Malala Yousufzai taken to UK for Treatment; and Pakistan’s Education Shame

Fourteen-year-old Malala Yousufzai, shot in the head by the Taliban in the Swat Valley of Pakistan for demanding the right to an education, is being moved for further treatment to Britain. She breathed without a respirator briefly on Sunday. The United Arab Emirates sent an air ambulance for her.

Since her shooting, there have been a spate of articles about the demonstrations that have been held in Pakistan (tens of thousands came out in Islamabad) protesting her shooting and condemning the Taliban, with headlines suggesting that Pakistanis are turning against the Taliban because of the incident.

But most Pakistanis have all along been against the Pakistani Taliban and what they stand for. Many blamed them for assassinating former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. When the Pakistani Taliban came down from the tribal belt to the Swat Valley in the Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa Province, the Pakistani military in 2009 went in and cleared them out, and despite temporary massive displacements and sometimes heavy fighting, the operation was popular with Pakistanis and especially the people of Swat. The Pakistani Taliban are a rural, frontier phenomenon in Pakistan, disliked by the Punjabis of the fertile east of the country, despised by the Sindhi peasants of the south, hated by the urbane Urdu-speakers of Karachi. Most of the few thousand Pakistani Taliban are from the Pashtun ethnic group, but the vast majority of Pashtuns reject them. In the last provincial elections in the Pashtun-majority Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa province in the north of the country, voters put in secular Pashtun nationalists, not religious parties.

The Taliban draw for their weird and fringe ideas on a peculiar interpretation of a nineteenth-century Indian Muslim revival movement that concentrated on emulating the sayings and doings of the Prophet Muhammad, called Deobandis. They were reacting against Hindu and British influence on South Asian Islam. But most Deobandis are sort of Sunni Muslim Protestants and not radicals. In the maelstrom of the 1980s, the Soviet Union occupied Afghanistan and the Reagan administration responded with a covert war, funding Muslim fundamentalist guerrillas; the conflict caused a war in which a million Afghans died (out of a then 16 million population), 3 million were wounded, 2 million were internally displaced, 2 million were displaced to Iran, and 3 million were displaced to northern Pakistan.

It was this massive human tragedy, probably worse even than what happened in Cambodia, that produced the hothouse atmosphere in which young Afghan refugee men in Pakistan, often made orphans and having lost everything to foreign Communist occupiers, turned to feverish extreme fundamentalist visions, mixing Deobandi ideas with a radical form of Wahhabism from Saudi Arabia. After the Soviet withdrawal and the faction fighting of the US-backed warlords that was destroying Afghanistan all over again in the 1990s, the Taliban, backed by the Pakistani military, went back into the country and took it over, ruling it in accordance with almost apocalyptic fervor and instituting strange and unheard-of laws that they said were “Islamic.” Because they had all-male schooling and so many were oprhans, they did not necessarily know any women, and appear to have been afraid of them, practicing an extreme misogyny that included a commitment to keeping women illiterate and preventing their public circulation. None of this had anything to do with normative Islam over the vast Afro-Asian expanse where the 1.5 billion Muslims mostly live. It was to Islam what the Khmer Rouge were to socialism.

Only about 12 years ago did some tribesmen of the northern, Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan (loosely analogous to the Indian reservations of the US) start calling themselves ‘Taliban’– until then it had been a solely Afghan phenomenon. They had become caught up in the US war in AFghanistan, raiding to support their cousins among the Afghan Taliban, and were radicalized. Some were criminal gangs, others were engaged in a kind of class protest against the big landlordism of Pakistan and the high-handed decisions made in Islamabad about their tribal regions. They were especially drawn from the Mahsoud tribe of South Waziristan, though not all Mahsoud were Taliban and some other tribes also produced members of the Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan.

Many Muslim states promote female literacy. Kuwait, Bahrain, Jordan and many other countries have high rates of it, and the rates are mostly fairly high throughout the Middle East for younger women 18-30, since primary and secondary educational institutions have been increased after the end of European colonialism (which often did not bother to educate locals). The poorest countries, such as Morocco and Egypt, have the worst statistics on education in general and female education in specific. But even in Egypt, among younger women literacy is over 80% now. In Iran, after the Islamic Revolution of 1979, women’s literacy was doubled in a generation to 70% and nowadays the majority of undergraduate students in Iranian universities are women.

