KARACHI, Pakistan — One of the most widely circulated images in Karachi this week has been that of Malala Yousafzai, the 14-year-old activist who was shot in the head by the Pakistani Taliban. However, the image, which has been printed in newspapers, shared through social media, and handed out on flyers, isn't one that portrays Malala as a champion of human rights. Instead, it's a photograph showing Malala and her parents at a session with US Army officials.
The image is part of a broader effort within Pakistan to blame not Taliban militants but the United States government for the attack on the young activist.
In the week since Malala was shot in the head, anti-US campaigns promoting the idea that the United States was behind the attack have nested themselves in Pakistan's local media.
Like any viral internet meme, the photograph of Malala and her parents with US officials has many iterations, all with Urdu captions that identify the Americans in the photograph. Sometimes they're identified as CIA agents, other times they are with the US Army. In each iteration, Malala and her parents are responsible for a different crime. In some of the images, Malala appears insulting the Pakistani Army; in others, she has encouraged CIA operations in Pakistan.
The Taliban have accepted responsibility for the shooting of the activist in the international press. Despite this, on local television stations, pundits say the opposite, arguing that the Taliban have denied attacking Malala, and have condemned it. One TV pundit claims that the current media narrative unfairly defames the Taliban to please the United States. Another claims that the attack on Malala was orchestrated in order to distract Pakistan from the "blasphemous film," a reference to the anti-Islam film produced in the United States.
Furthermore, it's not just the pundits. The Lahore Times ran an unsubstantiated article last Sunday that alleged that the US was responsible for Malala's attack, citing that "it becomes more and more clear" that the US orchestrated the attack to continue drone strikes in Paksitan. The article argues that "evil US forces created a dirty plan to kill Malala and they gave the task to Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) or Black Water (Xe)." This TTP isn't the same militant organization that is responsible for scores of attacks in Pakistan, the article argues, but rather a "coward terrorists organization which works close[ly] with CIA, Mossad and RAW."
The most pervasive argument, echoed in school hallways and repeated in grocery stores, however, is simple: the US is using Malala to garner support for its "failed" war in Afghanistan. Why else would Madonna have dedicated a song to her?