by Khadijah Ali (Opinion, Crescent International Vol. 42, No. 9, Dhu al-Hijjah, 1434)
The manner in which the plight of two Pakistani girls—Malala and Nabeela—has been addressed or not addressed, says much about the West’s policies and values.
Malala Yousafzai is a 16-year-old Pakistani girl who was shot and wounded by the Taliban in Mingora, Pakistan’s Swat Valley on October 12, 2012. Nabeela (she has only one name) is a nine-year-old Pakistani girl from the remote village of Ghundi Kala in Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal region, who was badly wounded in a US drone strike on October 24, 2012. While Nabeela survived the attack, her 68-year-old grandmother, Mamana Bibi was killed, her frail body blown to pieces by two Hellfire missiles. The family’s three cattle grazing in the field were also killed.
The girls were injured within two weeks of each other but the world knows a great deal about Malala and virtually nothing about Nabeela. Why? Is Nabeela less worthy of attention and sympathy than Malala?
Malala miraculously survived the shooting and following initial treatment at the Combined Military Hospital in Rawalpindi she was flown to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, England for reconstructive surgery. Nabeela’s poor parents were left to fend for themselves, getting whatever little medical treatment they could get at the hospital in Miran Shah, North Waziristan’s main city. Government-run hospitals in Pakistan are poorly equipped and staffed but most people are too poor to afford proper treatment at private hospitals in major cities like Peshawar or Islamabad.
Malala has been showered with international awards and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. She did not get the award for 2013 but the fact that she was even considered for the prize is quite revealing. Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie put Malala’s name on her bareback so the world would remember her name. Malala also has a 276-page book titled, I am Malala. It was written for her by Christina Lamb and contains a lot of anti-Islamic material that is extremely pleasing to the Muslim and Islam-hating West. One wonders whether Malala has read the book, and if so, whether she agrees with its anti-Islamic content.
She has met such international figures as the late Richard Holbrooke (US point man for Afghanistan and Pakistan), UN Secretary General Ban Ki moon, former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown (leading Western crusader on her behalf) and former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She also met President Barack Obama in the White House last month. And Malala was invited to Buckingham Palace last month to meet the British monarch, Queen Elizabeth II.
How many 16-year-old girls would get such accolades and honors anywhere in the world much less one born in the backwaters of Pakistan’s Swat Valley? It is not to denigrate Malala’s campaign for girls’ education but her promotion by the West stands in sharp contrast with the treatment of thousands of other Pakistani girls and boys that have suffered much worse fate. While we will not go into the details of all of them, we cannot help but reflect on the virtually total neglect — nay dismissal — of the other Pakistani girl, Nabeela. She was badly injured in a US drone strike outside her family mud hamlet in Ghundi Kala near Miran Shah at about the same time as Malala. Her 68-year-old grandmother, Mamana Bibi was blown to pieces when two Hellfire missiles were fired by a US drone.
What was the grandmother’s crime? She was picking vegetables from the small family farm for that evening’s meal while her grandchildren played nearby. The grandchildren survived because they were some 100 feet away but they were all injured when shrapnel from the missiles lodged in their tiny bodies. Nabeela, then 8 years old, her sisters Asma, 7 and Naeema, 5 were also injured in the twin blasts. Their three-year-old brother, Safdar, standing on the roof of the house, was thrown to the ground 10 feet below breaking several bones in his frail body: chest, ribs, legs and arms. He has still not recovered because of lack of proper medical care. The family is too poor to afford any.
On that fateful day, the family did not pay much attention to the humming of the US drone overhead. They were accustomed to seeing the pilotless drones. They have been flying over Pakistan’s tribal area, especially North Waziristan since 2004 and have murdered thousands of people during this time. Mamana Bibi was one of the victims in what the US calls its war on terror.
“There was a very bad smell and the area was full of smoke and dust. I couldn’t breathe properly for several minutes,” said Nabeela’s brother, Zubair Rehman. “The explosion was very close to us. It was very strong, it took me into the air and pushed me onto the ground,” Nabeela told a researcher from Amnesty International, which released its report on October 23 pertaining to US drones strikes in Pakistan.
Despite her own injury, later when she ventured to the spot where her grandmother had been picking vegetables earlier in the day, this is how Nabeela described the scene, “I saw her shoes. We found her mutilated body a short time afterwards,” recalled Nabeela. “It had been thrown quite a long distance away by the blast and it was in pieces. We collected as many different parts from the field and wrapped them in a cloth.”
Virtually the entire family sustained injuries. Zubair’s injuries were the most serious as were those of three-year-old Safdar. The family had to choose between treating Zubair or Safdar. It decided to get treatment for the older boy because he would become a helping hand for his father sooner than little Safdar would. Zubair required specialist medical care but it cost too much money. The family had to sell its small plot of land and after visiting several medical centres they found one in Peshawar (180 miles away) that was willing to carry out the operation to remove the shrapnel lodged in his leg for the meager sum the family could offer. He is now recovering slowly.
Nabeela, with a pretty face and large hazel eyes, still does not know why her family was targeted. The Amnesty report said some US actions (targeting civilians in Pakistan’s tribal region) constitute war crimes. The White House spokesperson Jay Carney dismissed Amnesty’s report the same day (October 23) insisting US actions were perfectly legal.
Do US crimes become legal because the world’s self-proclaimed superpower carries them out? What was Mamana’s crime? What about Nabeela? She is not seeking an invitation to the White House or Black House; she simply wants to know why missiles were fired at her and her siblings that blew their elderly grandmother to pieces? Some of her body parts were never recovered. Even if they had been, that would have provided little comfort to the family.
What is so special about Malala that she is being promoted globally while young Nabeela is totally ignored? Do Obama, Brown or any of the other international celebrities even know her name? She is not likely to get the education that Malala says she is promoting.
Malala was born in Mingora, Swat; Nabeela in Ghundi Kala, North Waziristan. Mingora is close to the tribal area; Ghundi Kala is part of the tribal belt. Malala was the target of Taliban attack, Nabeela of a US drone strike. It could be argued that Malala was deliberately targeted, while Nabeela was hit by mistake. She became “collateral damage” in the US war on terror. Does it make any difference as far as this little girl is concerned?
Malala is globetrotting and addressing conferences in New York, London, Paris, and other Western capitals. She has even been granted honorary citizenship by Canada that does not want most Pakistanis to come anywhere near its borders. Nabeela continues to live in the mud hovel in Ghundi Kala; the family cattle — all three of them — also killed in the US drone strikes that provided much of their sustenance: milk and cheese. The US has not even acknowledged, much less compensated the family for the killing of an elderly grandmother and their cattle. Their lives have been shattered.
We cannot help but note that Malala’s story advances the US and Western agenda in the region even if it shines light on the obscurantist views of the Taliban or whoever was responsible for targeting her. There is no doubt about the identity of those that struck Nabeela while killing her grandmother: the US. Malala travels all over the world, all expenses paid, while Nabeela is not likely to set foot even outside Ghundi Kala.
Are US crimes sacred and is Nabeela’s life any less important than that of Malala’s?
(Post script: On October 29, Nabeela, her brother Zubair and father Rafiqur Rehman appeared at a congressional hearing in Washington DC. Their appearance was sponsored by Florida Democrat Alan Grayston who said the US should stop drone strikes in Pakistan).