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Shooting Of Teenage Girl Stirs Debate In Pakistan


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep.

We're going to hear this morning from two of the world's trouble spots. One is Syria, where the effects of a civil war have spread to Syria's neighbors. The other is Pakistan, where much of the world has followed the story of a 15-old girl. Malala Yousafzai was shot by members of Pakistan's Taliban for saying girls like her should be allowed to go to school. She's now in a British hospital. She is expected to remain quite a while, which is just as well, since Taliban threaten to kill her if she survives.

NPR's Philip Reeves is covering this story from Islamabad. And Philip, could this case be so awful that it decisively turns Pakistan against extremists?

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: When the attack first happened, there really seemed to be a wave of revulsion and of anger right across the country. Killings happen here all the time, but this seemed to fall into a different category. It was so coldblooded and so carefully planned. And targeting a young girl - you know, most Pakistanis would regard that as totally indecent, including the Pashtuns, which Malala and the Taliban belong. So there was a lot of, you know, hopeful speculation that perhaps this would bring Pakistan together, that the sympathy for the Taliban that's out there on the landscape would be extinguished and maybe Pakistan could be in a position to drive out Islamist militancy, which is now deeply embedded in their society and a major threat to it. But you know, the chances of some sort of national consensus here, you know, never been all that great and they're shrinking fast. Politics are beginning to assert themselves. There are allegations circulating amongst the different political groups that those who are championing Malala's cause - including the government and the army - want to use her case as a pretext to launch a fresh military operation against the Taliban and other militants in North Waziristan in the tribal belt.

INSKEEP: Haven't there been a lot of protests against this shooting though?

REEVES: There have. But, you know, most of them were small. They were dwarfed, for example, by the violent protests that took place here in response to that recent movie that denigrated Islam. Remember, it takes a lot of courage to go on the streets these days in Pakistan and openly excoriate the Taliban.

INSKEEP: Mm-hmm.

REEVES: Malala paid the price for doing that.

INSKEEP: So if the protests against the shooting have not been that great, are there actually people in public trying to justify shooting a teenager in the head?

REEVES: What's happening, Steve, is that there's a riff opening up in the collective response to the Malala shooting. Let me quote the opening line of the lead editorial in Pakistan's Dawn newspaper this morning. Let's get one thing straight, the paper says, the attack on Malala is not comparable to drone strikes. Now, the reason the paper is saying this is because some Pakistanis - particularly from the Islamist parties, but also members of the public - are beginning to ask a question. And that question is: Why is everyone so outraged about Malala and so eager to help her when they've done nothing for the estimated hundreds of civilians, including children, killed by missiles fired by CIA drones into the tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan?

INSKEEP: Well, this is classic political rhetoric, is it not, basically changing the subject?

REEVES: It's changing the subject but it is touching on an issue that's a hugely emotive one here. And you know, I went up to the Quaid-i-Azam University here in Islamabad and this was a big topic amongst students. They're asking why isn't the same level of condemnation, the same attention, being paid to civilians killed by American drones.

INSKEEP: One of the students I spoke with is a guy called Noman Riyad. He told me that same question is now being asked by many people in the tribal areas themselves. He says he thinks that that's why in the tribal belt people will carry on supporting Islamist militancy, despite the attack on Malala, which he also, by the way, condemns.

NOMAN RIYAD: The tribal people will continue to give adherence to the mullahs because of the policies of Americans. They fail to understand the local dynamic. Again, the question arises - only a young girl, a young girl has been attacked, and you are giving so much coverage. And what about we people? We people are living in tribal area, we haven't been given so much coverage.

INSKEEP: So the shooting of this girl has been turned against the people who would condemn it?

REEVES: The shooting of this girl is still condemned by people who express opinions like the one you just heard, but they are saying that there is no moral difference between shooting Malala and the killing of civilians in drone strikes that are intended to target militants. And that moral debate is now underway big time in Pakistan.

INSKEEP: Phil, thanks very much.

REEVES: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Philip Reeves in Islamabad. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.