The culture of denial is so pervasive and prevalent in Pakistani politics that the government is now unable to govern the tribal areas. That much was clear yesterday when the Pakistani Taliban shot 14 year-old Malala Yousufzai in the tribal province of Swat as she walked home from school. Yousufzai is a prominent campaigner against religious extremism and promotes women’s rights, including their access to education.
‘She was pro-West, she was speaking against Taliban and she was calling President Obama her idol’, a spokesman for the Taliban, Ehsanullah Ehsan, said when claiming responsibility for the attack. ‘She was young but she was promoting Western culture in Pashtun areas’.
When Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani presented Yousufzai with an award for bravery last December her courage was rightly lauded. Yet no one asked who it was that would intimidate a young teenager so much that her defiance demanded national recognition? What group would make things so unbearable that a teenager has to take it upon herself to campaign for the right to an education? Such inconveniences were cast aside as Gilani posed, proud and punctilious, during Yousufzai’s sparkling award ceremony.
A similar attitude was on display at the weekend when Pakistani politician Imran Khan led a ‘peace march’ to Waziristan. The target of his anger was not the Taliban which has killed and coerced the local population into accepting their authority. Instead, Khan focused his anger on the United States and its drone strategy while saying nothing of the Taliban against whom such a strategy is targeted. When he was later forced to abandon the march after Taliban leaders threatened to attack the procession, Khan continued to offer little condemnation while rallying supporters with boilerplate anti-Americanisms.
Yousufzai survived yesterday’s shooting, but Ehsan has already promised to target her again. Politicians may have condemned the attack against her, but they reveal only hollow maudlin tears in the absence of any actual will to confront those who perpetrated it.