Pakistani Heroine: How Malala Yousafzai Emerged from Anonymity

The teenage blogger shot by the Taliban had been anonymous on the BBC's Urdu service -- until her family decided to take her public.

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Niranjan Shrestha / AP

A Nepalese student holds a photo of Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai during a candlelight vigil to express support for her held in Katmandu, Nepal, on Oct.15, 2012

For the head of the BBC’s Urdu service, Oct. 9 began like any other Tuesday in London. Aamer Ahmed Khan walked through the doors of the BBC’s Art Deco Broadcasting House, just north of bustling Regent’s Street, grabbed a coffee at the staff café and took an elevator to the fifth floor, home to the BBC’s 26-language services.

At 9:30 a.m., as his staff of 20 trickled in mumbling morning greetings in Urdu, Khan sat down at his desk and logged on to his computer. That’s when he saw the news posted overnight on BBC Urdu’s website by its team in Pakistan: Malala Yousafzai,  a schoolgirl who had blogged about her life in the Swat Valley for BBC Urdu two years earlier, had been shot by the Taliban. As Khan’s producers saw the news, they sat looking at one another in stunned silence across the bank of desks. Some hung their heads. After a few minutes, Khan’s news editor, Raja Zulfikar Ali, said solemnly, “We have to lead with this. This is a huge story.”

The journalists desperately wanted to find out how bad the wound was. All they knew was that Malala had been flown to the city of Peshawar after a bullet reportedly pierced her neck. It took several hours of working the phones for them to find out that the bullet had torn through her head.

(MORE: Malala Yousafzai’s Injuries: How Difficult Will Her Recovery Be?)

Such events seemed unthinkable in late 2008, when Khan and his colleagues had discussed a novel way of covering the Taliban’s growing influence in Swat: Why not find a schoolgirl to blog anonymously about her life there? Their correspondent in Peshawar, Abdul Hai Kakar, had been in touch with a local schoolteacher, Ziauddin Yousafzai, but couldn’t find any students willing to do it. It was too dangerous, their  families said. Finally, Yousafzai suggested his own daughter, 11-year-old Malala.

And so Malala chose a pseudonym — Gul Makai, the name of a heroine from a Pashtun folk tale — and began dictating her diary to Kakar weekly over the phone. She described going on trips to buy bangles, living in a place as beautiful as the Swat Valley and the disappointment of being banned from school by the Taliban. It was just the sort of personal story the Urdu desk had been looking for. “We were absolutely thrilled by the way she was writing. I wouldn’t call it mature. I would call it a very, very fresh, untainted and straight-from-the-heart sort of a take on what was going on,” says Khan. “She would use these little anecdotal bits to bring out the atmosphere of fear surrounding schools and children in particular. She was clearly a very, very intelligent and a very observant girl.”

The entries, which ran on BBC websites in Urdu and English from January to March 2009, were a hit with BBC Urdu’s following, which includes Pakistani readers in the United Arab Emirates, India, the U.S., Canada and the U.K. “It was obviously one of the most popular blogs that we had done in quite a while,” says Khan. As well as being translated into English for the BBC, her entries were regularly reproduced in local Pakistani media. “She had a huge audience, both local and international.”

(MORE: How Malala Yousafzai May Affect Pakistan’s Culture Wars)

But the BBC editorial team worried about her safety and whether the Taliban might discover her identity and make her a target. “We had long discussions about that, and not only within ourselves but also with her family,” says Khan. The BBC editors protected her anonymity while she wrote for them. They had no control over the actions of her father, however, who had already taken Malala to a local press-club event in Peshawar in 2008, where she gave a speech titled “How Dare the Taliban Take Away My Basic Right to Education?” that was widely publicized in Pakistani newspapers and on TV. At the time, Ziauddin Yousafzai told a reporter, “People said to me, ‘How can you let her do this?’ We needed to stand up.”

