The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Taliban commander to Malala Yousafzai: ‘When you were attacked it was shocking to me’

Malala Yousafzai and United Nations Secretary-Genral Ban Ki-moon at the July 12 ‘Malala Day’ Youth Assembly. (Mary Altaffer/AP)

Nine months after Taliban gunmen shot Pakistani youth activist Malala Yousafzai as she rode a bus home from school, a senior Taliban commander has allegedly written a letter to the 16-year-old expressing “shock” over the attack.

The letter, addressed from Pakistani Taliban commander Adnan Rasheed and surfaced by the U.K.'s Channel 4 News, originally appeared Tuesday in an Urdu-language jihadist forum, according to Adam Rasiman, an analyst for the the SITE Monitoring Service, which tracks jihadist activities online. While the letter’s authenticity can’t be conclusively proven, Rasiman says it “has been accepted as authentic” within the forum and aligns with messages to Malala from other jihadi figures.

The Associated Press has since spoken to Rasheed and another Taliban commander, both of whom confirmed that the letter is real. It expresses a common Taliban position on one of the group’s most famous critics.

Like pro-Taliban writers Abu Dher Azzam and Muhammad Qasim, Rasheed argues that Malala was attacked not for going to school – something the Taliban has long prevented girls from doing – but for speaking out against the Taliban. The Taliban “are not against the education of any men or women or girl,” he writes. (Debatable, since the Taliban in Afghanistan have doggedly rooted out and shut down girls' schools.) But:

[The] Taliban believe that you were intentionally writing against them and running a smearing campaign to malign their efforts to establish Islamic system in swat and your writings were provocative.
You have said in your speech yesterday that pen is mightier than sword, so they attacked you for your sword not for your books or school.

The letter also accuses Malala and the Pakistani education system of complicity with the West, charging that they  “want to make all human beings English.” It quotes at length from Sir T. B. Macaulay, the 19th-century British politician who advocated British-style education in India and lobbied to make English the country’s official language.

This was and is the plan and mission of this so called education system for which you are ready to die, for which [the United Nations] takes you to their office. … You say a teacher, a pen and a book can change the world, yes I agree with, but which teacher which pen and which book?

Still, the letter does contain a few glimpses of humanity, even remorse. Rasheed writes, for instance, that he first wanted to reach out to Malala and warn her of possible recriminations when he was in prison and heard her on the radio. “My all emotions were brotherly,” he writes. He also seems to hint that may believe that the “shocking” attack was wrong, though the letter never actually goes that far.

The letter closes with the argument that Malala would not have become such a prominent figure if she had been injured in a U.S. drone strike, and invites her -- incredibly -- to return to Swat and “use your pen for Islam.”

That seems unlikely, considering that, in the aftermath of the attack in October, a spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban promised they would try to kill Malala again if she survived.

You can read the letter in full below.

Letter From Taliban Commander Adnan Rasheed to Malala Yousafzai