Stop someone in the street. Ask them about the case of Malala Yousafzai. They will likely know — after the worldwide publicity given to her story — that Malala is the Pakistani teenager who was shot for demanding the right of girls to go to school.They will surely know, too, that the people who shot Malala in the head from close range were the Pakistani Taliban. They will probably view Malala as the heroine she clearly is. And the Taliban will be seen as the violent fanatics that they surely are.
That will likely be all that person in the street knows. For most of us, Malala’s case neatly, nastily, encapsulates the threat posed by violent Islamist militancy to a multitude of girls in Pakistan in their quest for education. Missing from that narrative, though, are many other complex obstacles that also block their path to the classroom.To understand those, it is worth sitting down for a conversation with a girl called Huma Khan.Huma is no celebrity. In fact, she is just an ordinary bright-eyed kid, no different from many, many million others in this part of the world. Yet she has much in common with Malala: She is 15 years old, and an ethnic Pashtun.
Like Malala, her family originates from northwestern Pakistan, an area where tradition runs deep, and whose people — overwhelmingly Pashtuns — tend to practice a profoundly conservative form of Islam.And, again like Malala, Huma is hugely enthusiastic about going to school: “I really want to get more education,” she says, perching on the edge of her wooden chair. “I want to become something. I want to be self-reliant.”