Islamabad, Asharq Al-Awsat – Zia-ud-din Yousafzai, father of Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girl who was severely injured in an assassination attempt by the Taliban last year, stressed that his daughter will continue to work for the cause of girls’ education in Pakistan. Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat via telephone from London, Yousafzai said “Malala’s recovery is our first concern right now”, refusing to divulge further information about his daughter’s health status after he had been advised by the Pakistani and British government to avoid talking to the media before Malala is fully recovered.
Malala Yousafzai was shot by Pakistani Taliban last year in Swat Valley, where she had campaigned for girls’ education at a time when the region was still under the control of Taliban militants. Malala first came to prominence as an 11-year old when she wrote a diary for BBC Urdu giving an account of how her school in Mingora town dealt with the Taliban’s 2009 edict closing girls’ schools. She began to gain national and international fame after Desmond Tutu announced her nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize. She was also awarded Pakistan’s first National Youth Peace Prize. Due to her increasing fame and activism on behalf of girls’ education in Pakistan, the Taliban took the decision to assassinate the 15-year old girl, saying she was “promoting secularism.”
Malala was shot by a Taliban gunman on 9 October, 2012 as she rode home on a bus in Pakistan’s Swat valley. She was initially treated in Pakistan where surgeons removed a bullet that had entered just above her left eye. She was then flown to the UK where she has received special treatment at Birmingham’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital. University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust Dr. Dave Rosser said “Malala is a strong young woman and has worked hard with the people caring for her to make excellent progress in her recovery.”
In Pakistan, Malala Yousafzai, and particularly the failed assassination attempt against her, has generated intense debate in the media, with the majority of Pakistan’s media supporting her brave stance. Despite this, a tiny minority of Pakistan’s domestic media have attempted to portray her as being pro-American. Since her shooting, Malala has become an international figure and was selected as runner-up for Time magazine’s Person of the Year for 2012. There have also been calls for Malala to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
For his part, Press Minister at the Pakistani High Commission in London, Shabir Anwar, informed Asharq Al-Awsat that the government of Pakistan has advised Zia-ud-din Yousafzai and his family not to talk to the media before the end of February when British doctors are scheduled to carry out skull reconstructive surgery on Malala.
He said “We gave him this advice because the government thinks that any negative publicity in the media will have negative implications for Malala’s health”, perhaps explaining Yousafzai’s evasiveness during the Asharq Al-Awsat interview.
As for when Malala could return to Pakistan, Yousafzai said “I can’t say anything at this stage…her recovery is our first concern right now” adding “she will continue her work and there can be no doubt about this”.
Commenting on Malala’s spirits following surgery in London, Yousafzai told Asharq Al-Awsat “she has been talking to her brothers and mother and me” before asserting, once more, that he was not sure when the family would be returning to Pakistan.
As for whether he supports his daughter’s activism, Yousafzai revealed that he is no stranger to activism and had even taken part in environmental activism in the past. He informed Asharq Al-Awsat that before foreign militants entered Swat valley and distrusted its peace, he had been active in campaigning to stop the deforestation of the valley, in addition to protesting against rising pollution in the region.
Regarding what caused him to move from environmental campaigning to political activism, Yousafzai said “they [the militants] started to burn down our schools, attack our mosques, and attack our funeral and weddings ceremonies; the lives of the people of Swat were threatened. After that, we were left with no other choice but to raise our voice against them”.
He stressed “there are people who choose to remain silent, but I think if you have a tongue in your mouth and a heart in your chest, then death is better than silence.”
The Pakistani government recently announced the appointment of Zia-ud-din Yousafzai as education attaché in a Pakistani consulate in Birmingham, England, where his daughter is recovering from gunshot wounds received to her head and neck. The Pakistani government announced that Yousafzai will function as head of the consulate’s education section for a period of three years. However Pakistani officials in London have informed Asharq Al-Awsat that Yousafzai is yet to take up his duties.
In a statement made last November, Zia-ud-din Yousafzai, said the family “deeply feels the heart-touching good wishes of the people across the world of all castes, colours and creed” adding “I am awfully thankful to all the peace-loving well-wishers who strongly condemned the assassination on Malala, who pray for her health, and support the grand cause of peace, education, freedom of thought and freedom of expression.”
Malala was awarded the Simone de Beauvoir Prize for Women’s Freedom on Wednesday. In an impassioned speech after accepting the award on behalf of his daughter, Zia-ud-din Yousafzai said “she [Malala] fell but Pakistan stood up. And the whole word, north, south, east and west, supported her.” He stressed that “God protected her and protected the cause of humanity and education.”
Yousafzai called on the Pakistani Taliban to “learn from this incident” asserting “they should come to talks and to peace and humanity.”
Zia-ud-din Yousafzai has primarily worked in the field of education and previously ran a private school in Pakistan’s Swat valley. Asharq Al-Awsat visited this school in 2009 and conducted an interview with him, whilst following this period Swat valley was recaptured by Pakistani military. During this interview, Yousafzai expressed fears that the Taliban could carry out targeted killing in Swat valley, even if it was technically under the control of the Pakistani military. His fears became a reality after Taliban started carrying out targeted killing in the region, including targeting his own daughter.