Is This Man To Blame for the Attack on Pakistani Schoolgirl?

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As the world closely watches the fate of Malala Yousafzai, the 14-year-old Pakistani schoolgirl fighting for her life after being gunned down by the Taliban last week, the pressure is on Pakistan to bring her attackers to justice.

Yesterday, the country’s interior minister blamed radical Pakistani Taliban cleric Maulanah Fazlullah, known as the “Radio Mullah,” for hatching the plot that critically injured Yousafzai and also hit two others in the school van with her. According to Reuters, Fazlullah dispatched two men from his “special hit squad” to target the young education activist who emerged as a fierce voice against the Pakistani Taliban during its assault in northern Pakistan’s Swat Valley in 2009.

In 2007, FRONTLINE/World correspondent David Montero traveled to Swat to investigate the media-shy cleric who had gained fame for his daily FM radio sermons, an excerpt of which is embedded below. Back then, Fazlullah was the leader of the Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM), a fundamentalist group allied with the Pakistani Taliban that sought to implement Sharia law in the country. (Warning: This video contains graphic footage.)

TNSM gained local support by exploiting grievances with the local justice system, pledging to bring more speedy justice through Sharia law.

But Fazlullah and his forces — made up of foreign fighters and local insurgents — lost support after a violent campaign in the valley in which they beheaded those they deemed un-Islamic, bombed girls’ schools and carried out suicide attacks.  In his radio sermons, Fazlullah denounced “immoral” activities like music and dancing, and announced the names of enemies to target.

As the violence escalated in Swat, the Pakistani public’s support for a military operation grew, and the army launched a campaign in 2009 that drove the TNSM and Pakistani Taliban from the area.

Today, the Pakistani Army claims that Fazlullah and his supporters have regrouped in Afghanistan’s Kunar province — with the support of local authorities — and have been launching a series of cross-border raids and attacks on the Pakistani military. Taliban expert Ahmed Rashid writes that Afghan officials have “quietly admitted” to him that “Fazlullah’s actions are being backed by the Afghan intelligence services.”

“Let the world not forget we are fighting a war on our porous border,” Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik emphasized yesterday in an interview about the attack on Yousafzai. He added that Pakistan had identified one of the men involved in the attack, that “a few of his associates” had been arrested and that a $1 million bounty had been placed on the spokesperson of the Pakistani Taliban who took credit for the attack on Yousafzai. The spokesperson, Ehsanullah Ehsan, defended the attack last week, saying,  “She was pro-West, she was speaking against the Taliban and she was calling President Obama her idol.”

Yousafzai, who had been threatened by the Taliban before, understood the risks of her activism. “I am always ready for any situation,” she said last year in response to whether she had ever considered how she might react if the Taliban confronted her. “Even if they try to kill me, God forbid, I will tell them what they are trying to do is wrong… [I will tell them] education is our basic right.”

Yousafzai is currently being treated at a specialized hospital in Britain, where she arrived yesterday.

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