BBC Urdu service 'shock' at Malala shooting

Malala Yousafzai Malala Yousafzai campaigned for girls' rights to education

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BBC Urdu editor Aamer Ahmed Khan has said the service is "absolutely shocked" by the shooting of 14-year-old activist Malala Yousafzai in northwest Pakistan.

The teenager rose to prominence after blogging for the BBC Urdu website in 2009 under the pen name Gul Makai, and has since been a high-profile campaigner for girls' rights to education.

On Tuesday, she was returning home from school in the Swat Valley when Pakistani Taliban gunmen stopped her vehicle and shot her in the head and chest.

She is now reported to be in a stable condition after surgeons removed a bullet from her head.

Khan said Malala came to the attention of the BBC Urdu service when they wanted to highlight a student's perspective of the Taliban's takeover in northwest Pakistan back in 2009.

An on-the-ground reporter was in contact with a number of locals including Malala's father, who is a teacher, as the Taliban took control of the Swat Valley and ordered the closure of girls' schools.

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"If there were no BBC, no New York Times and no channels, then my voice would not have reached the people”

End Quote Malala Yousafzai Student campaigner

"Her dad was one of several people we spoke to in order to find somebody who could perhaps do a diary or blog for us and he suggested that Malala was very keen to do something," Khan told Ariel.

"She clearly is a very, very smart girl and attuned to that situation, and was very worried about what was going on in the schools."

One entry in January 2009 said: "I had a terrible dream yesterday with military helicopters and the Taliban. I have had such dreams since the launch of the military operation in Swat. I was afraid of going to school because the Taliban had issued an edict banning all girls from attending schools. Only 11 students attended the class out of 27. The number decreased because of Taliban's edict."

Then aged 11, she initially blogged every week, but less frequently once telecommunications were disrupted during the fighting between the Pakistani security services and the Taliban.

Identity

Khan says the "obvious risk" was keeping her true identity safe - even he didn't know her real name until a year later.

"The decision of not asking my reporter to identify her was very deliberate because we wanted to keep it to one person, which was, at the time, the best way of ensuring that it wasn't revealed from our side, and that there was no chance of a slip-up."

He says there wasn't any email access in her local area so her family rang the reporter "whenever they could get hold of a telephone line and dictate the diary to him".

Pakistani activists at a protest rally after the shooting of Malala Yousafzai Pakistani activists at a protest rally after the shooting of Malala Yousafzai

Her family eventually decided to leave Swat along with several other people during the fighting, which was when she stopped blogging for BBC Urdu.

Her true identity then emerged around a year later, after the Taliban were driven out of the region.

Khan said the decision to reveal her identity was made after she stopped blogging for BBC Urdu; the service was not involved. He and his colleagues only found out her real name when she appeared in the local media.

"It was her family's decision because her father is a social activist and, when he and the family went back to Swat after the security forces regained control, he started lobbying the government and some international agencies to have the destroyed schools re-established as soon as possible."

Malala consequently became the "face of that campaign" and was the subject of media interest in Pakistan and throughout the world, with some local schools being named after her.

In a previous interview she said: "If there were no BBC, no New York Times and no channels, then my voice would not have reached the people."

Concern for safety

Khan said the entire BBC Urdu service, which includes around 40 journalists in Pakistan and London, was "absolutely shocked" when they heard about the attack on her.

"Of course we felt that closeness to her because of the work she had done for us, and everybody here has great admiration for her courage and spirit and for the kind of work she has done subsequently."

Khan said anyone who disagreed with the militants was at risk and "Malala is no exception" - she experienced a higher threat "because of her high profile compared to many other people who share her opinion".

It has been reported that Malala's family regularly received death threats but they believed she would be safe among her own community.

The Taliban said they shot her because she "promoted secularism", and that they would target her again. Two other girls were also injured in the attack, one of whom remained in a critical condition on Wednesday.

Protests against the shooting have since been held in several Pakistani cities and officials have offered a 10m rupee (£66,000) reward for information leading to the attackers' arrest.

"The entire service is concerned for Malala's safety and we pray for her recovery," said Khan.

BBC News Online reports that since the Taliban were ejected, there have been isolated militant attacks in Swat but the region has largely remained stable and many of the thousands of people who fled during the Taliban years have returned.

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