Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik on Wednesday vowed to bring to justice the Taliban attackers behind the shooting of a 14-year-old child activist in a critical condition.
“No matter where the terrorists may escape, we will bring them to justice,” said Malik, speaking to reporters at a press conference in Peshawar. “We have identified the gang which carried out the attack (on Malala Yousafzai) … and we also know when the terrorists arrived in Swat.”
Pakistani doctors had successfully operated on Malala Yousafzai and removed the bullet lodged in her neck after being shot by the Taliban.
Doctors were to decide whether to fly abroad Malala abroad for further medical treatment, however, the interior minister confirmed that, according to her doctors, the girl was “out of danger” and the decision to send her abroad had been temporarily postponed.
“The girl is out of critical condition … and she will be sent abroad if the medical board thinks there is a need for further treatment there,” he said, also confirming that the central part of Malala’s brain had not been affected.
Malala Yousafzai was shot on her school bus with two friends in the former Taliban stronghold of Swat on Tuesday, then flown to the main northwestern city of Peshawar to be admitted to a military hospital.
Malala had spent Tuesday night in intensive care, where doctors at the Combined Military Hospital (CMH) described her condition as critical.
Last night, a doctor at CMH told AFP that the bullet had travelled from her head and then lodged in the back shoulder, near the neck.
“She is in the intensive care unit and semi-conscious, although not on the ventilator,” he told AFP on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media.
The next three to four days would be crucial, he added.
Army chief issues statement
Army Chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani visited the CMH on Wednesday to inquire on Malala’s condition.
The country’s top military officer also issued a strongly-worded statement condemning the attack.
“In attacking Malala, the terrorist have failed to grasp that she is not only an individual, but an icon of courage and hope, who vindicates the great sacrifices that the people of Swat and the nation gave, for wresting the valley from the scourge of terrorism,” Kayani said.
He vowed the military would not bow to terrorists like those who shot the young activist. “We will fight, regardless of the cost we will prevail,” he said.
Tuesday’s shooting in broad daylight raises serious questions about security more than three years after the army claimed to have crushed a Taliban insurgency in the valley.
The Pakistani Taliban claimed the attack in a series of telephone calls to reporters and then issued a strongly-worded statement justifying the attack on a child on the grounds that Malala had preached secularism “and so-called enlightened moderation”.
The Taliban controlled much of Swat from 2007-2009 but were supposedly driven out by an army offensive in July 2009.
“It’s a clear command of sharia that any female, that by any means plays a role in war against the mujahedeen, should be killed,” said spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan.
He accused the media of pouring out “smelly propaganda” against the Taliban, saying that women had also been killed in Pakistan military operations and were detained by the intelligence services.
The assassination attempt on the life of National Peace Award winner Malala Yousafzai drew widespread condemnation from the government, political parties and civil society groups, terming it a bid to silent voice for peace and education.
Malala had won international recognition for highlighting Taliban atrocities in Swat with a blog for the BBC three years ago, when the Islamist militants led by radical cleric Maulana Fazlullah burned girls’ schools and terrorised the valley.
Her struggle resonated with tens of thousands of girls who were being denied an education by Islamist militants across northwest Pakistan, where the government has been fighting local Taliban since 2007.
She received the first-ever national peace award from the Pakistani government last year, and was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize by advocacy group KidsRights Foundation in 2011.
Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf telephoned Malala’s father to condemn the attack and promise that the government would pay for all medical treatment.
President Asif Ali Zardari said the shooting would not shake Pakistan’s resolve to fight Islamist militants or the government’s determination to support women’s education.
The United States denounced the “barbaric” and “cowardly” attack.
Amnesty International condemned the “shocking act of violence” against a girl bravely fighting for an education, saying that female activists in northwest Pakistan “live under constant threats from the Taliban and other militant groups”.
Malala was 11 when she wrote the blog on the BBC Urdu website, which at the time was anonymous. She also featured in two New York Times documentaries.
English-language Pakistani newspapers also reacted with horror to the shooting, which it said once again spotlighted the Islamist militancy scourge in Pakistan.
“Malala Yousafzai is in a critical condition today and so is Pakistan. We are infected with the cancer of extremism and unless it is cut out we will slide ever further into the bestiality that this latest atrocity exemplifies,”wrote The News.
Despite sporadic outbreaks of violence, the government is trying to encourage tourists to return to Swat, which had been popular with holiday makers for its stunning mountains, balmy summer weather and winter skiing.
On Wednesday, state carrier took journalists on a test flight to Saidu Sharif, Mingora’s twin town, for the first time since flights were suspended due to the insurgency.