Commentary: “Without education, what is the meaning of Pakistan?”

Commentary: “Without education, what is the meaning of Pakistan?”

by Robina Niaz

OCTOBER 11, 2012

On this UN-declared International Day of the Girl, it breaks my heart to think that a 14-year old brave, beautiful Pakistani girl, Malala Yousufzai, is lying in a hospital fighting for her life.

My heart goes out to Malala and her family, and I am praying that she recovers completely and lives a healthy life that allows her to fulfill all her dreams.

Malala popularized a slogan that, translated into English, means “Without education, what is the meaning of Pakistan?” This young girl who has inspired thousands of people in her own country and around the world is also fortunate to have a father who has encouraged her and believes in his daughter’s dreams. As a women’s rights activist I have always known that if a father believes in his daughter, she can pull stars out of the sky!

She was attacked because she is a fierce advocate for girls’ rights to education and because she spoke out against the Taliban and their need to control what girls and women do with their lives. Ironically, the Taliban attacked her in the name of Islam; the religion itself encourages education and enlightenment and does not discriminate between women and men.

Malala will, I believe, speak out again when she recovers.  But I also worry for her and for the other girls: the Taliban have said they’re not done yet. They may come back and they may target Malala’s father.

It saddens me deeply that this happened in Swat. a region in Northern Pakistan that, until a decade ago, was known to be the most peaceful and serene part of the country with the best that nature and humanity had to offer. People from all over Pakistan and the world visited this beautiful valley just to experience the beauty and peace. So how did it come to this?

I remember three weeks after the attacks of 9/11, I was speaking with my 18-year old nephew, then a college student. I was anxious and dismayed at President Bush’s threats to bomb Afghanistan and smoke the Taliban out, and knew that the effects of the threatened war on terror would be far-reaching. I remember my nephew’s response vividly: he said, “They’re not going to be able to bomb and get rid of them, they’ll kill one and thousands will mushroom all over the world!”

It didn’t take me too long to realize how right he was, but I also wondered why a teenager could figure out what all the experts in the various governments involved could not. The sad truth is that wars do not resolve anything; they just create more wars. Violence begets violence, and women and girls pay the price as they’ve always done. Malala and a few others have made the headlines. Most don’t.

The reaction in Pakistan has been swift and is one of anger and rage at the Pakistani government, for not doing enough to rein in the Taliban and stop such atrocities. There’s also anger at the U.S. for its war on terror that has radicalized angry young men and cost Pakistan dearly. Over 35,000 Pakistanis have lost their lives during the last 11 years to suicide bombings, terrorist, and drone attacks.

Today’s headlines read: “Twin strikes, along the Orakzai-Waziristan border, targeted the compound of Maulana Shakirullah of the Hafiz Gul Bahadur group of TTP.” I feel it is hypocritical of the US to speak about peace when it has waged so many wars itself; the US lost its credibility a long time ago and has no moral authority left. Just like the people in Japan, Vietnam, and other countries, the people of Pakistan and Afghanistan will live with the consequences of this war for a very long time.

Robina Niaz is a social worker and activist who is the founder and executive director of Turning Point for Women and Families, the first non-profit organization in New York City to address domestic violence in the Muslim community.