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Pakistanis Protest in Support of Yousafzai, Defiance of Taliban Attack

October 10, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
While some Pakistanis protested and military leaders condemned the attack on the teenage activist, many conservative religious figures were conspicuously silent. Judy Woodruff talks to NewsHour special correspondent Saima Mohsin from Islamabad about the way average citizens have stood up in anger against the extremist actions.
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TRANSCRIPT

JUDY WOODRUFF: For more on all of this we turn to NewsHour special correspondent Saima Mohsin. I spoke to her a short while ago from Islamabad, Pakistan.

Saima Mohsin, welcome.

First of all, we know the Taliban are claiming responsibility. What more do we know about that?

SAIMA MOHSIN: Yes, the Taliban has released a statement accepting responsibility and saying that this is because they believe that Malala Yousufzai, this 14-year-old girl from the SwatValley, stands for a secular state. Because she stood up and spoke up against the Taliban and fought for young girls’ rights, girls like herself to go to school.

But, interestingly, they’re arguing that this isn’t because she’s fighting for the right to education. It’s because she stands for a secular society and because she’s bringing in Western ideals into Pakistan.

And, tonight, they have insisted that should she survive this attack, they will attack her again, and this time they say they will ensure they kill her.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Why do you think they believe that a 14-year-old girl is a threat?

SAIMA MOHSIN: Well, this is something that everyone across Pakistan has condemned, and, indeed, said that, how could a teenager be a threat to the Taliban?

Certainly, this shows how callous and cruel they are, which is what a lot of political leaders are saying today, and the fact that they will leave no stone unturned to get their message out, even if that means attacking a young girl.

Malala Yousufzai was a very important figure in the battle against the Taliban in the SwatValley and for the rest of Pakistan.

She’s a revered and respected teenager, and it was this teenage voice that struck so many people across the country when she started writing a blog and talking about how she longed for an education.

And it didn’t matter that she faced the potential of being killed by the Taliban, who had taken over the SwatValley and her home and neighborhood. She would — carried on going to school.

In fact, I interviewed her father back in 2008, who spoke to me and insisted that he, as a teacher, would continue to go to school, continue to teach, and he wouldn’t stop his daughter from going out to defy the Taliban and attend school.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, how widely is she supported, Saima? Because I also read today that religious parties and mosques were largely silent about this and not condemning the attack.

SAIMA MOHSIN: Yes. As ever, the extreme right and perhaps some right-wing religious leaders will be reluctant to come out and condemn the attack because the Taliban used the name of religion.

But we have seen a reasonable amount of change this time around. Because Malala is a young girl, because she is a teenager and because she was a symbol of the battle against the Taliban, political leaders have come out, they have spoken out against this with unequivocal condemnation this time.

Remember that the terrorists and these right-wing groups are a very small majority of the 180 million people living here in Pakistan.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We also know that, today, Pakistan’s top military official, the chief of army staff, General Kayani, went to visit her in the hospital. How significant is that?

SAIMA MOHSIN: Well, that’s significant on a number of levels, because, of course, the military has not been able to leave the SwatValley. They still have a considerable presence alongside the civilian administration and the police there to keep it protected, to ensure that the Taliban do not return to that area.

And, of course, Malala’s is in a civil military hospital where she’s being cared for and operated on last night. General Kayani’s statement in particular is of interest, because of what I mentioned, the unequivocal condemnation.

And he is, arguably, one of the most powerful men in this country. And, today, part of his statement said, “The terrorists have shown how low they can fall in their cruel ambition to impose their twisted ideology.”

Now, that is crucial because, previously, we haven’t heard about how twisted ideology, how the Taliban are using religion in Pakistan to try and gain favor of the local people or to fight this jihad, as they call it. And for the military leadership to condemn the Taliban will send out a powerful message to the people of Pakistan.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Saima, finally, in your own reporting, whom do you want to talk to, to get a better sense of just how supportive the country is behind her and behind what she’s doing?

SAIMA MOHSIN: Well, today, for the first time after many, many years, we have seen people take to the streets. And it’s the real average man of Pakistan that needs to — as analysts say, needs come out and stand up against the Taliban, because this is what is being dubbed the silent majority of Pakistan vs. a very vocal minority, which is the terrorist groups.

So people are wanting to see that the people of Pakistan themselves are going to take to the streets to stand up and condemn the Taliban and say that they do not represent us. And for the first time today, we have seen those protests and demonstrations, reasonably small, but in terms of numbers, a couple of hundred in major cities coming out and saying that, we do not stand for and the attack on Malala is not acceptable to the rest of Pakistan.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Saima Mohsin in Islamabad, Pakistan, thank you very much for talking with us.