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Taliban gunmen shoot 14-year-old girl activist

Associated Press Modified: October 9, 2012 at 11:45 pm •  Published: October 9, 2012
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The Swat Valley — nicknamed the Switzerland of Pakistan — was once a popular tourist destination for Pakistanis. Honeymooners used to vacation in the numerous hotels dotted along the river of the same name running through it. But the Taliban's near-total takeover of the valley just 175 miles (280 kilometers) from the capital in 2008 shocked many Pakistanis, who considered militancy to be a far-away problem in Afghanistan or Pakistan's rugged tribal regions.

Militants began asserting their influence in the valley in 2007 — part of a wave of al-Qaida and Taliban fighters expanding their reach from safe havens near the Afghan border.

By 2008 they controlled much of it and began meting out rules and their own brand of justice. During about two years of its rule, the Taliban forced men to grow beards, restricted women from going to the bazaar, whipped women they considered immoral and beheaded opponents.

Taliban militants in the region also destroyed around 200 schools. Most were girls' institutions, though some prominent boys' schools were struck as well. The private school owned and operated by Malala's father was temporarily closed under the Taliban.

At one point, the Taliban said they were halting female education, a move that echoed their militant brethren in neighboring Afghanistan who during their rule barred girls from attending school.

While the Pakistani military managed to flush out the insurgents during the military operation, the Taliban's top leadership escaped, leaving many of the valley's residents on edge.

Kamila Hayat, a senior official of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, said Malala's activism sent a global message that Pakistani girls could fight for their rights. But she also worried that Tuesday's shooting would prevent other parents from letting their children speak out against the Taliban.

"This is an attack to silence courage through a bullet," Hayat said. "These are the forces who want to take us to the dark ages."

The problems of young women in Pakistan were the focus of a separate case before the high court, which ordered a probe Tuesday into an alleged barter of seven girls to settle a blood feud in a remote southwestern district. The tradition of families exchanging unmarried girls to settle feuds is banned under Pakistani law but still practiced in the country's more conservative, tribal areas.

A tribal council ordered the barter in early September in the Dera Bugti district of Baluchistan province, the district deputy commissioner, Saeed Faisal, told the court. He did not know the girls' ages but local media reported they were between 4 and 13 years old.

The Advocate General for the province could not confirm the incident.

Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry ordered Faisal to ensure that all members of the tribal council — and a local lawmaker — who belongs to one of the groups believed involved — appear in court on Wednesday.

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Santana reported from Islamabad. Associated Press writer Abdul Sattar in Quetta and Zarar Khan and Asif Shahzad in Islamabad contributed to this report.