Until 2007, when the Taliban came to power in the Swat Valley, it had been a haven for honeymooners and was known as the Switzerland of Pakistan for its beautiful, mountainous landscape. But the group’s hold over the region instilled fear in the population and made it dangerous for young girls to get an education: The Taliban burned down hundreds of schools for girls and threatened teachers and female students.
The terror organization was largely driven out of the region in a Pakistani military operation in 2009 – bringing relative safety to its residents.
“Since they were driven out of Swat, the Taliban has not been able to launch large-scale attacks on schools,” said Anatol Lieven, professor at the war studies department of King’s College London. “This was a one-off assassination (attempt).
“This proves that they have a presence in the Swat Valley and can carry out individual attacks. But the level of violence is nothing like it was before 2009.”
Analysts believed that the attack on Malala was the Taliban trying to show they still wield control in the area.
“The Taliban is clearly asserting themselves, saying A, we have not been eliminated, B, we can still target what we consider symbolic targets, and the message is that the government is not in control of the area,” said Frederic Grare, South Asia Program director the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a non-profit organization promoting international cooperation.
“Whether this is true or not is a different matter,” Grare said. ” But that’s the message that they are trying to convey.”
Analysts said that regardless of the revulsion over the attack, it won’t lessen Taliban support in the short run.
“The news their supporters get is probably filtered through the Taliban sources so in some sense this girl may have been made out to be a monster or a sort of a Western agent,” said S. Athar Hussain, director of the Asia Research Center at the London School of Economics. “At the same time, it was a show of force (by the Taliban) to say they can control people and for even a small disagreement with them, they can take revenge. It was demonstrating to the government and the public how powerful they are.
“Unfortunately, they are quite powerful right now,” he added. “The fact that they can walk in and shoot the girl with impunity serves notice to everyone else that if you disagree you might meet the same treatment.”
Peace activist Saeeda Diep, of the Institute for Peace and Secular Studies in Lahore, said that the government would protect people like Malala and her father — who has also been threatened — but that it was not a solution.
“The government needs to take action to get rid of extremists,” she said. “She (Malala) was fortunate that she got the peace prize and people know her, but there are many victims like her. We can relate Malala to 100,000 girls in the country.”