In Pakistan, an Activist Schoolgirl is Shot by the Taliban

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Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman, this is The World. We take it for granted that girls in this country go to school every day and face no consequences for doing so. Not so in one part of Pakistan, the SWAT Valley, and today further evidence of how hard it is for girls to carry out the simple act of getting an education. A 14-year-old school girl attacked today. Malala Yousafzai is an activist for girls' education. She was leaving her class in her hometown in the SWAT Valley, Mingora, and heading to her school bus when gunmen who were looking for her shot her in the head and neck. The Taliban has claimed responsibility. Haroon Rashid joins us from Islamabad. He is the editor for the BBC's Urdu language service in Pakistan, and he knows Malala Yousafzai. Haroon, first of all, update us on Miss Yousafzai's status right now. How is she doing?

Haroon Rashid: Well, she's been taken in a helicopter to the city of Peshawar, which is the main provincial town and much better with medical facilities. Officials and the doctors there tell us that she has got a fifty-fifty chance at the moment. But she is still unconscious and the doctors tell us that the next ten days will be quite critical for her, so she is being kept in an intensive care unit.

Werman: And the Taliban has claimed responsibility. It seems they are still angry with her and determined apparently to kill her.

Rashid: Yeah, I mean, she has been receiving threats from the Taliban for quite some time. But a statement [by] Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, an umbrella organization of militant organizations in Pakistan throws a bit of a light on why they chose to go after her now. And the reason, they said, was somewhere in an interview she has said she likes American President Barack Obama, and that he was her idol, and that she praises whatever he is doing for peace in the world. So I think this was a tipping point for the Taliban and that's why they decided to go after her today.

Werman: Haroon, tell us how you met this brave 14-year-old girl.

Rashid: Well, she was already writing diaries for our Urdu web site,, for quite some time, during the Taliban time under a pen name, Gul Makai. And we thought that we needed to find somebody who could tell us what the situation is under Taliban rule at that time.

Werman: This is in 2008 when the Taliban had essentially occupied the Swat Valley and told girls, you can't go to school.

Rashid: Yeah, exactly at that time, and there was quite a tense situation in that region, as we can see from one of her diaries that I could just recall. On January 15, 2009, she woke up three times in the night because of artillery fire, so she was telling us how she and other of her friends were feeling sitting at home, not being able to go to school.

Werman: I have one entry here from January 3rd of that same year in which she writes, "I had a terrible dream yesterday with military helicopters and the Taliban. I've had such dreams since the launch of the military operation in Swat. I was afraid of going to school because the Taliban had issued an edict banning all girls from attending schools. On my way home from school I heard a man saying, I will kill you. I hastened my pace and after a while I looked back to see if the man was still coming behind me. But to my utter relief, he was talking on his mobile, and must have been threatening someone else over the phone." It seems like this is both an exercise in relieving the pressure of what she must have been facing at the time, but also there's clear fear and anxiety in her writing.

Rashid: Yeah, she wrote so nicely that some of the people sort of doubted that this was a seventh-grade student who was writing such an elaborate picture of the whole situation at that time, the terror she was passing through. So really it was a very popular diary amongst our readers, listeners, and the English web sites picked it up and she gained a lot of fame.

Werman: Yeah, there's a real adult quality in her writing and at the same time I see this line from January 14th. "Since today was the last day of school we decided to play in the playground a bit longer. I am of the view that the school will one day reopen, but while leaving I looked at the building as if I would not come here again." That's just so poignant, you've got this adult and child in the same body.

Rashid: Yeah, of course, it's quite hard feeling to see that things did get better in 2009 when the Taliban were uprooted and sort of a peace, relative peace, returned to Swat Valley. She did manage to restart her school in Mingora, where she was attending her classes today, and when she finished with her school and coming out, one of the attackers with a pistol opened fire on her school van. And it seems that he knew who he was looking for because some of the witnesses told us that he specifically asked for Malala, and when students said we don't know who she is, he shot two students at the same time to make sure that either of them would be Malala.

Werman: Haroon, you've met Malala Yousafzai. What is she like? Does she come across as somebody who is this 14-year-old activist for girls' education?

Rashid: No, not at all. I mean she is quite a beautiful little child. I can recall her face, the smile on her face. Initially she is shy, but when you ask her any question, she is so prepared you sometimes are surprised by the answers, whether she has learned them by heart or whether it's just something natural that is happening in front of you.

Werman: And I gather because of the work Malala Yousafzai has done, she received Pakistan's highest civilian award, is that right?

Rashid: Yes, she got the Civilian Bravery Award from the president last year, and apart from that she was listed for several other awards internationally as well.

Werman: Well, we all wish Malala Yousafzai well and a fast recovery from her injuries. Haroon Rashid, the editor of the BBC's Urdu language service in Islamabad. Thank you very much.

Rashid: Thank you.