The army routed the extremists led by Maulana Fazlullah, known as Mullah Radio for his sermons broadcast on pirated FM signals, and they relocated to eastern Afghanistan. The Pakistani military estimates that Fazlullah has 1,000 men under arms.
They and other militants regularly attack Pakistani security posts along the Afghan border, capturing soldiers and beheading them, but the army says the insurgents have been beaten back and are contained in a relatively small area.
Out of frustration, extremists resort to “sneak attacks” like the one on Yousafzai, a senior military officer told journalists in a briefing. “It is a one-off incident. There is no question and no room for a resurgence.”
Residents generally agree. “I think terrorism will never come back in Swat as in past years,” said Ahmed Shah, a member of the Swat peace jirga, a council of elders. “But we worry that the target killings will continue in the future.”
Riaz Ahmed said he also considers Swat to be much safer now — even though his daughter Kainat was wounded when the pistol-wielding assailant fired inside the van full of students, about 16 of them, after classes let out.
“We are determined that we will send her back to school — and to the same school,” Ahmed said in the small courtyard outside his home in Mingora’s winding alleys.
Kainat was inside, propped up in bed under a fuzzy blanket as she recovers from injuries to her thumb and arm. She looked overwhelmed by the knot of reporters and TV cameramen jostling and pushing in with their lenses.
Was she afraid of returning to school?
“I was scared at first, but not anymore,” the 16-year-old answered.
A few moments later, she said in a quiet voice, “I can’t sleep out of fear.”
In early 2009, Yousafzai published a pseudonymous chronicle of life under the Taliban on a BBC blog. She later won prizes and international acclaim for fearlessly speaking out for girls’ education in defiance of Taliban threats.
Photos of her meetings with Pakistani and foreign dignitaries line the walls at the private Khushal school, run by her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai. Many of Malala Yousafzai’s peers, like her, are well versed in English. They come from families of educators and military officers.
On Monday, chemistry rules were on the lesson plan until the journalists barged in. “The oxidation number of all elements in the free-state is zero,” said the text on the instructor’s podium.
Like 14-year-old girls everywhere, the students are prone to chattering, giggling and wearing chipped nail polish. But they sense no limits, looking toward careers in medicine, science and the military.
“She just wanted the pen to be in her hand,” Principal Mariam Khalique said. “She wanted to study. She wanted other girls to study.”
Khalique, 28, said the school refused to close despite repeated demands by the Taliban. It finally ended classes the day before the army launched its Swat offensive.
Khalique nominated Yousafzai for an international children’s peace prize for which the teen became a finalist.
Despite the growing attention on Yousafzai, the school did not add security staff. “Ziauddin would say it’s in the hands of God,” the principal said, referring to the girl’s father, who founded the school. “I believe that, too.”
She was home tending to her toddler son when the frantic call came in about noon that her star pupil and two classmates had been shot.
Within hours, Khalique was on a military helicopter with Yousafzai; she also comforted her in the intensive care unit.
At first, authorities said a bullet had just grazed the girl. “It was to console us,” Khalique said. But then she learned that the bullet had crashed through Yousafzai’s skull and into her neck and come to rest near her spinal cord.
“She kept touching her forehead and her shoulder,” Khalique recalled. “Her throat was swollen, so she couldn’t talk.
“I knew she was feeling pain. She was pressing on my fingers, hard, because she could not scream.”
Soon tears came to Khalique’s brown eyes, the only part of her face not veiled in white.
“I can’t come out of this trauma,” she said. “I knew her as a baby.”
She spoke of her own preschool daughter. “I think Hana will also be like Malala,” Khalique said.
Later, amid the media scrum in the hallway, the principal introduced her child, who looked about 3 or 4. Hana warily extended her tiny hand to a stranger.
Khalique paused to take a call. Hana backed up against her mother’s long, shielding pink dress, searching for a place to feel safe.