Pakistan is even poorer than Egypt and Morocco, and in addition it never had a proper land reform, so it is replete with landless and smallholder peasants and big hacienda owners (who also are the political class), and this social structure tells against high literacy rates. The British left behind a largely illiterate South Asia, with some of the worst education statistics in the world, and the postcolonial governments of Pakistan, India and Bangladesh inherited this deficit. But Pakistan’s elites in particular just haven’t been bothered to spend enough on school provision, and some 40% children are not in school there (mostly these are peasants). Girls are often pulled out of school when they become teenagers in the rural areas, and married off, for fear that otherwise they’ll develop boyfriends, become sluts and bring unbearable shame on the family (in much of the Mediterranean world and South Asia, male honor depends on being able to keep women in the family ‘pure’, i.e. either virgins or properly married). But that phenomenon is more common in rural areas, and has declined in urbanizing, industrializing countries such as Turkey and Indonesia.

Pakistan’s female literacy rate is only 36%, compared to 48% in India. Both are low in Asian terms, and derive from a combination of British insouciance and postcolonial elitism. But for the most part, Pakistani Muslim families would just as soon their daughters were literate– they just can’t get educational resources from the elite government, which has a fixation on military expenditures instead.

So the Taliban are fringe, tiny and highly peculiar and their bizarre ideas have all along been out of sync with the Pakistani mainstream. The Taliban extreme male chauvinism is a huge problem for women in the small areas of Pakistan where they are influential. But arguably, millions of Pakistani women are deprived of an education not by the malevolence of a few sectarians but by the failure of elite men to care to see peasant girls have a school in their village.

Religious radicalism has damaged Pakistan through terrorism, but it hasn’t affected most people’s lives as much as bad governance. If the government does not change its priorities and launch a mass education program, and if it does not catch the wave of increasingly inexpensive wind and solar energy, the situation in Pakistan will go on deteriorating. Higher levels of women’s education would cut down on Pakistan’s hectic population growth, among the highest in the world, which is a huge obstacle to its economic progress.

Malala is a hero and stood up for her rights against terrorists. But the bigger threat to her aspirations and those of other rural Pakistani girls is a government that doesn’t care enough.

Posted in Uncategorized | 27 Responses | Print |

27 Responses

  1. Pakistan indeed has a history of bad governance, both the military and civilian varieties. But that does not explain why it took a 14-year old girl to openly protest against the pathetic state of girls’ education while the majority of the population remained mute. It’s great that thousands of Pakistanis have demonstrated against the shooting of Malala and the Pakistani Taliban, but where were those demonstrators when it counted? Why weren’t they forcefully demonstrating against the Taliban and the lack of female education all along? My guess is that it has something to do with a vague fear of being labeled apostates by Islamic Fundamentalists, as well as not wanting to get involved by openly expressing an opinion.

    Nevertheless, where was Imran Khan and the Code Pink contingent when they could have been marching and protesting the abysmal state of girls’ education in Pakistan? Where was Clive Stafford Smith when he could have been (to paraphrase) “provoking a discussion of the abysmal state of education for girls.” They were Missing in Action when it really counted, before Malala was shot. No, it’s much easier to march and protest against the drone program. Not much courage required when you are protesting against something the majority population agrees with. Having parachuted in, Mr. Smith and Code Pink can depart with their solipsistic sense of moral superiority, even while being unaware that they could have marched and protested against something that really holds Pakistan hostage: girls’ illiteracy and lack of education. But, of course, that would have been a bridge too far.

    • Bill, you really are something else. Yep, damn irresponsible hippies showing up to protest something that is central, KEY even, to OUR projection of arbitrary power elsewhere in the world, instead of protesting how a different culture treats women. Complete with crocodile tears for the plight of a girl shot in the head by a “religio-conservative” much like the American Talibanners who would reduce women here, once again, to chattel, brood-mare, franchise-free status.

      One might attack them damn hippies for not standing up and protesting the kleptocracy in Tunisia that resulted in a desperate shopkeeper setting himself on fire to spotlight the banal horror of daily life under the kind of system that your kind of thinking leads to.

      “Missing in action when it really counted.” Really. At least for the sake of one little attempt, here, to bolster by obfuscation the immorality ineffectiveness, inaptness and of US droning, and other fun practices.

      • how a different culture treats women

        This is cowardice, intellectual cowardice, of the same variety that one sees in torture apologists who use phrases like “rough prisoners up a little” or “run the air conditioning.”

