MINGORA, Pakistan—Pakistan marked “Malala Day” Saturday on a global day of support for the teenager shot by the Taliban for promoting girls’ education, but in her home town security fears meant her schoolmates could not honour her in public.
Taliban hitmen shot Malala Yousafzai on her school bus a month ago in Mingora in Pakistan’s northwestern Swat Valley, in a cold-blooded murder attempt for the “crime” of campaigning for girls’ rights to go to school.
Miraculously the 15-year-old survived and her courage has won the hearts of millions around the world, prompting the United Nations to declare Saturday a “global day of action” for her.
People around the world held vigils and demonstrations honouring Malala and calling for the 32 million girls worldwide who are denied education to be allowed to go to school.
Demonstrations backing Malala took place in Islamabad, Karachi, the eastern city of Lahore and Muzaffarabad in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, and Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf saluted Malala’s courage.
But in Mingora, the threat of further Taliban reprisals cast a fearful shadow, and students at Malala’s Khushal Public School were forced to honour her in private.
“We held a special prayer for Malala today in our school assembly and also lit candles,” school principal Mariam Khalid told AFP.
“We did not organise any open event because our school and its students still face a security threat.”
Though their bid to kill Malala failed, the Taliban have said they will attack any woman who stands against them. Fears are so great that Khalid said even speaking to the media could put students’ lives in danger.
Two of Malala’s friends were wounded in the attempt on her life and one, 16-year-old Kainaat Riaz, said she was still haunted by memories of the attack.
“I am still terrified. I still get tears in my eyes whenever I think of that incident. I saw Malala in the pool of blood in front of me with my eyes,” she told AFP.
Shazia Ramzan, 13, spent a month in hospital after being shot in the shoulder during the attack, but she said it had made her even more determined to go to school.
“The shooting tried to stop us from getting an education — it was our test and we must pass it,” she told AFP.
Malala rose to prominence with a blog for the BBC charting life in Swat under the Taliban, whose bloody two-year reign of terror supposedly came to an end with an army operation in 2009.
Despite the dangers, some children in Mingora were determined to speak out and pledged to follow Malala’s example.
“Malala is a good friend of mine. She is brave and has honour and whoever attacked her did a terrible thing,” Asma Khan, 12, a student in Saroosh Academy, close to Malala’s school, told AFP.
“After the attack on her and her injuries, we have now more courage to study and now we will fulfil her mission to spread education everywhere.”
Khan’s schoolmate Gul Para, 12, added: “Malala is the daughter of the nation and we are proud of her.
“She has stood by us and for our education up to now and now it is time that we should stand by her and complete her mission.”
On Saturday Afghan President Hamid Karzai promised to search for Malala’s attackers and accused Islamabad of having armed and trained the teenager’s assailants.
“Afghanistan will hunt for Malala’s attackers,” he said in an interview with India’s CNN-IBN television network, broadcast as he began a four-day visit to the South Asian nation.
“Terrorism is a snake and when you train a snake, you can’t expect it will only go in the neighbour’s house. When the attack on Malala happened, this proved our point,” he added.
“The earlier they (the Pakistanis) accept it and fight radicalism, the better for us, the better for Pakistan and the better for India.”
Nearly 100,000 people have signed an online petition calling for Malala to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and on Friday UN special education envoy Gordon Brown handed a separate million-strong petition in support of Malala to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari.
Zardari on Friday announced a scheme funded with help from international donors to give poor families cash incentives to send their children to school in a bid to get three million more youngsters into education.
“As long as there are girls out of school anywhere in the world, Malala will be their beacon of hope,” Brown said on Saturday.