Celebrated around the world for her bravery, she has been called a CIA spy, a western stooge, and a liar at home.
Even after her bold speech at the UN, demanding free education for all children from world leaders, teen activist Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the head by the Taliban in 2012, continues to be a divisive figure in Pakistan.
Following her speech, a Taliban militant wrote Malala an open letter urging her to return home and continue her education at an Islamic school or madrassa. He was promptly taken down by a Pakistani journalist in another open letter who advised him against picking a fight with Pakistani women.
The open letter from Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militant Adnan Rasheed claims that 16-year-old Malala was attacked by the Taliban because she maligns the group, and not because she was pursuing an education. In a letter circulated to Pakistani journalists through the Pakistani Taliban media cell, Rasheed writes:
First of all please mind that Taliban never attacked you because of going to school or you were education lover, also please mind that Taliban or mujahideen are not against the education of any men or women or girl. The Taliban believe that you were intentionally writing against them and running a smear campaign to malign their efforts to establish Islamic system in Swat and your writings were provocative.
Award-winning author and Pakistani journalist Mohammed Hanif writes his response to Rasheed in the Guardian's opinion section, “Dear Taliban leader, thank you for your letter to Malala Yousafzai“:
I write to thank you in response to the generous letter you have written to Malala Yousafzai. Thanks for owning up that your comrades tried to kill her by shooting her in the head. Many of your well-wishers in Pakistan had been claiming the Taliban wouldn't attack a minor girl. They were of the opinion that Malala had shot herself in order to become a celebrity and get a UK visa. Women, as we know, will go to any lengths to get what they want. So thanks for saying that a 14-year-old girl was the Taliban's foe.
The government practically handed over the valley to your comrades, but their rule didn't even last for a few weeks because they ordered all women to stay home.
There was only one lesson to be learned: you can fight the Pakistani army; you can try and almost kill Pakistan's commander-in-chief, as you so heroically did; you might wage a glorious jihad against brutal imperial forces. But you can't pick a fight with the working women in your neighbourhood and hope to win. Those women may never get an audience at the UN but everyone – from cotton picker to bank teller – cannot be asked to shut up and stay home, for the simple reason that they won't.
Zubair Towali, who lives in Malala's hometown the Swat valley in Pakistan, explains in a blog post:
The conspiracy theories regarding Malala are most unfortunate and they are many. One posits that she is a tool in the hands of the American/Jewish lobby. This line of “reasoning” says that her ‘abrupt fame’ has been fuelled and guided by elements out to conspire against Pakistan.
A Pakistani Twitter user Saqib Ali Kazmi responds:
— Saqib Ali Kazmi (@besaqib) July 18, 2013
The Taliban militant also responds to Malala's UN speech point-by-point in his open letter. He writes:
I wish the compassion you learnt from Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) should be learnt by Pakistan Army so they could stop shedding of Muslim blood in FATA and Balochistan. I wish, the compassion you learnt from Prophet Jesus should be learnt by the U.S. and NATO so they should stop shedding blood of innocent Muslims across the world and I wish the same for followers of Buddha to stop killing of innocent unarmed Muslims in Burma, and Sri Lanka and wish the same for Indian Army to follow Gandhi jee and stop genocide in Kashmir.
Some Pakistani Twitter users still have their doubts though. Ahmed Bilal tweets:
— Ahmed Bilal (@ABWDXB) July 18, 2013
And some take their own message from the letter, like Pakistani musician Salman Ahmad, who tweets:
— salman ahmad (@sufisal) July 17, 2013
Khuldune Shahid, a finance correspondent for ePakistanToday, tweets:
Pak liberals need a lesson in honesty & clarity from #AdnanRasheed. Our liberalism is restricted to the number of alcohol brands we can name
— K Khuldune Shahid (@khuldune) July 17, 2013
But even Shahid defends Malala in his piece the “Epicentre of the Malalaquake”:
The Taliban’s conflict with Malala, much like their combat against all their adversaries, is a clash of religious teachings and humanistic viewpoints. [..]The Taliban devoutly follow antediluvian theologies, while Malala stands for enlightenment.”
Shahid's support for Malala combined with his dig at the liberals that generally defend her, and the overall vitriol against the teen activist from other Pakistanis, could be a symptom of the country's larger identity crisis. Journalist Huma Yusuf writes in the NYT's Latitutde blog about the Malala Backlash:
These virulent reactions seem odd in a country that purports to value education and women’s rights. But that is simply a sign that Pakistan is still struggling to figure itself out — to figure out how to participate in the modern, global economy as it comes to terms with its colonial past, to reject Western pressure while coveting international approval, to strengthen its democratic institutions as an Islamic republic.
Rafia Zakaria, a columnist with Dawn, a leading English daily in Pakistan writes:
if she returned, Malala Yousafzai, like other Pakistani heroines before her, would have to deal with the crude judgments of a society where lip service to education is permitted, but the freedom owed to educated women is denied.
In his open letter Rasheed also says he is writing to Malala in his personal capacity, and not as a Taliban member: “all my emotions were brotherly for you because we belong to same Yousafzai tribe.” Meanwhile, Taliban leaders have told the BBC they have nothing to do with the letter Adnan Rasheed wrote and that “his letter will be examined” [ur].
Rasheed was broken out of jail in 2012 by the Taliban, where he was awaiting his death sentence for attempting to assassinate former president Pervez Musharraf in 2003. He is a former member of the Pakistan Air Force.