The story of Malala Yousafzai's courageous battle for girls' education in Pakistan -- a battle that resulted in an assassination attempt that almost took the teen activist's life -- captured the world's attention. The attempted assassination, in which Malala and two other girls were injured after members of the Taliban boarded a school bus, took place in 2012. The young woman, only 14 years old at the time, was targeted by the Taliban due to her efforts in spreading awareness of what she and other girls faced in her home in Pakistan's Swat Valley. It is only now that 10 individuals who were implicated in the attacks have been sentenced due to their complicity in the assassination attempt.
At surface value, it seems that Pakistan is finally making an effort to seek justice for Malala and other young women targeted in their attempts to promote education for girls in the country. However, the sentencing -- while a positive step forward -- still reveals several uncomfortable truths about Pakistan's willingness to protect the most vulnerable members of its communities.
On April 30th, after a little-publicized trial, ten terrorists were sentenced to life in prison in the assassination attempt against the young Nobel Peace Prize winner. It is as of yet unclear what role all 10 Taliban members played in the assassination attempt, or if any of the 10 men sentenced were among those who boarded Malala's bus in the attack.
Ataullah Khan, implicated as the man responsible for shooting Malala, was not among the 10 men sentenced. Mullah Fazlullah, the Taliban leader said to be responsible for ordering the assassination, has reportedly fled to Afghanistan. Of the 10 men arrested, none appear in initial reports regarding the attacks against Malala. The initial arrests in the case were made in September of 2014, and questions surrounding the case have swirled since that time.
While any justice is a step forward in this case, many questions have been raised due to the information -- or lack thereof -- surrounding the trial. The results of the trial were only revealed when court records were leaked to reporters in Pakistan, and no real information exists regarding what occurred with this trial. Until the announcement of their sentencing, local journalists were not aware that the trial was taking place. All officials related to the case have feigned ignorance or otherwise refused to give information regarding such as details as when the trial began.
It is unclear as to why why Pakistan officials would choose the route of secrecy in this case, with some speculation being raised as to whether the men sentenced in April are who authorities say they are.
Pakistan Continues to Resist Real Change
Many suspect that the arrests and the subsequent sentencing of these 10 individuals took place in order to appeal to Western forces calling for Pakistan to increase its efforts in the region. Unfortunately, it has been suggested that the majority of Pakistan's contributions, such as a monetary donation to Malala's campaign for girls' education and the pursuit of her attackers have been the result of this pressure from the international community. The lack of publicity regarding the case could very well be an attempt by Pakistani officials to curtail potential blowback from the community at large.
In her country, Malala and her family remain figures of controversy, surrounded by conspiracy theories regarding the young woman and her involvement with the West. Her initial campaign in regards to girls' educational rights began with a series of blog posts to the BBC, and since her attack and subsequent recovery she has become heavily involved with individuals in the West. In the past, Malala has met with such international figureheads as Queen Elizabeth II and Barack Obama. Since receiving medical treatment for the attack in the UK, Malala has remained in Great Britain, where she now attends school.
All of these signs point to the continuing reluctance of Pakistani officials to make a real, concerted effort to protect and seek justice for women such as Malala and the numerous other students and teachers who have been attacked, injured, and even killed in continued terrorist attacks within the region. However, many individuals - among them the father of Malala Yousafzai - remain hopeful that the arrest of these men marks the potential for real hope when it comes to combating domestic terrorism within the region.
Pakistan's Selective Stance on Terrorism
Pakistan would like to portray itself as a country that is taking a hard stance against extremists. However, the treatment of other arrested terrorists suggests that Pakistan remains selective in regards to who is and is not targeted in their efforts.
The unfortunate truth is that Pakistan remains hesitant to pursue any real action against terrorists and domestic terrorist organizations -- which means that Malala's hope for a Pakistan that freely allows young women like her to pursue an education may still be far away.
The sentencing of these 10 men aligns with other efforts made by Pakistani officials, such as their donation to Malala's charitable fund. That is, the government continues to make cursory efforts in order to appease the international community while continuing to ignore the rights being denied to its citizens as a result of continuing terrorism within the region.
It remains to be seen whether or not this sentencing is truly a sign of hope, or yet another superficial gesture among many made by officials in the country. Malala's legacy continues on throughout the world, and at only 17 years old the young woman has become central to the movement to make education safe and accessible for all girls. Regardless of whether those involved in the assassination attempt ever come to justice or not, it is clear that ultimately, it is Malala who has emerged victorious.
If there is any real hope to be seen in this case, it is in the indomitable spirit of Malala and the numerous other young women, including both students and teachers, who have continued to fight for the rights of all women to gain an education. This is the true starting point for change.