        • How picayune and personal it all gets, doesn’t it? True Belief in your rectitude and righteousness and the inscrutable, unarguable Wisdom of Your Side? Is that kind of mischaracterization and focus on extracted phrases shoved into an imposed context supplied by your imagination, the best you can do? YOU heroes are the ones excoriating people, whatever their antecedents and however much you disdain, dislike and maybe fear their standing up against BAD POLICY let alone yet another expression of man’s capacity for evil, for not marching down Wazir-Akbar-Khan Road in Kabul, or maybe Lyan Expressway in Karachi to protest how women are treated in that different culture.

          Again, is that kind of attack the best you got? False equivalence, again?

        • I haven’t the foggiest idea what you’re babbling about, JT, although I do recognize the same 50-cent words you like to sprinkle about to try to class up your comments.

          Honest people don’t gin up precious little phrases to hide truths. If you describe the shooting of a 14-year-old girl for being uppity, or the refusal to educate girls at all, as merely “how a different culture treats women,” you are being willfully dishonest. You are using Orwellian phrasing to hide the truth.

          That sort of behavior, as opposed to calling out that sort of behavior, is the mark of someone who is a little too certain of his own righteousness.

        • I also have no idea who my heroes are supposed to be. Dick Cheney and John Bolton, no doubt. My very best buds, you know.

          You have a simplistic, Manichean view of the world. It would behoove you to develop the capacity to view things with more depth than “my side vs. the bad people.”

      • Hippies, Mr. McPhee? Hippies? Are you reading from your 3×5 cards again? Please read my post carefully. You will find nothing about hippies. What you will find is a comment about the Code Pink group’s misplaced priorities when it comes to impediments to Pakistan’s political, social, and economic development. (Hint: it is not about drones.)

        The drone program is targeting Al-Qaeda’s leadership and operatives, as well as that of affiliated organizations, because they have targeted the U.S. It is not, as you put it, “OUR projection of arbitrary power elsewhere in the world.”

        Clive Stafford Smith and the Code Pink group can lend themselves to Imran Khan’s political theater if they wish. He is, after all, positioning himself to make a run for high office. But when it comes to protesting a policy that really does hold Pakistan hostage, such as the abysmal state of girls’ illiteracy and lack of education, yes they indeed were missing in action.

        • Mr. Bill, your usual condescending, superior style sure seemed to make it clear that you thought deprecatingly of those you surely think of as ineffectual, morally dishonest dilettantes, and I expect even though you didn’t use the word “hippie” in your post, the notion was not far from your mind.

          I wonder, and of course neither of us can know, if Imran Khan would be any better in “high office,” in the long run, for the state of women in Pakistan, than the usual schmucks that “our” Establishment is happy to deal with — being very careful not to rock any boats by making noises about how women are treated.

          And do you disagree that there are a whole lot of paternalistic “Christian” males in the US who would be just pleased as Punch to “put women back in the place their God has intended for them?” Not including Secretary of State or anything else remotely resembling High Office, or even adequate education and exercise of the franchise?

        • ‘The drone program is targeting Al-Qaeda’s leadership and operatives, as well as that of affiliated organizations, because they have targeted the U.S.’

          I think what you mean is, ‘Some Saudis flew planes into the WTC in 2001, so the US can now do anything to anyone anywhere forever’.

          It’s interesting that you have such insight into the behaviour and intentions of the ‘suspected militants’. Some deluded folks still think such allegations need to be tested through due process. Some have even been known to denigrate extrajudicial executions. But that was when others did it. As for the inevitable ‘collateral damage’, well no price is to high for THEM to pay for YOUR illusion of safety.

  2. There are to be age limits for political blogging. I don’t think it makes sense to encourage 11-year olds to blog about puppies too much, not to mention hot political issues.

  3. Thank you for this fine and educational article, Juan. My only quibble with the timeline is that instead of pointing out that it was the Carter administration that deliberately lured the Soviets into Afghanistan in hopes of dragging them into their own “Vietnam” you suggest that Reagan was reacting to Soviet imperialism.
    @Bill: While the US certainly bears some responsibility for the Pakistan government’s preference for military over education spending (as our own government does), that hardly makes it less important to show the Pakistani people that not all Americans support the drone war. Suggesting that Khan & Code Pink are less than brave for their actions is just wrong.

