Hopes Rise For Girl Shot By Taliban

Just three and half weeks ago, Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head by the Taliban. Weekend Edition host Scott Simon talks with NPR's Philip Reeves about the condition of the young girl who has become a poster child for the Talban's brutality.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. It's been only one and a half weeks since the Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head by the Taliban. She was targeted for publicly campaigning against an Islamist ban on girls' education. She's already able to stand, with assistance. Malala's being treated at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Britain. Her story has caused a worldwide outcry; and her recovery is being closely followed by people across the map, including a multitude back in her home country of Pakistan. NPR's Philip Reeves joins us now from the capital of Pakistan, Islamabad. Thanks very much for being with us, Phil.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: You're welcome.

SIMON: And, as we note, Malala's reportedly able to stand, with assistance. But what else is known about her condition?

REEVES: Well, this morning, I called the hospital. And the latest information that they have is that Malala is still stable, and that she's progressing well. She was flown from here, in Pakistan, to the U.K. on Monday; so she's been there some five days. And, of course, she had a very, very grave injury - a bullet wound to the head, from a gun fired at close range. But that good news about her condition should be seen in the context of the latest, really detailed report on her progress that came yesterday from the hospital's medical director, Dave Rosser. Rosser says she does seem to have some memory. He says she also seems to understand people and is responding to them.

DR. DAVE ROSSER: She's communicating very freely. She's writing. She has a tracheostomy tube in, because her airway was swollen by the passing of the bullet. So in order to protect her airway, she had a tracheostomy tube in. So she's not able to talk, although we have no reason to believe that she wouldn't be able to talk once this tube is out, which it may be, in the next few days.

SIMON: And do you get much sense of what kind of medical work the doctors there, at Queen Elizabeth, are going to have to undertake?

REEVES: Yes. I mean, Malala does seem to have been extremely lucky. She was shot just above the back of her left eye, from up close. Dave Rosser, the hospital medical director you've just heard from, says she's going to need a lot more treatment and specialist care.

SIMON: Phil, in the United States - and around the world - we've seen pictures of demonstrations of support and solidarity, from Pakistani schoolgirls. Help us understand the level of interest Pakistanis that you've encountered, have in her story.

REEVES: Oh, very great interest, indeed. I mean, Pakistanis were horrified by the attack on Malala. Her story's still all over the newspapers here. You see her picture repeatedly flashing up on the TV; often accompanied by slow, sad music. In fact, the scale of the media coverage, and the amount of focus specifically on Malala, appears to have greatly angered the Pakistani Taliban - the people who carried out this attack. They've responded by threatening to attack the Pakistani and international media. The shootings also triggered a lot of heated debate here, about the kind of course that the country's taking.

One of these is over whether the Pakistani government should now launch a military offensive into North Waziristan. That's the part of the tribal belt that's used as a haven for the Pakistani Taliban. And by going in there, to attempt to crush the militants - what you might call progressive Pakistanis, who see the rise of violent Islamist militancy in this country, as an existential threat to their society. A calling for that, but there doesn't appear to be political consensus among the politicians and generals.

SIMON: Does this seem to be - realizing, obviously, that we're just speaking a week and a half after the event - kind of signature event that can change public thinking and sentiments, at least among the people with whom you've spoken?

REEVES: Well, you know, that was very much the focus of debate, at the beginning of all this. Pakistan's a deeply divided country. But the disgust and anger over this attack, you know, they - it really was shared by many, many people; and it did seem to create a rare moment of consensus. But that has since begun to dissipate, for various reasons. One of them is that initially, the public outrage focused only on the Taliban and their violent campaign to stamp out girls' education. Other issues have started to percolate into this. There's a discussion going on about whether shooting a 15-year-old schoolgirl in the head, just for calling for the rights of girls to be educated, is as condemnable - or less condemnable - than killing civilians, including children, with missiles fired from CIA drones that were meant to target militants.

So that's one level of debate that's now fractured the public mood. And another one is that the lens is widening. Articles are beginning to appear in the papers, that examine the dismal record of the Pakistani government in providing education for girls; especially for impoverished children, in general. Pakistan's got one of the worst records in the world, in that regard. Latest stats from UNESCO say that nearly two-thirds of Pakistan's poorest girls are out of school.

SIMON: NPR's Philip Reeves in Islamabad. Thanks so much.

REEVES: You're welcome.

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