A Pakistani child activist shot in the head by the Taliban has improved, but remains in intensive care with a 70 percent chance of survival, doctors said yesterday as they canvas expert advice abroad.
The shooting of 14-year-old Malala Yousufzai on a school bus in the Swat valley has been denounced worldwide and by the Pakistani authorities, who have offered a reward of more than US$100,000 for the capture of her attackers.
Two of her school friends were also injured in the attack, which was carried out as retribution for Malala’s campaign for the right to an education during a two-year Taliban insurgency in the region.
There are mounting questions about how the attack could have happened and how the perpetrators simply walked away in an area with a visible police and army presence.
One of her doctors, Mumtaz Khan, said that Malala had improved since the bullet was removed in an operation on Wednesday, but said she was still seriously ill at a military hospital in Peshawar.
“At the moment, her condition is better,” he said.
“She has been put on a ventilator for two days. The bullet has affected some part of the brain, but there is a 70 percent chance that she will survive,” he said.
Mehmoodul Hasan, one of Malala’s relatives, said the family had been told her condition had improved, but that doctors were sending her medical reports abroad.
“They are checking if better facilities are available in the UK or Dubai or any other country, then they will decide about sending her abroad, otherwise they will treat her here,” Hasan said.
US President Barack Obama, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Pakistani leaders have expressed horror at the attack on a girl who won admiration for daring to speak out during the Taliban insurgency that the army said it had crushed in 2009.
Obama believed the shooting was “reprehensible and disgusting and tragic,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
“Directing violence at children is barbaric, it’s cowardly and our hearts go out to her and the others who were wounded, as well as their families,” he said.
Malala won international prominence after highlighting Taliban atrocities in Swat with a blog for the BBC three years ago, when the Islamist militants burned girls’ schools and terrorized the valley, before the army intervened.
She was just 11 then, and her struggle resonated with tens of thousands of girls denied an education by Islamist militants across northwest Pakistan, where the government has been fighting local Taliban since 2007.
Preparations had been made to fly her abroad, but a military source said she was too ill to travel. Carney said US forces were ready to offer transport and treatment to the teenager if needed.
The provincial government announced a 10 million rupee (US$104,000) reward for information leading to the arrest of Malala’s attackers and Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik has promised to catch the gunmen.
Officers in Swat say dozens of people were rounded up after the attack, but no one has been charged.
Local residents say four businessmen and outspoken anti-militancy advocates have been shot in Swat in recent months, raising fears about the scenic valley that Pakistan has been trying to restore as a tourist destination.
Mingora police chief Ahmad Shah said that nearly 200 people had been detained over Malala’s shooting, including the bus driver and a school watchman, but that most had been released.
“Police were on alert already, but after this latest incident, we are now carrying out nightly search operations on a daily basis to prevent such incidents,” Shah said.