By DECLAN WALSH
Published: October 10, 2012 Comment
KARACHI, Pakistan — Doctors on Wednesday removed a bullet from a Pakistani schoolgirl shot by the Taliban, as Pakistanis from across the political and religious spectrum united in revulsion at the attack on the 14-year-old education rights campaigner.
The attack on Malala Yousafzai occurred in Mingora, Swat Valley’s main town, when masked gunmen stopped a bus carrying schoolgirls who had just taken an exam.
A Taliban gunman singled out and shot the girl, Malala Yousafzai, on Tuesday, and a spokesman said it was in retaliation for her work in promoting girls’ education and children’s rights in the northwestern Swat Valley, near the Afghan border.
Ms. Yousafzai was removed from immediate danger after the operation in a military hospital in Peshawar early Wednesday, during which surgeons removed a bullet that had passed through her head and lodged in her shoulder, one hospital official said.
The government kept a Boeing jet from the national carrier, Pakistan International Airlines, on standby at the Peshawar airport to fly Ms. Yousafzai to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, for emergency treatment if necessary, although senior officials said she was too weak to fly.
“She is improving. But she is still unconscious,” said Mian Iftikhar Hussain, the provincial information minister, whose only son was shot dead by the Taliban in 2010. He said Ms. Yousafzai remained on a ventilator.
Mr. Hussain announced a government reward of more than $100,000 for information leading to the arrest of her attackers. “Whoever has done it is not a human and does not have a human soul,” he said.
Across the rest of the country, Pakistanis reacted with outrage to the attack on the girl, whose eloquent and determined advocacy of girls’ education had made her powerful symbol of resistance to Taliban ideology.
“Malala is our pride. She became an icon for the country,” Interior Minister Rehman Malik said.
The army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, visited the Peshawar hospital where Ms. Yousafzai was being treated; in a rare public statement he condemned the “twisted ideology” of the “cowards” who had attacked her. Her parents and another teacher from her school remained at her side in the hospital.
The cricket star turned opposition politician Imran Khan offered to pay for her treatment, while his party officials parried accusations that they were soft on the Taliban.
Last weekend Mr. Khan led a motor cavalcade of supporters to the edge of the tribal belt as part of a demonstration against American drone strikes in the area — a theme that, until now at least, has frequently been a more concentrated focus of public anger than Taliban violence.
Even Jamaat ud Dawa, the charity wing of the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which follows a different strain of Islam from the Taliban, condemned the attack. “Shameful, despicable, barbaric attempt,” read a message on the group’s official Twitter feed. “Curse b upon assassins and perpetrators.”
The anger was amplified by the Taliban’s brazen claims of responsibility for the shooting, and avowals that the group would attack Ms. Yousafzai again if it got a second chance. Reports circulated that the Taliban had also promised to target her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, who privately appealed to neighbors from Swat not to visit the hospital in case of a second attack.
In the Swat Valley, private schools remained closed in protest over the attack.
Some commentators wondered whether the shooting would galvanize public opinion against the Taliban in the same way as a video that aired in 2009, showing a Taliban fighter flogging a teenage girl in Swat, had primed public opinion for a large military offensive against the militants that summer.
“The time to root out terrorism has come,” Bushra Gohar of the Awami National Party, which governs Swat and the surrounding Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province, told Parliament.
But no military drive is in the offing in Swat for the moment, officials say — in fact, a large army contingent has occupied the picturesque mountain valley since 2009, which contributed to alarm by the prospect of a Taliban resurgence in the area.
Among some commentators, there was a sense that rage was redundant: that unless Pakistan’s military and civilian leaders drop all equivocation about Islamist extremism, the country is likely to suffer further such traumas.
“We are infected with the cancer of extremism, and unless it is cut out we will slide ever further into the bestiality that this latest atrocity exemplifies,” read an editorial in The News International, a major English-language daily.
Reporting was contributed by Ismail Khan from Peshawar, Pakistan; Sana ul Haq from Mingora, Pakistan; Ihsanullah Tipu Mehsud from Islamabad, Pakistan; and Zia ur-Rehman from Karachi.