OPINION: The shooting of a Pakistani child could do more to undermine the power of the Taleban than a generation of Western intrusion.
Malala Yousufzai, 14, stood up to the Taleban in Pakistan and demanded education for girls. As an 11-year-old she went public with a blog telling of the reign of terror they had brought to the Swat Valley where she lived. She was awarded the country's first peace award last year.
The Taleban's response was to assign one of its pawns to board a bus on Tuesday last week and spray her with bullets.
The Taleban excels in whipping up a frenzy of hate - but it can only wield its power as long as it has people in fear.
When those people cry enough, change is inevitable. The successive collapses of dictatorships in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya over the last year illustrated that. Those countries overthrew oppressive leaders without help from the West.
The initial response to the shooting was muted. But thousands have since protested in Karachi. Pakistan has now put a $1 million bounty on the head of Ahsanullah Ahsan, the Taleban spokesman.
But the Taleban remains a significant threat. The fanatics have also threatened to target the Malala again because she is a "spy of the West".
Malala has been flown to England for treatment to her head injuries in Birmingham. Doctors say things are "going in the right direction" but it is not clear how complete her recovery will be.
The 14-year-old's bravery has come at a huge cost to her.
However, it may increase the pace of change in the world's second largest Muslim country.
It also comes at a time when the organisation is making a renewed push in Bamiyan province of Afghanistan. Reports say government supporters have been dragged out of their cars at makeshift roadblocks and one was beheaded because he was wearing a Western T-shirt.
Some might see the Taleban's latest atrocity as opening a new window of opportunity for the West to assist in a new war on the fanatics.
That may prove to be dangerous thinking. Malala has become a celebrity, her name is on the lips of the rich and famous. Former British PM Gordon Brown says her situation highlights the plight of 61 million young people who do not go to school.
Online petitions have been launched to express universal outrage. The concern is no doubt genuine.
But the fight against the Taleban in Pakistan must be fought by the Pakistani people. The nation may be shocked, but before the Taleban falls the people who they threaten must do more than hold banners at a demonstration.
It's been suggested that there is a window of public consent for an operation against the Pakistani Taleban, but conversely, there will be a perception that the West is seeking to use the shooting of a child to cause further chaos and anarchy in Pakistan.
The Taleban may have shot itself in the foot, but the West should be prepared to allow the people to take their own action, just as they did in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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