Pakistani teen activist heads to UK hospital to recover

Posted at 8:03 AM, Oct 15, 2012
and last updated 2012-10-15 09:09:42-04

By Shaan Khan

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (CNN) — Malala Yousufzai, the Pakistani schoolgirl activist shot in the head by the Taliban, is on her way to Britain for treatment as she struggles to overcome her injuries, the Pakistani military said Monday.

“It was agreed by the panel of Pakistani doctors and international experts that Malala will require prolonged care to fully recover from the physical and psychological effects of trauma that she has received,” the military said in a statement.

“The medical team is pleased with her present condition,” it said, a situation that provided the window of opportunity to transfer her to a facility in Britain specializing in care for children with severe injuries.

The flight taking Malala, 14, from a military hospital in the town of Rawalpindi to Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham began Monday morning in Pakistan and was expected to take about eight hours.

She will be accompanied by her immediate family and an intensive care specialist on the specially equipped plane, which is being provided by the United Arab Emirates.

Malala has gained renown in Pakistan and around the globe for her efforts to defend the right of girls to go to school where she lives, the Taliban-heavy Swat Valley.

She was riding home in a school van Tuesday in the tense region, which sits along the Afghan border, when gunmen jumped into the vehicle and demanded to know which girl she was. Her horrified classmates pointed to her, and the men fired. Two other girls were wounded, but not seriously.

Malala was rushed to a hospital in the northwestern city of Peshawar where doctors worked to tackle the swelling of her brain and removed a bullet lodged in her neck. She was then moved to a military hospital in Rawalpindi, near Islamabad, which has a specialized pediatric intensive care unit.

The decision to send her to Britain was based on the expectation that she will need to have the damaged bones in her skull repaired or replaced, as well as intensive neurological rehabilitation, the military said Monday.

Malala’s family was consulted on the matter “and their wishes were also taken into consideration,” it said.

Her mother, father and younger brother are traveling with her on the plane, according to two of her cousins, Mehmood Khan and Hassan Khan.

“Malala will now receive specialist medical care in an NHS hospital,” said British Foreign Secretary William Hague, referring to the country’s National Health Service. “Our thoughts remain with Malala and her family at this difficult time.”

Authorities were not immediately disclosing the precise location of the hospital in Britain.

Her plight has united many Pakistanis, with everyone from elected officials to children decrying the attempted killing of the teen. Thousands took to the streets Sunday in Karachi, at a rally in support of Malala organized by the fiercely anti-Taliban MQM political party.

Massive posters and billboards said, “Malala, our prayers are with you.”

The young and unlikely activist rose to prominence for blogging about how girls should have rights in Pakistan, including the right to learn. She spoke out in a region of the country where support for Islamic fundamentalism runs high.

“I have the right of education,” she said in a CNN interview last year. “I have the right to play. I have the right to sing. I have the right to talk. I have the right to go to market. I have the right to speak up.”

Malala, whose writing earned her Pakistan’s first National Peace Prize, also encouraged young people to take a stand against the Taliban — and to not hide in their bedrooms.

Police have detained and questioned scores of people in efforts to find her attackers.

The instability of the region was highlighted late Sunday in an attack by scores of militants on a police outpost that killed six officers, police said.

The Taliban, who say no girl should be educated, have claimed responsibility for the shooting. They have threatened to go after Malala again if she survives.

“We do not tolerate people like Malala speaking against us,” Taliban spokesman Ihsanullah Ihsan said.

In the wake of the shooting, the teenage activist has come to symbolize a struggle in Pakistan between freedom and oppression, violence and peace.

On her blog, Malala often wrote about her life in Swat Valley, a hotbed of militant activity.

The valley near the Afghanistan border once attracted tourists to Pakistan’s only ski resort, as well as visitors to the ancient Buddhist ruins in the area. But that was before militants — their faces covered — unleashed a wave of violence in 2003.

They demanded veils for women, beards for men and a ban on music and television. They allowed boys’ schools to operate but closed those for girls.

But young Malala defied the Taliban edict, demanding an education.

For that, she got a bullet to the head — and the attention of much of the world.

CNN’s Saskya Vandoorne contributed to this report.

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