Last Friday, 16-year-old Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani schoolgirl who was shot in October along with several schoolmates by the Taliban in an attempt to silence her advocacy for girls’ education, addressed the United Nations. With poise and vigor, she renewed her call for education for all children and for human rights, stressing that she was speaking for many.
Her forceful speech drew headlines, and apparently also the attention of the Taliban. Adnan Rasheed, a Taliban leader convicted of trying to assassinate Pakistan’s then-president Pervez Musharraf, wrote a letter in English to Ms. Yousafzai the day after her speech, claiming that he had been “shocked” by the Taliban attack on her, but at the same time chastising her for her “provocative” writings, which he alleged were the reason for the attack. He also said he was writing in a personal capacity and not speaking for the Pakistani Taliban or any other jihadist group.
In the letter, he castigates the UN as being anti-Islam, tries to argue that the Taliban are not actually against female education, takes her to task for not complaining about drone strikes, urges her to join a female Islamic madrassa near her home town, and says she should use her pen instead to “reveal the conspiracy of tiny elite who want to enslave whole of humanity for their evil agendas in the name of new world order.”
Clearly, Rashid recognizes her power. The tone of the letter, sometimes bordering on the avuncular, suggests that the Taliban leader wants to win Malala over to his side. More cynically, it serves as an attempt to distract from her message.
But Rashid is no doting uncle. He is a notorious jihadist with longtime ties to al Qaeda who tried to assassinate then-president Musharraf in 2003, and recently announced the formation of a death squad to attempt again to assassinate him. [See LWJ report, Pakistani Taliban threaten former President Musharraf with ‘death squad’.]
In April 2012, Rashid, who had been imprisoned for the previous assassination attempt, was freed in a massive jailbreak engineered by the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan. Since then, he has appeared in jihadist propaganda tapes, including one featuring the al Qaeda-linked Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, in addition to the video about the creation of the death squad this spring.
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