The sad truth about Malala’s treatment

The sad truth about Malala’s treatment

By Kamran Rehmat

Since the last time one wrote in this space, the now-legendary 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai has been on a steady path to recovery.

Despite the grievous nature of the injury, there is now hope that she may lead a considerably healthy life if her reconstructive surgery goes well in the near future.

Last week, the world saw first images of the girl - shot in the head by Taliban on her way home from school in Swat on October 9 - surrounded by her family in Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham.

The footage of iconic Malala - dubbed by Newsweek as the “Bravest Girl in The World” - moving her lips and eyes as she looked at her mother whilst her father Ziauddin talked to the world’s media had millions of her compatriots and well-wishers around the world heaving a sigh of relief.

And yet, all of this could have panned out adversely. The recovery so far has been as bit remarkable as Malala’s renowned spirit, according to doctors treating her at the specialist medical facility. A mere 2cm gap in the bullet’s path separated her from fatally damaging the brain.

The symbolism attached with Malala’s undying campaign for the education of girls in her native Swat valley, which was overrun by Taliban who blew up hundreds of girl schools and killed or maimed all those who opposed their self-styled Shariah rule before being evicted by the Pakistani military in a sweeping operation in 2009, has now assumed global reckoning.

Former British prime minister Gordon Brown, who was appointed UN special envoy for global education by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon last July, has been in the forefront of the “iammalala” petition campaign designed to highlight the goal of education.

Reportedly, there is a major in-house row as Unesco and Brown attempt to push and take credit for spurring the new global pitch on the back of Malala’s unique example!

The former British PM is leaving no stone unturned to pitch his tent, even suggesting that the Pakistani girl would be deserving of the Nobel Peace Prize the next time jury sits for contemplation.

He will also be meeting President Zardari this month to launch a major initiative with Islamabad’s official backing even as the world body itself pushes to hold a global conference with Pakistan at the head of internationally recognised figures and fora to push the drive!

Ironically, if a touch tragically, this international push contrasts spectacularly, with how the narrative lies back home.

While Pakistanis of all walks of life were shocked at the brazen attack on an innocent schoolgirl - perhaps, it was easy to relate to how it could very well have been their own daughter(s) in the line of fire - the same could not be said of the “leadership” end of the spectrum.

Within days of the tragedy, it was becoming difficult to make out which was more shocking - the refusal of the key political and religious parties/groups to even name Taliban in their sometimes, convoluted condemnation or the tragedy itself.

Outfits like the Jamaat-e-Islami and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam even resorted to obfuscation - the former refusing to believe Taliban were behind the outrageous act (despite the militia’s pointed ownership), and the latter, which is known to have strong links with the Taliban, audaciously alleging the attack was a ploy to “target religious scholars”.

As a result, a malicious campaign was unleashed to distort the narrative. Far from acknowledging the incredible courage shown by a 15-year-old in the face of a monstrous militia, someone like Samia Raheel Qazi, the daughter of former Jamaat-e-Islami chief Qazi Hussain Ahmed, began circulating images of Malala with patently false messages and twisted logic.

One particular image showed the Swat girl talking to Richard Holbrooke, the late former US special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan. This was passed off by Samia as a meeting with “US military authorities”.

The lie was subsequently, nailed by discerning observers with video footage of the event, where the only comment made by Malala, in fact, was a confident push for the US “to invest in the education of girls in the war-torn valley”.

Not really a stickler for verified information, a considerable chunk of the cyber population fell hook, line and sinker for the distorted narrative, which was deliberately linked with the lesser mourned deaths resulting from US drone attacks over the years.

How twisted the line of argument was can be gauged from the fact that even images were doctored, implying that there were holes in the Malala attack story, and therefore it could not be true!

Even as cyber rounds and TV debates were hogging the limelight, few questioned why the army appeared to take full control of Malala’s treatment with the federal government conspicuous by its absence.
It did not cut much ice to suggest the provincial Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government was alive to the developing situation because there was national symbolism attached with Malala’s fate.

From being initially, treated at a military hospital in Peshawar to being shifted to another such facility in the garrison town of Rawalpindi was one thing, but the public relations wing of the army, ISPR, issuing health bulletins was a first for even hardened cynics.

Reports are now emerging that the top Generalissimo wasn’t mighty pleased at how his lower ranks had “caught a flying arrow” in assuming charge of Malala’s treatment, which forced him to fly out the very next day to be the first high profile figure to inquire after Malala in classic “statement mold”.

The decision to send Malala abroad also had “repercussion fears” riding over it even though for public consumption the last bulletin was reporting “steady progress”. The military was worried that in the event of the worst possible fate, it may be held responsible.

Contrary to the popular notion - perpetuated by the religious parties in the wake of the Malala episode - at no stage did the military consider an operation in North Waziristan against the militants, for, the decision at this scale is not based on emotion, and two, with winter setting in, it would be logistically an uphill task.

The writer is a freelance journalist based in Islamabad.

[Gulf Times]

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