Islamabad: People across Pakistan on Saturday observed a UN-backed "Day of action for Malala Yousufzai" to pay tribute to the teenage rights campaigner who was shot in the head by Taliban fighters for speaking out against the excesses of the militants. Special gatherings and prayers were organised in cities across the country, including Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi, and students pledged to continue Malala's work of ensuring education for all children, especially girls.
In a special message, President Asif Ali Zardari said Malala stands tall as a symbol of girls' education and of defiance against those who wish to impose their obscurantist agenda behind the facade of religion. "Since she was eleven, she has been an advocate of education for girls. Malala is a symbol of all that is good about us," Zardari said, referring to the teenager's criticism of the Taliban fighters who controlled the northwestern Swat Valley till the military launched an operation against them in 2009.
Malala represents the resilience of Pakistani girls and women and her attackers were "not just trying to kill the Daughter of Pakistan, but they are trying to kill Pakistan", Zardari said. "They didn't stop at Afghanistan. They won't stop at Pakistan. The attack on her is an attack on every child in our region. It is an attack on the future of our region. We cannot sit idly as our children are attacked. We must act. Urgently," he said.
To reinforce the idea that Malala represents the government of Pakistan, a special initiative has been launched to give free education to the children, particularly female children of the poorest families, he said.
Under the programme launched yesterday by Zardari and UN Special Envoy Gordon Brown, the government will pay a stipend to poor families that send their children to school. In Islamabad, the International Human Rights Observer organised the "First Malala Zindabad Convention". A large number of people attended the convention. Special prayers were offered for the recovery of Malala, who is currently being treated at a hospital in Britain.
The initiative is aimed at enrolling three million children in school over the next four years. Information Minister Qamar Zama Kaira told reporters in Karachi that the leadership of the ruling Pakistan People's Party and Malala shared the same outlook and thinking. The PPP is carrying forward the vision of slain former premier Benazir Bhutto by combating terrorism and extremism.
The Lahore College for Women University announced it would offer 15 Malala Yousafzai scholarships for girls from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province and Gilgit-Baltistan. A statement issued by the Foreign Office said the Pakistan government welcomed the "voices of solidarity with Malala" and the video message of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in support of the teenager and the education of girls.
"Pakistan strongly supports the right of every girl child to education. We firmly believe that education promotes the values of tolerance and paves the way for progress and prosperity. It also helps fight forces of extremism and intolerance," the statement said.
UN Special Envoy Gordon Brown said efforts will be made to fulfil Malala's dream of education for all in Pakistan. He said millions of people around the world had signed a petition in support of Malala. However, leading rights activist Ansar Burney demanded that the government should move two other girls injured in the attack on Malala from Pakistan to a safer country without any further delay.
After the shifting of Malala to Britain, the lives of the two other girl were at stake due to threats from terrorists, he claimed. Burney said his trust is ready to bear any expenses for shifting Shazia Ramzan and Kainat Ahmed out of Pakistan.