  4. While its generally known the Taliban was a creature of Pakistani intelligence (ISI). It should also be stated indirect support had came from the U.S. In fact, from the 1994-96 period the U.S. made no adverse criticism of misconduct carried out by the Taliban since the Taliban were deemed to be an enemy of Iranian interests. The U.S. was hoping that a Unocal pipeline could be completed with the acquiescence of the Taliban.

    Afghanistan had been a Cold War victory in the 1990s, however, the failure of the CIA and the State Department to install a democratic form of government and a civilian infrastructure created the conditions for warlord rule and eventually the burgeoning power of the Taliban and the rise of Al-Qaeda.

    The events of 9/11 can be traced to the State Department’s support of anyone that was anti-Iranian during the 1990s. It should be noted that Bin Laden’s group was one of the CIA-backed groups fighting the Communists during the 1980’s and the CIA’s funding to the Afghan resistance totalled hundreds of miilions of dollars in military aid per annum, including Stinger anti-aircraft missiles and anti-tank guns that were crucial in winning the war against the Soviet and Afghan armies. Bin Laden eventually won an audience with Saudi Arabia’ King Fahd after the Soviet-backed Marxist regime’s collapse in Kabul and Bin Laden emerged a national hero.

    Ramzy Yousef was a CIA-supplied guerilla leader in Afghanistan and his group had been later implicated in the 1993 WTC bombing.

    The collapse of the Taliban as a governing power in Kabul following 9/11 resulted in their heroin eradication programs ending and resulted in Afghan farmers cultivating opium poppies anew; Afghanistan now contributes 87% of the world’s production of opium. The lack of an effective central government has facilitated the increase in opium cultivation.

    The fact of Malala’s shooting is just another sad product of a failed U.S. foreign policy that had backed anyone that is anti-Iranian or anti-communist.

    • It should be noted that Bin Laden’s group was one of the CIA-backed groups fighting the Communists during the 1980′s

      This is false. Bin Laden organized his “group” – first a fundraising circle, and later actual fighters – specifically to provide a “purer” alternative system for resisting the Soviets, because he did not believe in working with the United States. I’m sure the Reagan-era CIA would have loved to back him, but bin Laden was having none of it. He got into the game for the specific purpose of not working with the CIA, and providing a way for other mujahadeen to do the same.

      • Of course, there’s a difference of opinion on this assertion too. Wiki gives the alternative views an airing, link to, and the Hippie Left among other reporters and students and analysts has a different take, one that ties the CIA (interested in “teaching urban terrorism to the mujehadeen,” a set of skills that now is causing the havoc “we” are supposedly working to clean up) pretty closely to OBL, sources like this: link to

        If one reads enough of this stuff, without the blinders of a True Believer, it sure seems like every stratagem executed by “rough men” supposedly Protecting The Weak of the Herd is just another sowing of a sheaf of dragon’s teeth. But then that’s a great way to provide another kind of “security:” job security, as part of the long slow glissade into the mists of imperial histories.

        Too bad there’s nothing that tends to move humans in the direction of widespread practice of even bits of the Golden Rule. More corpses; more tears; more anger; more “sophistication;” more of the same.

        • You have no idea how amusing it is to see you repeatedly describe others as a “true believer.” Physician, heal thyself.

          Anyway, for all of your theorizing, there is nothing in the one link you provided (did you know that there is not Wiki entry behind your first link) that indicates anything other than what I said: that bin Laden and the US were both fighting the same enemy, and were supporting the same mujahadeen.

      • The public may never know who is CIA-financed and who is not.

        The Church Committee and House Select Committee on Assassinations received testimony tending to show that the CIA creates degrees of separation via “cut-outs” so that even the people being financed do not know where the true source is.

        The CIA used retired FBI agent Robert Maheu, a contract agent on a monthly CIA stipend in Las Vegas, to enlist the mob to kill Fidel Castro; the mob was told that multinational corporations were financing it, although it was the CIA in reality. Former CIA director Richard Helms confirmed this in Congressional testimony.

        Many of the anti-Castro exile fighters admit they never actually knew if their work was CIA-funded or not.

        Same with Contra resupply operations – the funding was secret until investigations shed light on where the money was coming from.

        In reality, it is unlikely Bin Laden himself knew – or cared to know – if U.S. intelligence agencies may have indirectly funded his activities in Afghanistan.

