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Pakistani clerics add voices to chorus of condemnation against girl’s attackers

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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Islamic clerics across Pakistan appeared to overwhelmingly join in the global condemnation of the Taliban’s shooting of a 14-year-old education activist as mosque-goers devoted their Friday prayers to the grievously wounded girl.

Friday afternoon services often serve as a barometer of public sentiment in Pakistan and elsewhere in the Muslim world, and with seemingly rare exceptions, many prayer leaders included mention of Malala Yousafzai, who survived an assassination attempt this week in the northwestern Swat Valley.

“Malala is a brave child who raised her voice for the education of girls and women in Swat, and she was cruelly punished for that. And we condemn it,” one Islamabad cleric, Maulana Ishaq, told his congregation in representative remarks.

What remains uncertain is whether the collective revulsion of religious leaders, politicians and the military toward the Pakistani Taliban, which carried out the attack, will reduce Pakistan’s embrace of extremism in other ways.

The focus on Yousafzai presents a rare opportunity, many Pakistani observers said, to promote tolerance of religious minorities, reduce discriminatory treatment of women and question the military’s protection of other militant Islamist groups.

“For once, and at long last, Pakistanis appear to have woken up to the consequences of the extremism that has been allowed to take root in our country,” the liberal Dawn newspaper said in an editorial Friday. “Which makes it all the more important to make the most of this moment of national consensus.”

In a sign of that unity, in the eastern city of Lahore, a council of Sunni Muslim scholars issued a fatwa signed by 50 clerics saying the justifications cited by Yousafzai’s attackers were “deviant” and had no basis in Islamic teachings. Many other Muslim groups have condemned the Taliban as barbaric.

But overall Talibanization of society is common in the western regions of Pakistan, particularly in the tribal belt and the adjoining Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. In Peshawar, the provincial capital, some clerics in their sermons did not mention the girl now frequently referred to as “the daughter of the nation.”

The head of a politically influential conservative party in the province’s south, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, condemned on Friday what he called the “brutal act.” But he is among the clerics who blame drone strikes and the Pakistani government’s counter­terrorism alliance with the United States for creating the Taliban insurgency.

They suggested that the two states are complicit in the shooting.

“Malala was attacked due to the wrong policies of the government,” Rehman said in an opinion echoed by some prayer leaders, including in Islamabad. “Those who are calling for condemnation are themselves the killers. Can they stop the bombing of innocent children, women and mosques?”

Another influential pro-Taliban leader, Maulana Samiul Haq, who runs a religious school outside Peshawar, has been conspicuously silent on Tuesday’s shooting. His spokesman would not comment Friday when asked whether Haq condemns the attack.

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government directed special prayers for Yousafzai in public and private schools at noon Friday and a moment of silence.

“We pray to Allah to shower blessings on her and save her life,” said Zabeel Ahmad, 12, a student in Peshawar. “We are proud of her.”

Yousafzai remains unconscious and on a ventilator after being transferred from a Peshawar military hospital to one in Rawalpindi, where the military’s public relations chief, Maj. Gen. Asim Saleem Bajwa, said doctors had upgraded her condition to satisfactory.

“Her blood pressure is normal. Her heartbeat is normal,” he said, but he cautioned that she was not out of danger. “The next 36 to 48 hours are critical.”

In Swat, police said they apprehended three men and a woman allegedly involved in the attack and expected to soon arrest the gunman.

The Associated Press, meanwhile, quoted a Taliban spokesman as saying that the Swat Valley wing of the insurgent group decided two months ago to kill Yousafzai, issued three warnings to her family — including one last week — and trained sharpshooters to carry out the attack.

Haq Nawaz Khan in Peshawar and Shaiq Hussain contributed to this report.

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