Why Mussarat Ahmad Zeb and Pakistanis still find it difficult to accept Malala Yousafzai

Published: May 26, 2017
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“The attack on Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai was staged,” read a tweet last week.

The attack on Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai was staged, read a tweet last week. This wasn’t a social media troll or veteran conspiracy theorist. This was a Member of the National Assembly (MNA), Mussarat Ahmad Zeb, who also hails from the royal family of Swat, the region where Malala was shot in the head by Taliban militants.

The distinguished parliamentarian did not stop there, also revealing how plots of land were allocated to those who took part in the medical cover up, and most interestingly, how she had also been offered to take part in this drama but did not want to seek asylum in a foreign country. It is a sad day for Pakistani passport holders when a prominent politician suggests that the surest ticket to the UK is to be shot in the head by a terrorist faction. We shall stick with the embassies for now.

At this point, it would perhaps be prudent to admonish Zeb for what she said. The most obvious reason for that would be that there is no factual evidence of any kind supporting her claim, meaning that it flies in the face of reality and truth. This is all the more problematic considering that as a politician, she has a fiduciary relationship with her constituents, and it is incredibly irresponsible for her to abuse that trust by disseminating claims which are not backed by evidence of any kind.

The second reason is that if this entire situation was created by Zeb for political point-scoring, she needs to rise above typical mud-slinging tactics when discussing children and the tragedies they’ve faced in Pakistan – leave the children alone.

Still, there are some things said in the white noise of the political sphere which can be dismissed for their utter incredulousness. The problem with these statements in particular is that they’re supported by a problematically sizable proportion of Pakistan’s population. After Malala became perhaps the most famous girl in the world, in DW’s words, BBC and Foreign Policy reported on Pakistani citizens’ reaction to the Malala phenomenon.

Following are a few extracts:

Prominent journalist Tariq Khattak said,

“She is a normal, useless type of a girl. Nothing in her is special at all. She’s selling what the West will buy.”

A housewife from Islamabad was stated to have said,

“What has she done to deserve the Nobel prize? She may be brave, but she’s only a child. They should have waited 10 years and let her make a mark among the deprived sections of the society.”

Social media activist Anjum Kiyani said,

 “Unknown to Malala, she was picked up, groomed and her sincere intentions exploited by the world’s most notorious figures.”

The editor of a newspaper based in Mingora, Malala’s hometown, also chipped in,

 “The Americans and Malala’s father conspired to get her shot so she can become a hero.”

These aren’t just isolated incidents either.

A Gallup Poll in 2013 found that a majority of Pakistanis had mixed feelings or were sad over Malala’s nomination for the Nobel Prize. Another survey by the Pew Research Center found that 20% of Pakistanis have unfavourable views of Malala. At least Zeb can take comfort in the fact that she is not alone in her ignorance.

Foreign Policy aptly states in a headline, ‘Actually, All Pakistanis Don’t Hate Malala’. But is that really the bar Pakistan has set for itself? Is it too much to ask for? Tacit acceptance of the world’s youngest Nobel Laureate who defiantly stood up to terror at such a tender age?

Conspiracy theories and admonitions of Malala’s intentions are just symptoms of the problem. The underlying cause is that accepting Malala for who she is and for what happened to her will require a fundamental shift in worldview for many Pakistanis.

It means accepting that local press and media services failed where foreign media succeeded in giving Malala a voice. It means admitting that there are chronic failures in Pakistan’s education system which systematically disenfranchises women, especially those who live outside Punjab and Sindh. It also means conceding that the Pakistani military failed, in Malala’s words,

“To conduct its military operations here properly.”

Most significantly, it means admitting the utter negligence of the state in supporting – or even protecting – a child who identified problems in the system.

It is very telling that Zeb tweeted a photo of Zarmina Wazir Khan – a candidate who achieved top marks in civil services examinations – with the caption “Zarmina Khan is not Malala”. This politician and many others like her are desperate to show that the Pakistani system works for those who just work hard enough.

But this is denial of the highest order, a rejection of a reality that will only serve to brush important issues of security, education and identity under the carpet. Pakistan must fully accept the blame for the tragic events that occurred in Malala’s case. Only then can we move forward towards combatting the issues for which she so valiantly sacrificed herself for.

For the time-being, however, a fear of admitting guilt and all that comes with it, holds us back from accepting her as our own.

Hamza Tariq

Hamza Tariq

The author is set to start a BSc in International Relations degree at the London School of Economics. He worked as an intern under Ambassador Haqqani at Hudson Institute and under Dr Ishrat Hussain at the Woodrow Wilson Center. He tweets as @hamzataq (twitter.com/hamzataq)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.