Malala becomes symbol of hope as Pakistan in global spotlight

Islamabad, Dec 21 (IANS) The exit of prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, the attack on teenaged rights campaigner Malala Yousufzai, spiralling sectarian

violence and brazen terror attacks ensured that 2012 was a year that kept Pakistan firmly in the global spotlight.

Pakistan, a nation of 180 million, saw a momentous political development when Gilani stepped down in June after the Supreme Court disqualified him for refusing to write to the Swiss authorities to reopen a corruption case against President Asif Ali Zardari.

It was a major blow to the Pakistan Peoples Party government as it tried to steady itself in the face of the graft row.

Zardari and his wife, former prime minister Benazir Bhutto who was assassinated in 2007, were suspected of using Swiss accounts to launder $12 million in bribes paid in the 1990s.

Gilani, who consistently argued that he could not take action against Zardari as he enjoyed immunity under the constitution, finally quit June 19.

Political groups held mass rallies in support of the court action.

However, Gilani's stepping down soon took a backseat in public discourses after the appointment of his successor Raja Pervez Ashraf.

The year saw US drone attacks turn into an emotive issue for Pakistanis, and the anti-drone clamour only got louder as the Americans intensified the missile strikes in the tribal areas.

Buoyed by large public support, cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan led a huge protest rally against the strikes in October.

"We are trying to save the people from drone attacks," said Imran Khan, chief of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party at the Oct 7 rally near South Waziristan.

Pakistanis saw the attacks as violation of their sovereignty, while the US argued they were needed to fight terror.

The drones effectively dealt with militant threats, but they also left dozens of civilians dead and injured, raising a nationwide outcry.

In the midst of all this, the world's attention turned to girl's rights campaigner Malala Yousafzai when a Taliban gunman shot her in the head for taking on their might.

Malala came to prominence in 2009 when she started writing a diary for BBC Urdu about life under the Taliban.

The attack on the 15-year-old Oct 9 triggered worldwide condemnation even as thousands of Pakistanis took to the streets to condemn the attack.

She became a symbol of resistance against the Taliban, with Education Minister Sardar Shah Jejan Yousuf declaring her "a symbol of courage".

She is currently recuperating at a hospital in Britain, where Zardari met her Dec 8 and said: "Our response to the attack is to further promote education and fight the extremist mindset in the country."

The brazen attack on Malala brought together people from different walks of life, cutting across the political spectrum.

Women, children and rights activists, as well as major political parties, came out in support of Malala and condemned the Taliban, marking a major outburst against radical Islamists.

The year 2012 started with terror attacks that ravaged Pakistan. In January itself, there were more than a dozen strikes.

The bullet-riddled bodies of 15 paramilitary troopers were found in Orakzai Agency Jan 5 following their abduction by the Taliban a year ago.

The attack was a retaliation for killing of their associates by security forces.

Thirty more people died Jan 10 when a powerful bomb was detonated in Jamrud town near the Afghan border. Again June 25, Taliban beheaded seven captured Pakistani soldiers.

On Aug 16, militants wearing military uniforms attacked the key Kamra air force base, destroying one aircraft. Six militants and two security personnel died.

The year also saw deadly sectarian attacks in Pakistan, particularly in the port city of Karachi.

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