Today, the army promotes Swat as a tourist destination — it sponsored a festival there in July, trying to restore its reputation as the Switzerland of Pakistan. Residents say militants rarely strike, but Tuesday’s daylight attack demonstrated the Taliban’s continued ability to infiltrate the area, which adjoins Pakistan’s insurgency-plagued tribal belt.
Two months ago, Taliban gunmen shot and seriously injured the president of Swat’s hotel association in Mingora and vowed further attacks on those it considers pro-government.
Many Pakistanis view Yousafzai, who also promoted literacy and peace, as a symbol of hope in a country long beset by violence and despair. In 2011, the Pakistani government awarded her a national peace prize and 1 million rupees ($10,500).
She also was a finalist last year for the International Children’s Peace Prize, awarded by a Dutch organization that lauded her bravery in standing up for girls’ education rights amid rising fundamentalism when few others in Pakistan would do so.
Yousafzai was flown by helicopter to a military hospital in Peshawar, where doctors on Wednesday said they removed a bullet lodged near her spine. The girl’s condition was improving, but officials said she had not yet regained consciousness. President Asif Ali Zardari directed that Yousafzai be sent abroad for further medical care if needed; the Interior Ministry arranged documents for her to enter Britain or the United Arab Emirates.
While school children throughout the nation held prayer vigils for Yousafza, and many Pakistanis and politicans expressed revulsion over the shooting, major religious parties and mosque leaders were largely silent. Clerics frequently do not rebuke suicide bombings or sectarian attacks for fear of alienating their increasingly conservative congregants or provoking the Taliban.
On Wednesday morning, Pakistan’s top military official, Chief of Army Staff Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani,, became was the first national leader to visit the victim. He called the shooting “inhuman” and a “heinous act of terrorism,” the military’s information office said.
Kayani, arguably Pakistan’s most powerful man, quoted the words of the Prophet Muhammad: “The one who is not kind to children, is not amongst us,” the statement said.
The army has lost thousands of soliders and officers in its war with the Pakistani Taliban, which has stepped up its attacks and now frequently beheads captured troops.