Malala- A voice for freedom

Malala- a voice of freedom A young, frail, 11-year-old girl walked towards me making her way up the incline on the road, wearing a loose tunic and pants, she had a veil loosely covering her hair. I had became interested in speaking with her when I heard that a girl from the Swat valley, a Pashtun from the tribe of Youssaf Zai, had a reputation of standing up against the Taliban, for the freedom for girls to get education and against the regressive policies of the Taliban. The only local girl in a population of 3 million who was willing to stick her neck out. A voice to be reckoned with Malala was a breath of fresh air. While her demeanor was that of a young child, tiny in height and petite in structure but had a mind and speech clearer than that of a well honed politician. She thought clearly and spoke eloquently in English, a language that was not her mother tongue. I was surprised to hear her speak in English. In a place where she could not really practice her spoken English, she had picked up listening to broadcasts of PBS, BBC and CBC. Her diction was clear, her ideas of governance, freedom and democracy were inspite of bringing about change but would still fit in with her culture. She was against corruption and male supremacy. She talked about how under the Taliban rule they continued to go to school in hiding. They would wear just ordinary clothes, as wearing school uniforms would be a giveaway. They would hide their books under their shawls. Because if the Taliban caught them, she would be beheaded and hung upside down at the town square. This is what the Taliban did to spread fear in the people who dared to defy them. Her Family Behind her success was a proud father who would let her daughter shake hands with men as equals, let her do a television interview on her own with a crew. In places like Swat it is almost impossible to interact with women. Men other than their husband and brothers are considered outsiders and any interaction with outside men is met with ridicule. But her father did not want to confine his daughter in the regressive ideology of the Taliban. Ziauudin is also the principal of the local school and recognizes what good education and exposure means for the success of students. Leadership potential I met her for the first time in November 2009 when the Taliban had just been flushed out. I made a trip to still a very dangerous territory along with my cameraman and sound recordist to understand what had unfolded in the valley of Swat, once a haven for terrorism. Every road was barricaded with sandbags and Pakistani troops had their guns trained at oncoming traffic. This fear had been instilled in them by Maulana Fazlullah or better known as Radio Mullah who had taken over the valley of Swat with help from a multinational force of Islamic fighters and broadcasting throught FM the ideology of true Islam. They came to power in Swat promising the people a true Sharia law, which has as its basis a more equitable society but when they gained power, they first went after shutting down all education for women. They bombed the main girls high school. The Pakistani army had abandoned the area. This is when the terrorist group decided that they were going to make the next big move and try and take over the Capital of Pakistan, Islamabad. This was indeed a foolish idea and met with a serious answer from the Pakistan Army. An evacuation of civilians was ordered and 3 million Swat residents fled the region including Malala and her parents, shutting down her father's school for months. In heavy fighting hundreds of soldiers and Taliban were killed. Hundreds of Taliban were also captured and the rest fled. Radio Mullah is still missing and they pledged to come back to fight back. Two years later still the same voice I decided to go back to Swat in 2011, to see what had happened to Malala. I knew that a girl with those leadership qualities was somebody that we needed to watch. I had been in touch with her father over email and knew that she was working hard in school and doing well. I arranged to meet her at a location away from the glare of the rest of the media who were traveling with us. I did a sit down interview with Malala. She talked about India- Pakistan peace and how that was something she would hope for in the future. She was just 13. Chatting about her plans in life, she mentioned that she was interested in becoming a doctor and then wanted to get into active politics to lead her people. But she was far from that, she was living her life like an ordinary girl, going to school with her friends. Last year I was also in touch with her as she was nominated for an international peace prize. Her parents were proud of her and she was on a path to international fame. A voice silenced In Swat being a girl with any opinion, does not go down too well in the tribal setup. Most people are uneducated and above that if you are Radio Mullah, the head of a terrorist group and a 14 year old girl is challenging you, then you are going to shut her up. As your reputation of being the local goon is no longer going to create fear in the people you are expecting to terrorize. I am told by my sources that this strike was planned by the Radio Mullah himself. But there is no way for me to get double confirmation on this, so I would not point my finger towards Fazlullah. But just a jealous, in-human person would have shot a 14 year old. Pakistan needs more Malala's This attack on Malala is a reminder that many elements of the terrorist organization are still floating around. We need to go after them in hot pursuit, wherever they are. We only have one enemy and that is these terrorists, who want to make us believe in their ideology and if we don't agree are ready to kill us. It is a reminder to the Pakistani's that they will have to continue to fight for many more decades to try and rid Pakistan of the terrorists. But it won't be easy.     

I met Malala first when she was 11 years old. The Taliban had just been flushed out and she wanted to speak out. One of the very few there who spoke in such good English. We waited for hours before we could meet her. There was still risk of being attacked in Swat as remnants of the Taliban were still floating around.


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