Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Malala of Swat – Pride of Pashtuns and Pakistan

By Shah Zalmay Khan

Malala – this name has been a symbol of resistance, pride & honour for Pashtuns ever since Maiwand, 133 years ago. So Maiwand’s Malala came to my mind when I learnt that the BBC-diary-girl Gul Makai’s real name was Malala (the diary I heard in early 2009 on BBC Urdu radio). Then I saw her on TV, talking about how & why she wrote the diary and how she felt about education; her own as well as that of other kids.
Malalai of Maiwand

Fast forward to October 2012, on the 9th came a shocker – Malala was shot by the Taliban. My sister, herself a teacher in a FATA school, would inform me amidst sobs: “Malalai has been killed” (she calls her Malalai instead of Malala). However, soon we knew she (like Maiwand’s Malala) won’t quit like this – she fought death like a warrior. Overwhelmed by shock of the brutal attack, fear of losing her, hope of her recovery & anguish at own haplessness; it was one of the gloomiest evenings in my life. Malala’s innocent face, graceful demeanour & youthful smile; all made rounds in my mind for days. I keenly followed the updates as she was shifted to UK while still battling for her life. Next I saw glimpses of her, upon recovery from her injuries after a long & painful treatment.

Then I saw her addressing the UN General Assembly on ‘Malala Day’. Millions around the world watched as the proud Pashtun daughter of Pakistan spoke astutely about her ideals; humanity, peace and education. She conveyed this powerful message in beautiful words to the world:
"One child, one teacher, one book, and one pen can change the world".

Kids & youngsters around the world expressed solidarity with her by holding ‘I Am Malala’ placards & posters. Latest I saw her speak to the BBC after launch of her book ‘I Am Malala’ (co-authored with Christina Lamb) and read her interview with Kamila Shamsie in ‘The Guardian’ (showing the other side of Malala).
It has been almost three years since I came to know Malala first (as Malala – not Gul Makai) and she has fascinated me more each time I see, hear or read her. However, it saddens me greatly that she lost her childhood & may be her own identity to this episode, like she said in an interview:
“In Swat, I studied in the same school for 10 years and there I was just considered to be Malala. Here I'm famous, here people think of me as the girl who was shot by the Taliban. The real Malala is gone somewhere, and I can't find her”.

However, what fascinates me is that despite her extremely unusual life experiences, she still has this natural innocence of a kid. Even when talking on such serious topics as peace, war & revenge, she does exhibit her child-like innocence. For example on an interview when she was asked if she hated those who shot her (the Taliban militants) she responded:
“I only get angry at my father & brothers (especially younger brother Khushal). I can't be good to him (Khushal), it's impossible. We can't ever be friends".

This typical child-like side of ‘The Malala’, more than anything, keeps our faith in the inherent goodness of human race intact. This faith is further reinforced by her mature thought process when it comes to the issues of killings or war. Just as when asked about the Talib who shot her, she commented:

“It's hard to kill. Maybe that's why his hand was shaking”.
Or when asked about war & the solution to militancy problem, she is very clear in her belief & astute in her choice of words:
“The best way to solve problems and to fight against war is through dialogue”.

Today, as I write these lines, the 1st anniversary of attack on Malala is upon us. The occasion is in full media gaze also because she is being tipped as a strong contender for the Nobel Peace Prize, to be announced on Oct 11th. What I personally feel though is that Malala has grown bigger than awards – she is now a symbol, an icon, herself. So a Nobel for Malala won’t add more to her stature rather association with Malala will give credence to the award itself (especially as it passes through a credibility crisis since the ‘Obama-Nobel’ joke).

The bottom-line:
Nobel or no Nobel – for me, as a Pashtun, Swat’s Malala is a reincarnation of Maiwand’s Malala. We will forever take pride in both Malalas – as symbols of every Pashtun mother, sister and daughter.
And for all of us Pakistanis, Malala remains our brave daughter who serves as a beacon of hope & courage for our 51% population i.e. the 90 million women.
The writer is a tribesman from Bajaur Agency (FATA)  and tweets at @PTI_FATA .
(No official association with PTI). His blog can be found here
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