Pakistan: Surgeons have removed a bullet from the head of a 14-year-old girl, a day after she was shot by Taliban gunmen in north-western Pakistan’s Swat Valley.
Malala Yousafzai, a campaigner for girls’ rights, is reported to be in a stable condition after the operation.
The attack sparked outrage among many Pakistanis, who gathered in several cities for anti-Taliban protests and held prayers for the girl’s recovery.
The militants said they targeted her because she “promoted secularism”.
A spokesman for the Islamist militant group, Ehsanullah Ehsan, told BBC Urdu on Tuesday that Miss Yousafzai would not be spared if she survived.
The BBC’s Aleem Maqbool in Islamabad says the authorities will now have to consider how to protect the girl.
He says her family never thought about getting security because they just did not think that militants would stoop so low as to target her.
Two other girls were injured in Tuesday’s attack, one of whom remained in a critical condition on Wednesday.
‘Icon of courage’
Miss Yousafzai came to public attention in 2009 by writing a diary for BBC Urdu about life under Taliban militants who had taken control of the valley.
Even if Malala Yousufzai survives, life is not going to be the same for her and her family. No place in Pakistan is safe for people targeted by militant groups. She may have to live under state security or in asylum abroad. In either case, her life and her ability to campaign for girls’ education in north-western Pakistan will be severely limited.
Malala Yousufzai rose to fame because of her innocent but courageous desire to attend school, which translated into a one-girl campaign of resistance when Taliban captured Swat valley in 2009 and ordered girls’ schools closed. Several hundred in Swat and neighbouring Bajaur and Mohmand were destroyed. Only a few in urban areas have been rebuilt.
The government’s inability to rebuild is matched by its ambivalence towards the Taliban, which has enabled them to carry out acts of sabotage with impunity. The question is, will it change now? The attempt on Malala Yousufzai’s life has shocked and angered the nation, and reports from parliament suggest a wider anti-Taliban consensus might be in the works – something Pakistan’s fractious politicians have rarely achieved before.
The group captured the Swat Valley in late 2007 and remained in de facto control until they were driven out by Pakistani military forces during an offensive in 2009.
While in power they closed girls’ schools, promulgated Islamic law and introduced measures such as banning the playing of music in cars.
Miss Yousafzai’s brother, Mubashir Hussain, told the BBC that the militants were “cruel, brutal people” and urged all Pakistanis to condemn them.
Pakistani politicians led by the president and prime minister condemned the shooting, which the US state department has called barbaric and cowardly.
President Asif Ali Zardari said the attack would not shake Pakistan’s resolve to fight Islamist militants or the government’s determination to support women’s education.
In a statement, army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani said the Taliban had “failed to grasp that she is not only an individual, but an icon of courage”.
Thousands of people around the world have sent the teenage campaigner messages of support via social media.
Schools in the Swat Valley closed on Wednesday in protest at the attack, and schoolchildren in other parts of the country prayed for the girl’s recovery.
Protests were held in Peshawar, Multan and in Miss Yousafzai’s hometown of Mingora, and another rally was expected in Lahore.
Late on Tuesday, Miss Yousafzai was flown from Mingora, where the attack happened, to the city of Peshawar, 150km (95 miles) away, for surgery.
Doctors in Peshawar operated on her for hours before managing to remove the bullet early on Wednesday.
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