as with Rabbani’s edict, earlier) the US was silent. This was consistent with America’s Afghan policy, which was to back obscurantism and the suppression of women’s rights insofar as US interests were served.

The death of Malala Yousafzai must be laid at the door of this opportunist policy of providing succour to terrorist forces which sought the elimination of women’s basic rights. America sowed the wind, but it is the innocent women of Afghanistan and Pakistan who must reap the whirlwind.

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