For the misinformed critic, Malala Yousafzai is an embarrassment to Pakistan. Indeed, she has been ever since she found herself at the wrong end of the barrel of a Taliban gun.
For in Pakistan, an image is everything and everything counts in large amount.
And each time her star soars a little more — from being the youngest-ever recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize to being named a UN messenger for Peace — that of the political state apparatus dims that much more.
The targeted assassination attempt against Malala took place under the watch of the first post-Musharraf democratic government. Thus we saw a changed tack in its official response. Gone were the petulant demonstrations that sought to berate female victims of male violence for speaking out and tarnishing Pakistan’s image overseas. In their place, a calculated strategy of damage control. Thus almost overnight, Malala was hailed the Bravest Girl in the World and then Pride of Pakistan, following her status as a Nobel Laureate.
In focusing solely on her bravery — the government effectively deflected the spotlight from its own failure in establishing its writ. Indeed, the Army was made to wait two years before going into North Waziristan.
But the greatest humiliation that Malala has dealt the Pakistani state is in refusing to be silenced. She has used her ‘celebrity’ to advocate relentlessly for girls’ right to education. Yet one young woman can only do so much. Three years after the attempt on her life — that is, three years after the then President termed this an attack it on all Pakistani girls, on education and on all civilised people — the country failed to meet most of its commitments under the Millennium Development Goals on Education.
We support Malala. We commend her in continuing her crusade against those whose very inaction has surrendered the narrative to extremists. How easy would it have been for the then schoolgirl to slip into temporary obscurity as she completed her education in Britain? How tempting it might have been for her to keep quiet in a bid to ‘fit in’. So, yes we support Malala wholeheartedly. What we do not support is successive governments and their inertia on the question of fundamental human rights of the girl child. The 21st century has arrived. The Pakistani state should feel well and truly humiliated that it has left all the heavy lifting on this front to a young woman — a young woman who stands alone on the global stage as she begs the international community to place education at the center of all mandates.
In short, the government must understand that the more it insists on appropriating Malala’s image — the more it simply succeeds in highlighting its own impotence when it comes to education of the girl child.