The world was shocked last year when Pakistani teenager and education campaigner Malala Yousafzai was shot by the Taliban, apparently furious with her for campaigning for education for girls.
I was away from the UK when Malala made her recent remarkable speech to the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York, on her sixteenth birthday, so I have had time to reflect on it. It was a tour de force. It was confident, authoritative, even magisterial — in fact almost intimidating in one so young. Leave aside the ethnic differences and the delightful South Asian lilt in the voice, and this could have been a young Margaret Thatcher. The self-confidence, the determination, the certainty, the commitment. If there is any justice in the world, we were looking at a future Prime Minister of Pakistan (although you may think that tangling with the Pakistani Taliban as Prime Minister is not a whole lot preferable to tangling with them as an education campaigner).
Then, an amazing twist in the plot. A certain Adnan Rasheed, a commander in the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, in an apparent attempt to limit the reputational damage to his organisation, wrote to Malala. Not to apologise, but at least to express his shock at her shooting. And to explain that it was done not because of her campaign on education, but because of her criticism of the Taliban. So that’s alright then? It is appalling that this man apparently believes that this would justify his colleagues in shooting a defenceless teenage girl. Clearly the Pakistani Taliban needs lessons in freedom and democracy, in public debate and diversity of opinion. And in freedom of speech.
It is also, of course, a blatant lie. The Taliban has repeatedly bombed and burned schools, and shot and killed teachers and pupils, purely because it objects to the education of girls. To try to pretend now that it does not seek to kill people for advocating such education is not only cynical, but patently false. They can bring themselves to lie, but they cannot bring themselves to apologise.
Adnan Rasheed also invited Malala to return to Pakistan. I hope she will do so, but not under the auspices of Mr. Rasheed.
No one can be in any doubt about the unmitigated evil of the Taliban. What sort of God to these people worship, that they seek to honour him with bombs and bullets, murder and mayhem?