Children’s-rights experts say it would have been impossible for Yousafzai to anticipate the danger Malala would be in. “We have to be very mindful of the best interests of children in terms of activism,” says Mustafa Qadri, Pakistan researcher at Amnesty International. “But I think that it’s not fair to say that she’d been pushed forward in a dangerous way. No one really expected that this would happen.” Bede Sheppard, a senior researcher in the children’s-rights division of Human Rights Watch, agrees. “I don’t think the solution is to silence the voices of children who want to speak out and share their lives with the world,” he writes in an e-mail. “Instead, it is the obligation of the Pakistani government to ensure that children can go to school safely and express their views safely.”

Despite all that has happened, the BBC’s Khan does not regret finding Malala and helping take her voice to the public. “If I was to sit here at my desk today and think, oh my God, if we hadn’t found her, this would never have happened, that would actually mean that I am not taking into account the contribution that children like Malala make to a cause that we so strongly believe in,” he says. “Would you be talking about the state of education for girls in Pakistan if it had not been for her?”

MORE: The Malala Yousafzai Saga: Like Father, Like Daughter

21 comments
jawadzb
jawadzb

Malala Yousuf zi is American agenta and attack on her was fake

sam177
sam177 like.author.displayName 1 Like

When the bunderstanis will grow up and stop hate campaign against Pakistan?They must be so desperate at the mention of anything good about Pakistan brings out all the stupidness and idiotic behavour that is imposible from a sane person.

Origama
Origama like.author.displayName 1 Like

There were no suicide bombings in Pakistan, No taliban in Pakistan  before the US invasion in Afghanistan.No trouble whatsoever in this part of the region.  People are quick to blame on Pakistan for the mess but they never bother to explore the root cause.

Pakistan is paying the price of  long  running war in the neighbor countries in Afghanistan and a freedom struggle in Indian occupied Kashmir where thousands of innocents have been killed by the indian forces as they are fighting for freedom. One of the longest unresolved issue  in the UNO.

The war in Afghanistan seems to be never ending as one after another super power is making this country as a field to show to the world their military might. Pakistan is a country of 180+millions people. A country with Nuclear power .A strong military power is its need to counter indian aggression who acquire all possible means to cause instability in Pakistan. you will see every one in Pakistan strongly condemns Taliban in their protests.   

DrPotatohead
DrPotatohead

Here we have children killing children.  There it's religious kooks killing them.  There is something very wrong in this world.

charliea37
charliea37

@bill The bullet travelled to her neck.  It was removed in the Pakistani hospital.  British surgeons are monitoring her recovery to decide when to go in and repair her skull.  There has been no head operation yet.

Hadrewsky
Hadrewsky

@charliea37 

It hit her neck and traveled up into the left hemisphere of her brain... She may awaken but she will no longer be the same person.

Look up what her prognosis is... they had to remove part of her skull to allow to brain to swell without dying. She is in very poor condition and her prognosis is very poor.

sucorazon2010
sucorazon2010

Pakistan is a failed state, a region which comprises of the epicenter of terrorism , cannot be saved !!

This girl will be shot down sooner or later.

Nothing works in Pakistan.

Had US not been funding this country for the past 6 decades, its citizens would have been working as coolies in India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh,Nepal and Bhutan.

Origama
Origama like.author.displayName 1 Like

@sucorazon2010 :

Female feticide, child marriage and highlevels of trafficking and domestic servitude make the world's largestdemocracy one of the most dangerous place for women, the poll showed.*100 million people, mostly women and girls, are involved in traffickingin one way or another, according to former Indian Home SecretaryMadhukar Gupta.* Up to 50 million girls are "missing" over the past century due to female infanticide and feticide.* 44.5 pct of girls are married before the age of 18. 

