RAWALPINDI/PESHAWAR (SIKANDER SHAHEEN AND NADER BUNERI) - The wounded warrior in the cause of girls’ education, Malala Yousafzai was still battling for life on Thursday after she was airlifted from Peshawar to Rawalpindi for best possible treatment as millions of people in and around the country kept praying for the young activist.
Though the brilliant brain, shot in the head by the Taliban on Tuesday, remained unconscious at the intensive care unit of the AFIC, Malala’s condition was said to be gradually stabilising trimming the possibility of her treatment abroad.
Earlier on Wednesday, surgeons at the Combined Military Hospital (CMH) Peshawar successfully extracted the bullet which pierced her head and was lodged in her shoulder. And doctors said she had moved her arms and legs slightly the night before.
The shooting at a bus carrying Malala and other girls in the Swat valley has been denounced worldwide and authorities in the terror-hit country have offered a reward of more than $100,000 for the capture of her attackers.
Two of her school friends were also injured in the attack, carried out as retribution for Malala’s campaign for girls right to education during a two-year Taliban insurgency in Swat that the army claimed to have crushed in 2009. Despite grave threats to her life, she continued her mission even afterwards.
Injured Malala was brought to the AFIC, located a few kilometres away from the General Headquarters (GHQ), in a military helicopter on Thursday at 3:30pm amidst tight security as fears persist that she could be attacked by the extremists again.
The military officials said a four-tier security arrangement was being followed at the AFIC. The troops from Rawalpindi Corps, GHQ, Defence Services Guards (DSG) and the CMH’s internal security are deployed inside and around the AFIC, they said.
Pakistan Army’s Surgeon General Lt Gen Azhar Rashid reportedly leads the team of five surgeons treating Malala at the AFIC. The team includes heart specialist and AFIC Commandant Major General Asif Ali Khan and an anaesthesia specialist, officials said, adding that the physicians from the United States, Britain and Canada would join the ongoing treatment, if required.
“Her heart functioning is normal. Pulse and blood pressure are slightly on a lower side due to blood loss and weakness. Patient has shown initial signs of recovery and her condition is stabilising gradually but it’s very important that she regains consciousness in the next 48-72 hours,” officials told this newspaper.
“The surgical procedures performed on her so far have been successful and there would be no need to move her abroad in case she recovers her senses within the anticipated time. There’s a bright possibility of her swift recovery,” they said.
“In case this doesn’t happen and recovery rate remains slow or stagnant, the patient would have to be moved abroad. Foreign experts are here to treat her. They would be consulted before taking further course if things don’t go as planned,” they said.
“A team of specialist doctors accompanied Malala in helicopter. All resources are being employed to ensure the best possible treatment (to her),” an official statement said. “Now she needs post-surgery care. The doctors recommended that AFIC has better facilities for post-surgery care,” military spokesman Major General Asim Saleem Bajwa told the media.
Bajwa said Malala was still unconscious and that the next 24 hours would be crucial to her progress. One of her doctors, Mumtaz Khan, said that Malala had improved since the operation but that she was still seriously ill. “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 doctors were sending her medical reports abroad for advice. “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,” said Hasan.
A foreign news channel, CBS News reported a surgeon operating on Malala as saying that a high-velocity bullet, shot from close-range, damaged critical areas of her brain. “It is not just Malala’s survival which is in question, but what kind of survival. The next 24 hours will be critical for the girl.”
But Neurologist at CMH Peshawar Dr Colonel Junaid told this newspaper that Malala was stable and doctors were satisfied with her recovery, but he also said that next ten to fifteen days would be crucial. Interior Minister Rehman Malik said that Malala would be sent to Germany for treatment if doctors suggested so.
Earlier, Malala was brought to Peshawar Corpse Headquarter on an ambulance form where she was airlifted to Rawalpindi in a Pak Army helicopter. Before her departure for Rawalpindi, number of dignitaries including Punjab Governor and Sindh Minister for Education Pir Mazharul Haq visited CMH Peshawar and enquired about Malala’s condition.
Malala won international prominence after highlighting Taliban atrocities in Swat with a blog for the BBC three years ago, when the militants burned girls’ schools and terrorised the valley before the army intervened. She was just 11 when she stood up on the Taliban’s brutality against women.
She became an inspiration for the young women in the rural northwest of Pakistan, comprising Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), where women are often deprived of their basic right to education. Malala encouraged the tribal women to acquire education and highlighted women exploitation at different forums.
Her struggle resonated with tens of thousands of girls denied an education by the militants. The Taliban militants shot her in the head in broad daylight on Tuesday when the young student was about to leave for home in the school van after attending classes in Mingora.
US President Barack Obama, UN chief 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. Obama believed the shooting was “reprehensible and disgusting and tragic”, said White House spokesman Jay Carney.
But as she spent a second day in intensive care questions are mounting about how the attack could have happened in the first place and how the perpetrators simply walked away in an area with a police and army presence. Interior Minister Rehman Malik has promised to catch the gunmen.
The provincial government, which has announced a 10 million rupee ($104,000) reward for information leading to the arrest of Malala’s attackers, claimed of having traced the ‘real culprits’ at Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) behind the shooting incident.
“We have traced the real culprits and they would be taken to task soon, very soon,” Provincial Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain told this newspaper by phone from Peshawar. “There’re three militants who planned and executed this attempt. Details would be shared in due time,” he said.
Urging the religious scholars to issue a decree against attack on Malala, the minister remarked: “Thank God and thanks to doctors, Malala survived this brutal attack. Otherwise, we would have faced embarrassment and humiliation across the globe. We ask the religious figures to issue decree against this barbaric act. It’s time we stand united against militancy,” he said.
Declining to comment if any arrests were made, the minister said that the call records of two culprits were with the security agencies. But officials in Swat said dozens of people were rounded up after the attack. Mingora police station 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.
The Taliban, who have killed thousands of people across Pakistan in the last five years and destroyed hundreds of girls’ schools, have issued a statement saying that any female who opposes them should be killed.
Local residents say four businessmen and outspoken anti-militancy advocates have been shot in Swat in recent months, raising fears about the scenic valley which Pakistan has been trying to restore as a tourist destination.
Commentators have questioned whether anything will really change in Pakistan after the shooting, despite a call from the army chief General Ashfaq Kayani to further unite against militants and their “barbaric mindset”.
Many in the country blame the United States and the war in neighbouring Afghanistan for the violence. On the other hand, western states have been accusing Pakistan Army of playing a double game in supporting or at least accommodating some militant groups.