A Muttahida Quami Movement supporter with a picture of Malala Yousafzai during a prayer vigil in Karachi on Wednesday. (AFP)
Islamabad, Oct. 10: Pakistani doctors successfully removed a bullet today from the neck of a 14-year-old girl who was shot by the Taliban for speaking out in support of education for women, a government minister said.
However, the doctors urged the government not to shift Malala Yousafzai, 14, abroad for further treatment in view of her critical condition.
Yousafzai, the first winner of Pakistan’s National Peace Award for her work to promote schools for girls, was shot in the head and neck yesterday on her way back home from school in Mingora, capital of the former Taliban bastion of Swat.
The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan claimed responsibility for the attack, describing her as a new chapter of obscenity which needs to be finished.
The shooting has outraged people in a country seemingly inured to extreme violence. “She is a candle of peace that they have tried to blow out,” said one Pakistani man, Abdul Majid Mehsud, 45, from the violence-plagued South Waziristan region.
Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, chief of Pakistan’s powerful army, visited her in hospital and condemned her attackers.
“The cowards who attacked Malala and her fellow students, have shown time and again how little regard they have for human life and how low they can fall in their cruel ambition to impose their twisted ideology,” Kayani said in a statement.
The military said it had a simple message, which it wrote in capital letters in the statement to add emphasis: “WE REFUSE TO BOW BEFORE TERROR.”
Doctors said they were forced to begin operating in the middle of the night after Yousufzai developed a swelling in the left portion of her brain. They removed a bullet from her body near her spinal cord during a three-hour operation that they finished around 5am local time.
“She is still unconscious and kept in the intensive care unit,” Mumtaz Khan, head of a team of doctors taking care of Yousufzai in a military hospital in the northwestern city of Peshawar, said in the afternoon.
One of the girls wounded with Yousafzai is in critical condition and the other is recovering and out of danger.
The military flew Yousafzai from her home in Swat, northwest of Islamabad, to Peshawar yesterday.
According to the Pakistan International Airlines chief, Junaid Yusuf, a Boeing 737 was “ready to take Malala abroad for medical treatment”.
He said the aircraft was parked at Peshawar with all facilities and “we are waiting for a go-ahead”.
However, doctors treating Yousafzai strongly advised against taking her abroad because of her critical condition. Even interior minister Rehman Malik, who visited the hospital, said she could not be shifted for the time being. He called Yousafzai the pride of the nation and said the government would take every step to provide the best medical treatment.
All schools in Swat remained closed today to protest against the incident.
The independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said in a statement that the attack defied belief that anyone would be so brutal and so cowardly to attack an unprotected child, who is a symbol of innocence, accept responsibility for the attack and then proceed to claim that if she recovered they would target her again.
“The attack should only strengthen the resolve of Malala, civil society, all conscious citizens and the security forces as it exposes again the barbarism and the utter absence of humanity in the ruthless demons that they are trying to expose and overcome,” it added.
Swat, which was once known as the “Switzerland of Pakistan”, slipped out of government control in 2007 and fell into the hands of the Taliban, who tried to impose their own harsh brand of Shariat by beheading their opponents.
The military, which simultaneously launched an offensive in all six districts of Malakand division, including Swat in 2009, cleared the region of Taliban fighters in 2010.
US secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton condemned the attack on Yousafzai and said it should serve as a call to action for those promoting the rights of women and girls. She said the shooting should galvanise support for “brave young women”.