India itself  is a failed state as far as over 300+millios of its citizens are concern as they are living a life worst than a living in the most poor country of the world. it only happen in india where there are touchable and untouchable, satti, baby gilrs are still burried alive india, TOUCHABLE and UNtaouchable, cast systems ...... prostittion is cheper than a can of soda or price of a cheap slipper. Parents are selling their newborns. the list is long........

100's of thousands innocents have been killed in kashmir.

Hadrewsky
Hadrewsky

@Origama @sucorazon2010 

At least Indians dont have their national past time the act of strapping bombs to their chests.

Any traveler from the west or east would rather visit India than risk being blown to bits by yet another Islamic fanatic.

Until the middle east picks itself up out of the sewer Islam has made the world will rightly consider the middle east a Hell Hole.

usapak
usapak like.author.displayName 1 Like

@sucorazon2010 you are as ignorant as the Taliban. do you know how much aid pakistan gets from us?

it is pennies. and that goes promoting us interest and goes to the pockets of few in the military. Pakistan was on her path to economic prosperity before the Russians invaded Afganistan and usa used Pakistan to fight the Russians. With the help of  Pakistan Russia was defeated otherwise you in India will be the slave to the Russians and cleaning toilets in Russia. Stop spreading hate. 

Hadrewsky
Hadrewsky

@usapak @sucorazon2010 

The Soviet Union died awhile ago guy.... even had the Russians won the Afghans would be rid of them.

Pakistan is a swamp with too few willing to confront the Taliban because of their religious zeal. 

Islam is the culprit in the middle east today for what makes it the largest sewer in the world today.

ScrubPuppy
ScrubPuppy

I think it will take many more just like her to curb the repression in Pakistan.  Yes, it's easy to sit comfortably in the West and protest the cruel   atrocities of the Taliban; it's another to do the same while living within their grasp.  I hope this young woman fully recovers and finds safe haven in Britain, where she can continue to speak her conviction for the right of girls to seek an education.  The line has been drawn; let's give our sincere support for Malala Yousafzai and others like her.

PlumbLine
PlumbLine

Give her the nobel peace prize........

CindyRina
CindyRina

She's great.

Joshnjessi is a good place for bigger women and men.

bibleverse1
bibleverse1

They should fear Malala. She is powerful. She possess the power to create a world without the taliban. 

Hadrewsky
Hadrewsky

@bibleverse1 

She will be crippled mentally the rest of her life... This is the trajedy. 

A girl with a gift for language had the region of her brain dedicated to language function ruined by a bullet.

HomaMonfared
HomaMonfared

What kind of animal taliban's are can shoot a child, coward act of taliban, what business taliban has to stop children from going to school, shame on you, who ever you are,  Pakistan's Government should bring them to justice.

JoeNewman
JoeNewman

 Malala is not to blame for what happened to her. She deserves nothing but praise.

A ruthless Taliban group bears the blame. There is no excuse for them, and I hope they are all detained by the Pakistani army or police. I think they should receive full credit and be fully rewarded for their actions. What they gave Malala should be awarded to them ten times over.

bill
bill

@JoeNewman all you guys need to do little research before believe anything, media is so corrupt you can't believe everything they say. for that story look at all the photos where were she shot they said she was shot on head. first she had a bandage on forehead and then they show her in london hospital there is no bandage on the forehead what happened to that wound when they make a drama like that they always make mistakes look at all the photos from the incident you will find out what is the truth find out when they do head surgery they have to shave head and the whole head is cover with the bandages where was all that? 

Hadrewsky
Hadrewsky

@bill @JoeNewman 

Ah a conspiracy nut... Behold what happens to man when his brain is replaced by butterscotch pudding.

Dont blame this conspiracy nut for his silly illogical statements that lack any knowledge of medicine as well as knowledge of the girl's specific injuries.

Instead of blaming this poor demented creature, blame instead that insidious butterscotch pudding that has invaded his skull.

Origama
Origama

@bill @JoeNewman  

How dare you blame the the most prestigious hospital in UK. bunderistani hindustani do your own research you idiot.