The Pakistani government has offered a Rs10 million ($105,000) bounty for the capture of the Pakistani Taliban assailants who shot Malala Yousafzai, a teenage rights and education activist in the northwestern Swat Valley, officials say.
Yousafzai, a 14-year-old schoolgirl, was shot in the head and neck on Tuesday, and has since undergone surgery to remove a bullet lodged in her skull.
She was attacked on her way home from school in Mingora, the main town of Swat Valley, and is being treated at Peshawar’s Combined Military Hospital.
Mian Iftikhar Hussain, information minister of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, told Al Jazeera on Wednesday that Yousafzai had been sedated following her surgery, and that doctors would reasses her condition in 48 hours.
He said that she was in stable condition, but was not out of danger.
“The government has decided to award Rs10 million rupees to whoever helps us identify the attackers and their names will be kept secret,” he said.
Prayers are being offered across the country for Yousafzai’s recovery.
Pakistan’s national airline has placed an air ambulance on standby to take Yousafzai abroad for treatment if needed, government sources said, but medics are wary of lengthy travel times given her unstable condition, while officials have rushed to issue her a passport.
Prayers for recovery
Students at a demonstration in support of the rights activist said that Yousafzai “is like our sister”.
“We pray for her earliest recovery and well-being,” said 14-year-old Shamaila. “We also pray that other students can benefit from Malala’s enlightening views.”
Hussain, the information minister, told Al Jazeera that “every child in [Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa] is under threat”, but the provincial government “doesn’t have the resources” to provide them all with security.
“Schools can be provided security and we’re looking into it. We’re all on target, we are and we will have to face these threats bravely. We’ll definitely provide security to Malala and their family as they are still onthe target list,” he said.
Yousafzai was with her classmates, taking a school van home following an examination at the Khushal public school, when unidentified men stopped the vehicle, asking if it was the transport from that school.
When told that it was, one man asked: “Where is Malala?”
As she was identified, the assailant reportedly drew a pistol and shot Yousafzai in the head and the neck. Another girl on the bus was also wounded.
“The man started firing a handgun [...] then I don’t know what happened to me and found myself in hospital,” said Shazia Ramazan, a friend of Yousafzai who was shot in the hand.
Doctors at the Saidu Sharif Medical Complex in Mingora said the bullet penetrated Yousafzai’s skull but missed her brain, leaving her out of immediate danger.
Ahmed Shah Yousafzai, Malala’s uncle, told Al Jazeera on Tuesday there was “strict security inside and outside the hospital”, after the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), also known as the Pakistani Taliban, claimed responsibility for the attack.
Ehsanullah Ehsan, a Pakistani Taliban spokesman, said the group had repeatedly warned Yousafzai to stop speaking out against them.
“She is a Western-minded girl. She always speaks against us,” he said by telephone from an undisclosed location.
“We will target anyone who speaks against the Taliban.
“We warned her several times to stop speaking against the Taliban and to stop supporting Western non-governmental organisations, and to come to the path of Islam.”
The Taliban said it was not only “allowed” to target young girls, but it was “obligatory” when such a person “leads a campaign against Islam and sharia”.
The spokesman also referred to the Quranic story of Hazrat Khizar, who killed a young child, justifying it to Prophet Musa (Moses in other religions), by saying the boy would overburden his pious parents with his disobedience, and that God would “replace” the boy with a more obedient son.
Ehsan said that the Pakistani Taliban had not banned education for girls, “instead, our crime is that we tried to bring the education system for both boy and girls under Islamic law.
“We are deadly against co-education and secular education systems, and Sharia orders us to be against it”.
The group also criticised media coverage of the shooting, saying: “After this incident, [the] media poured out all of its smelly propaganda against Taliban mujahideen with their poisonous tongues.
“ [...] will the blind media pay any attention to the hundreds of respectful sisters whom are in the secret detention centres of ISI [Pakistan's spy agency] and suffering by their captivity?
“Would you like to put an eye on more than 3,000 young men killed in secret detention centres, whose bodies are found in different areas of Swat, claimed to be killed in encounters and died by cardiac arrest?”
President Asif Ali Zardari strongly condemned the attack, but said it would not shake Pakistan’s resolve to battle fighters or the government’s determination to support women’s education. Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, prime minister, called Yousafzai “a daughter of Pakistan”.
Private schools in the Swat Valley shut their doors on Wednesday, in protest at the attack, though government schools are open as per their normal routine.
Further demonstrations against the Taliban were also expected in the Swat district later on Wednesday.
Victoria Nuland, the US state department spokeswoman, said: “Directing violence at children is barbaric. It’s cowardly. And our hearts go out to her and the others who were wounded, as well as their families.”
The local chapter of the TTP, led by Maulana Fazlullah, controlled much of Swat from 2007 to 2009, but were driven out by an army offensive in July 2009.
Local reports indicate, however, that the group was only driven into the surrounding areas, rather than being wiped out, and it has since staged a resurgence.
Tuesday’s shooting in broad daylight in Mingora raises serious questions about security more than three years after the army claimed to have crushed the local Taliban.
Yousafzai rose to international prominence as an 11-year-old in 2009, writing an anonymised diary for BBC Urdu about life under the Taliban, before featuring in two documentaries made by New York Times journalists.
She also featured in an Al Jazeera documentary.
She had famously stood against the TTP’s attempts to stop girls from going to school, and was awarded the National Peace Award for Youth.
The international children’s advocacy group KidsRights Foundation nominated her for the International Children’s Peace Prize, making her the first Pakistani girl put forward for the award.
Her struggle resonated with tens of thousands of girls who were being denied an education by the Taliban and other armed groups across northwest Pakistan, where the government has been fighting such groups since 2007.