Pakistani Assemblywoman: Girls’ Education Key to Ending Terrorism
The attempted assassination of Malala Yousufzai, the 15-year-old Pakistani girl being treated in a hospital in Britain after she was shot in the head by the Taliban Oct. 9 for championing girls’ education, has united her country like few other incidents in recent memory. That's according to Khushbakht Shujat, a member of Pakstan’s National Assembly from the MQM party, who spoke with New America Media editor Viji Sundaram.
Would you say that the attempted assassination of Malala has made Pakistanis more mindful than ever before of the growing threat of the Taliban in their midst?
While the majority of Pakistanis do not approve of U.S. drone attacks, or of militants crossing borders and creating havoc on both sides of the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan, everyone disapproves of the attack on Malala. The attack on her has made many realize finally that terrorists are terrorists. [That] they are not doing jihad or following the word of Allah. [That] they are ignorant and naive. This girl has brought the nation -- and even the world -- together.
You are known for championing girls’ education and their empowerment. But in neighboring Afghanistan, the Taliban has succeeded through scare tactics in discouraging girls from going to school. That has led to a number of underground girls schools. Could the Malala incident have a similar effect in Pakistan?
It is important that steps are taken to keep families from becoming scared and not sending their daughters to school. The government should provide more incentives and offer encouragement so girls in Pakistan seek education. We should set a goal of getting every girl educated in Pakistan. Educated females mean an educated nation. And an educated nation means rooting out ignorance, which will remove terrorism from the equation.
Has any political good come out of the Malala attack and can that be sustained?
The government and military are doing a lot, but a lot more needs to be done. The attack has sparked the debate in Parliament whether Pakistan should go after militants in North Waziristan [believed to be a safe haven for terrorists]. On the day of the attack on Malala, I stood up in Parliament and raised a point of order in protest against the attack. MQM and the leader of our party, Altaf Hussain, asked the army to come forward and step up action against the militants in Waziristan and other hideouts.
There is a lot of anti-U.S. sentiment in Pakistan now, generated by the so-called "collateral damage" from the drone attacks by the United States that have claimed the lives of scores of civilians, along with some terrorists. Would the Malala attack make Pakistanis want U.S. protection on the ground now, or would they prefer dealing with the terrorism problem on their own?
Pakistan has suffered a lot due to terrorism. People in the United States don’t realize the price the people of Pakistan have paid for supporting the United States in its war against terrorism. There are protests here from all political parties and religious groups on a regular basis.
So does this mean you would like to see the end of U.S. military presence in that region?
America and NATO forces have agreed on withdrawal in 2014. I hope by that time Afghani forces are properly trained to defend their nation. Peace talks are also underway and I hope they bring positive results. I do hope America doesn't abandon Pakistan and Afghanistan, like they did after the Soviets left Afghanistan. Pakistan needs support from America to provide security to schools in these regions.
You seem to strongly believe that the best way to quell terrorism in any part of the world is by educating girls.
I want women to be strong and self-sufficient. MQM, the political party I belong to, is constantly raising its voice against injustice [against] women. We are one political party in Pakistan that I believe has done the most in terms of women’s empowerment. I do believe the previous governments may not have done enough and now it is high time we focus on women’s empowerment and education. The attack on Malala has exponentially increased the movement toward promoting women’s empowerment.
Are you optimistic about the end of terrorism in Pakistan?
I have devoted my life to the field of education. [The] bottom line in the war against terrorism is education and awareness. We need to equip our youth with books and take guns out of their hands.
I'm very optimistic that in Muslim countries, particularly in Pakistan, a change is coming. Women are a majority in Pakistan. If we want this nation to be successful, we need to educate and empower them. It's as simple as that. Democracy is spreading across the Middle East. We want the world to support us and respect our challenges and appreciate what we are doing in the war on terror.