A Pakistani Taliban letter to Malala Yousafzai, the teenage education activist shot by the militants, was a bid to strike back in the publicity stakes following her speech at the UN, analysts said yesterday.
Adnan Rasheed, a senior Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) commander, wrote an open letter to Malala accusing her of “smearing” them and of promoting “satanic” values, while urging her to return home.
The 16-year-old, shot in the head by TTP gunmen in her home town in Swat last October after she had campaigned for the right of girls to go to school, hit the headlines again last week with a powerful speech at the UN in New York.
In what was her first public appearance since the near-fatal attack last October, she vowed to continue her struggle for education and not be silenced by the militants.
In an open letter released on Wednesday former air force member turned TTP cadre Rasheed said he personally wished the attack had not happened, but accused her of running a “smearing campaign” against the TTP.
“When you were attacked it was shocking for me,” Rasheed wrote in English.
“I wished it would never happened (sic) and I had advised you before.”
But he added: “Taliban believe that you were intentionally writing against them and running a smearing campaign to malign their efforts to establish Islamic system in Swat and your writings were provocative.
“... It is amazing that you are shouting for education, you and the UNO (UN) is pretending that you were shot due to education, although this is not the reason... not the education but your propaganda was the issue,” he continued. “What you are doing now, you are using your tongue on the behest of the others.”
Saifullah Khan Mehsud, executive director of the FATA Research Centre in Islamabad, said the TTP were not concerned about their image but wanted to make a statement after Malala’s UN speech made waves around the world.
“Taliban have written this letter to counter the recent move of the West honouring Malala Yousufzai,” Mehsud said.
“It is a counter move to convey to the world that Malala was not attacked because of girls’ education, but because of her propaganda against them.”
The letter’s claims that Malala was shot for smearing the Taliban rather than supporting girls’ education echoed the explanation the militants gave when they claimed responsibility for shooting Malala.
“She always speaks against us. We will target anyone who speaks against the Taliban,” a TTP spokesman said in October last year.
Wednesday’s letter was sent to reporters in northwest Pakistan and its authenticity confirmed to AFP by a close associate of Rasheed. It is understood Malala has not received the letter herself.
“Basically it is a propaganda gimmick to appear good by saying we are not against education,” analyst and author Imtiaz Gul said of the letter.
“They are trying to rub off the perception about Taliban that they are anti-women’s education.”
Rasheed accused Malala of seeking to promote an education system begun by British colonialists to produce “Asians in blood but English in taste”, and said students should study Islam and not the “satanic or secular curriculum”.
“I advise you to come back home, adopt the Islamic and Pashtun culture, join any female Islamic madrassa near your home town, study and learn the book of Allah, use your pen for Islam and plight of Muslim ummah (community),” Rasheed wrote.
Malala was given life-saving treatment in Britain, where she now lives with her family.
Rasheed was sentenced to death over a 2003 attack on Pakistan’s then military ruler Pervez Musharraf, but escaped from custody in a mass jailbreak in April last year.
He said he had originally wanted to write to Malala to warn her against criticising the Taliban when she rose to prominence with a blog for the BBC Urdu service chronicling life under the militants’ 2007-09 rule in Swat, in northwest Pakistan.
The Taliban have destroyed hundreds of schools across the northwest, an area on the frontline of the country’s bloody struggle against Islamist militants.
But Rasheed said the attacks were necessary because government forces used schools as hideouts and bases.
Malala’s brave fight back from her injuries and speech at the UN have made her a leading contender for the Nobel Peace Prize. But the response to her in Pakistan has been mixed.
Many have hailed her as a national heroine but others have criticised her for promoting a “Western” agenda.