    • “The fact of Malala’s shooting is just another sad product of a failed U.S. foreign policy that had backed anyone that is anti-Iranian or anti-communist”

      No, it is not. Malala’s shooting was the result of her courageous attempt to buck traditional discrimination against girls’ education in an environment of Islamic fundamentalism. The Taliban, under any other name, would still represent the anteduluvian social polices of a fundamentalist Islam they represent today.

  5. Prof. Cole –

    When the Taliban shoot a 14 year old girl in the head and you blame the Pakistani government and colonialism, it looks like denial. You don’t want to accept that the Taliban are a real problem – that their supremacist beliefs are not unique to them, and not unique to Pakistan. That they have ideological kinship with al Qaeda, Boko Haram, Al Shabab, and a host of other militant Islamist groups around the world.

    I agree, by the way, that the majority of Pakistanis reject the Taliban’s views. But until this past weekend, they were afraid to stand up and say it straight. Now, thank goodness, this is starting to happen.

    Either way, and regardless of what other issues face Pakistan, they have to get rid of the Taliban.
    In short, you don’t want to acknowledge that militant Islamists, and not just the Taliban, are the problem.

    • I can’t find anything in Prof. Cole’s post that would back your criticism. Cole started out an fiercely criticized the history and effects of Taliban extremism. I don’t think he pitted this against criticism of the Pakistani government. They are two separate things.

  6. A few years ago I did a lot of reading about Abdul Ghaffar Khan and his work in education and non-violent political action. That reading led me believe that the Taliban learned from him. Like him, they established schools and after time built up a political and, for the Taliban, a military force. Khan started his first school around 1910, a school for girls as well as boys, and by 1930 was able to start the Khudai Khidmatgar, the Red Shirts or Servants of God, what some call the world’s first non-violent army.

    Malala Yousufzai’s call for female education also reminds me of Abdul Ghaffar Khan.

    I have wondered since learning about him why his example is not cited more often.

  7. Speaking as a severe critic of the ‘Western’ schools system I was subjected to myself and watched my own children endure, I have to say that the elephant in the room is that there’s a lot more to education than building a school. As far as I can tell, no child, boy or girl, is educated in the public school system in Pakistan. The rote ‘learning’, which is apparently all their teachers know, leads to a situation where PhD students have no idea what ‘analysis’ or ‘research’ mean. When you read the theses their teachers have written, you’d think they might be about ready to enter year 7 at a decent American public school. It’s a tragedy for girls to have to fight for education, but I just don’t have a word to express the irony and sadness of risking death just to go to a Pakistani primary school.

    Meanwhile, the intellectual Pakistani ‘liberals’ I’m in contact with applaud the drone strikes, notwithstanding the ‘collateral damage’ and blowback, presumably on the strength of an unexamined faith that ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’.

  8. Your claim about the female literacy rate in India is factually incorrect. You claim it is 48 %.

    See link to

    Male Female Overall
    2011 82.14 65.46 74.04
    2001 75.85 54.16 65.38

    Your figures are wrong for even a decade back.

  9. People so quickly forget that there was a powerful indigenous force in the region 90 years ago for education, freedom and dignity, including of girls. For instance, the journal “The Pukhtun” had stories by woman writers exhorting Pukhtuns to respect women’s rights. Yet the British ruthlessly repressed Bacha Khan and his Khudai Khidmatgars, and Pakistani elites carried on from where the British left off. I agree with Prof. Cole: what happened to Malala is the tragic but logical conclusion of greed, bigotry, and short-sightedness on behalf of a range of people, not just the Taliban.

  10. You are talking about two completely different things here.. The failure of the governrment to provide education to the lower classes especially females, and the hindrance by the Taliban. Both are condemnable, but the former is an almost ancient problem, while the Taliban came into the picture recently.

    & it definitely does not make sense of an 11 year old coming forth and airing her views..

    • “the former is an almost ancient problem”
      And that means it silly for Cole to complain about it because…?

      For that matter, can you imagine one western headline dedicated to this girl if she had been the victim of a drone strike, as opposed to a Taliban assassin?

      None of this belittles the horror of what the Taliban does, but this blog is about informing, not just commenting, and informing people about the Taliban means informing people about the context that allows these murderous medievals to garner support. In placing such a low value on literacy among women, the Pakistani elite creates a context where the Taliban can appear less deranged than they really are.

Comments are closed.