President Barack Obama speaks with girls' education advocate and Taliban refugee Malala Yousafzai at the White House. (Image Source: Reuters)
It's a long way from being shot in the head. But Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai has gone from being a target for Taliban assassins to an important international figure in less than a year. Now, Malala has won the Sakharov Human Rights Prize (though not the Nobel Peace Prize, thankfully), gained accolades from several dignitaries and world leaders, and is now travelling the world in the name of improving the education of girls. Now, she has met the most prominent of world leaders, President Barack Obama. However, instead of simply pressing on girls' education, Malala criticized President Obama on a matter that is a problem to all Pakistanis, and may have played a role in her being shot: Drone strikes in Pakistan and Afghanistan by the American military.
Malala, a Pashtun, first gained prominence through an anonymous blog to BBC Urdu during the First Battle of Swat in 2009, when the Taliban attempted to take over the Swat Valley in northern Pakistan and impose Sharia'h law, which included banning girls' education. Hundreds of girls' schools were blown up, and Malala's school was eventually closed down during the battle. Eventually, Malala abandoned the valley with her father, and started to gain recognition outside of Pakistan, eventually getting an International Children's Peace Prize from Archbishop Desmond Tutu. That would eventually lead to the Taliban attempting to assassinate her in October 2012, shooting her in the head and neck.
When President Obama met Malala, with him was First Lady Michelle Obama and their daughter Malia. At first, Malala praised President Obama's efforts for helping girls' education in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as refugees from the Syrian civil war. Then Malala pointed out, critically and rightly, that drone attacks caused by the American military are likely fueling terrorists. She asked President Obama to cut back on drone attacks and focus on children's, including girls', education more.
Barack Obama has overseen an intensification of targeted strikes by flying drones along the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan, the primary base of operations for the Taliban and terrorist allies al Qaeda, since he became President in 2009. While the attacks have provided some success in reducing some of the effectiveness in al Qaeda, the drone strikes are a source of conflict and anger among Pakistanis, who believe they are being attacked indiscriminately for simply being Pakistani, and for the fact that civilians are often caught in the drones' crosshairs. Malala and Pakistanis may have something to agree on, after all.