On July 17th, the leader of Pakistan's "Tehriru Taliban," Adnan Rashid, managing to make headlines around the world, apologized to Malala Yousufzai. She received a special message on her 16th birthday, July 12. She had given a moving speech at the UN on how the Taliban wanted to kill her because, despite widespread discrimination against women in Pakistan, she had wanted to go to school and learn. She urged children not get caught up in fear, but rise up against the ban on education. The UN, perhaps forgetting that this was a criticism of the Islamic world, responded with an enormous round of applause.
Then, however, a strange letter addressed to Malala arrived, with a copy delivered to Channel Four News in England. Written by Adnan Rashid, in it he explains that he was shocked by the attack (which he calls as an "incident"), and as they are both part of the Yousufzai tribe; feels remorse for what happened, and wishes it had never happened. Rashid's Tehriru Taliban is the group that had claimed responsibility for the attack on Malala Yousufzai.
While offering his friendship and apologies, he goes on to say that when he was in prison (during an eight-year sentence), he wanted to ask her to avoid any anti-Taliban activities. "Careful, the Taliban did not attack you because you went to school or wanted to learn. We are not against the education of any man, woman or child. The Taliban thought that you were intentionally waging a defamation campaign against their efforts to establish an Islamic system in Swat and that your writings could be provocative." As he continues, Rashid -- without denying his dedication to Sharia, to shooting anyone who violates it, or, in a common form of violence against women, attacking them with acid -- justifies his group's acts of violence: "Why do we blow up schools?" It is, he explains, because schools become places of control and surveillance against the Taliban. Rashid then asks Malala to abandon her ambitions and focus on the future: "Return home, adopt Islamic and Pashtu culture and enroll yourself in a girl's Islamic madrassa."
So, the Taliban leader, evidently aware that the girl has aroused a powerful wave of disapproval towards his organization and Islamic discrimination against women in general, is now concerned with reestablishing the Taliban's good reputation, and understands how more effectively to advance a dialogue with the Americans in Afghanistan.
He starts a debate with a 16-year-old girl who was shot in the head -- an ambitious move but also a signal of internal weakness. His argument falls apart when he explains that it is better to be attacked by the Taliban than by the Americans: "Be honest, if you were hit by a drone, the world would never have cared about your health. Would anyone have asked you to speak before the UN?" The only thing missing is for Rashid to ask Malala to thank him for the bullets that struck her head, face and neck when she was on her way to school on 9 October 2012, leaving her in critical condition at hospital for three months.
Judging by Rashid's words, when the Americans leave Afghanistan, Afghani women had better be ready.
Fiamma Nirenstein, journalist and author, former Vice-President of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, and member of the Italian delegation at the Council of Europe.
This article originally appeared in slightly different form in Italian in Il Giornale; English copyright, Gatestone Institute.