In our continuing blogseries chronicling Dr. Shakir Ullah and his time in his home village of Swat, the Taliban had just established a foothold. Now facing tyranny unprecedented, Shakir draws strength from the Yousafzai family to protect his own. However, such opposition to the Taliban comes at a steep price…
As I mentioned in my previous post, the Taliban initially won the approval of the people on account of their quick and decisive approach to justice. On account of neglect in the government and courts remaining overwhelmed, the Taliban gave the people what they wanted, what they craved, only to find themselves enslaved to a darker evil. I witnessed the people of Swat suffering under the Taliban’s brutal regime. There were a few failed attempts for negotiation, but the Taliban would never yield as they thought of themselves akin to supernatural beings, always right and powerful. When nothing worked on the peaceful front, the Pakistani officials were left with no options but to start a powerful military offensive.
Still in my village, I watched the helicopters shelling and jets dropping bombs, shaking homes from their foundations. Communication and power lines were cut off and there was no transport allowed in and out of Swat. The whole region was under curfew. Most of the residents were forced to flee, with no food and other necessities. I witnessed people walking for hundreds of miles with women and children suffering under the scorching heat. My village was in far-flung mountains so there would be no easy escape. It was a better plan to die at home than on the road. Once our village began running out of supplies, people slaughtering their cattle to feed themselves, the Taliban now turned their eyes onto soft targets. Therefore, my close relatives implored me to quietly move my family out of the region.
We set out at dawn. It was me, my wife, a three year old daughter and two year old son, walking through tens of miles of mountainous terrain to get to safety. There were Taliban checkpoints on the way, forcing us to change our path to avoid any contact. Even with my family making me an easy and legitimate target, we all got out of the area with no major blow. It took us more than 24 hours to cross an area that would normally take three hours by car.
From the UK, I watched for news of my home. It took time, but eventually the government offensive against the Taliban succeeded. Peace was partially restored to the area. Partially. People returned to their homes, spoke their minds, and pursued education, but the Taliban’s presence remained. Perhaps it lingered in the shadows of Swat, but they were far from dormant. They started to target those who stood up or spoke against them, and at this time, a student’s blog—Malala’s blog—remained as a voice against tyranny.Believing that Swat had returned to normality, Malala started to speak more openly to the media about girl’s right to education, her words receiving tremendous respect in the village. She had become a national hero and an icon for peace and education, but this was not what the Taliban had dreamed for her. They labelled her an agent of the West and spared no opportunity to threaten her or discredit her.
Malala’s voice refused to be silent.
The Taliban recognized her tenacity, and on October 9, 2012, the unfortunate and unwanted happened as Malala was shot on a school bus for her resistance to their tyranny. The Taliban wanted to silence her voice of hope, snuff out her spark against the darkness of oppression. The attack on Malala shocked the world and, for a moment, it felt as if we would lose her voice of hope for the time to come.
Malala’s survival did more than amplify her voice. She had become a global icon for education and peace when she opened her eyes in Queen Elizabeth Hospital in the UK. That tiny spark of hope from a remote part of the world had now become a fire of optimism and change for the world.
Dr. Shakir Ullah is currently working as Professor of Finance at Stratford University, USA. Earlier, he taught at the University of Southampton, UK, and Institute of Management Sciences, Pakistan. Shakir has also worked as Global Business and Financial Analyst with different companies including Microsoft, Honda, MasterCard, Walt Disney and Jaguar, just to name a few.
Shakir holds PhD from UK and MBA from Korea, both earned with distinction. He has also published several research articles in reputed international journals.