18th October, 2012
XAVIER P WILLIAM
Christians across Pakistan are praying for a 14-year girl, who was shot by Taliban militants for advocating education for girls, amid hopeful signs she is recovering in a British hospital.
Malala Yousafzai, viewed as a symbol of peace, gained the world`s attention at the age of 11 when the Taliban group banned girls from going to schools in the Pakistan's turbulent Swat valley.
"I don't mind if I have to sit on the floor at school, all I want is education. I am afraid of no one."
- Malala Yousafzai
The militants also destroyed over 400 schools for girls, including Christian institutions.
She wrote about the attacks of the Taliban regime and the military operation and her passion for education. People who knew her say she was not afraid to take "an initiative for peace and education for women."
Despite the militancy, she went to school anyway, encouraging others to go with her, and was awarded the National Youth Peace prize.
She said that day, "I don't mind if I have to sit on the floor at school, all I want is education. I am afraid of no one."
That was even the case when, on 9th October, armed men intercepted a vehicle returning form school, identified Malala and shot her in the head and neck.
Soon after, she shifted to the nearby Combined Military Hospital where the surgeons removed the bullets.
Two days later, a panel of Pakistani and British doctors made the decision to move Yousafzai to the Armed Forces Institute of Cardiology in Rawalpindi, where she has been unconscious and on a ventilator.
Meanwhile, Pakistan's government made arrangements to send her to Britain.
She flown from Pakistan to receive specialist treatment at Birmingham's Queen Elizabeth Hospital at a unit expert in dealing with complex trauma cases that has treated hundreds of soldiers wounded in Afghanistan.
"Doctors...believe she has a chance of making a good recovery on every level," said Dr Dave Rosser, the hospital's medical director, adding that her treatment and rehabilitation could take months.
Ehsanullah Ehsan, the chief spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban, officially claimed responsibility for the attack, saying that she is "symbolic of obscenity and has spread negative propaganda."
The Taliban has warned that if she survives, she will targeted again.
This week British police already questioned two men near her hospital amid heightened security following the Taliban threats.
Yet, back at home, Malala Yousafzai seems to have united the Pakistani nation, where many pray for her survival.
Civil society and human rights groups across this predominantly Islamic nation held special prayers for her. More than 75 clerics have condemned the attack on Malala.
Pakistan's Christian aid and advocacy groups Masihi Foundation and Life for All (LFA) organised a special prayer at the Cathedral Church in the city of Lahore.
Women and children lit candles to express solidarity with Malala.
Speaking at the special prayer service this week, LFA's leading activist Rizwan Paul called Malala "a symbol of unity and peace".
He said, "We condemn extremism. She is an inspiration for millions for highlighting the importance of education. Today people from all faiths are praying for her recovery."
Kamran John, the LFA general secretary, warned that "Targeting children is the most cowardly and condemnable act."
"A 14-year-old took an initiative, she denied being deprived of her right to education. Will we allow the girls to be victimised or will we be on Malala's side?"
- a joint statement from LFA Pakistan and MF Pakistan
He stressed that the Taliban's "action has shown their weakness and that they fear a 14-year-old. "Standing up "for what you believe is a very brave act (and) she took this stand at the age of 11, this is courage," he added.
It is ironic, John said, "that the attack on Malala took place the same week as the first International Day of the Girl Child. Malala has shown more courage in facing down the Taliban than Pakistan's government."
LFA Pakistan and MF Pakistan said in a joint statement that Pakistan's leadership and citizens should take sides.
"Will we allow the Pakistani society to live in fear or will we stand against extremism?" they wondered.
"A 14-year-old took an initiative, she denied being deprived of her right to education. Will we allow the girls to be victimised or will we be on Malala's side?", the rights groups added.
Malala means “grief stricken”, but she became a symbol of hope and resistance to extremism at the age of 11, Christians said.
Pakistan has now to decide "Will we become a part of this change and back up her stand...Or will we allow the darkness to prevail?", the advocacy groups said.