In early 2009, the schools in Swat reopen. Because he’s a boy, Khushal is still allowed to attend classes, but he values education less highly than Malala, and so he says he wants to stay home with Malala. Malala is furious with this—she insists that Khushal is lucky to be able to learn. Malala stays at home and educates herself by reading books, including The Alchemist by Paul Coelho.
Khushal isn’t a major presence in the book by any means, and is mostly a convenient hook on which Malala can hang her ideas about the importance of education. But he also shows how the patriarchy is harmful to both men and women—when boys are told that they are naturally superior, they develop a sense of entitlement, and so can lazily squander the privileges they’re given.
Malala’s spirits lift when Fazlullah rethinks his policy on women’s education. Ziauddin’s protests have been more effective than Malala imagined: across Pakistan, people are criticizing Fazlullah for banning women’s education. In response, Fazlullah agrees to lift the ban for girls who are ten years old or younger. Malala pretends to be younger than she really is in order to continue going to school. Several of her friends do so as well.
Ziauddin isn’t as powerless as he’s seemed to be lately. Again we’re given little information about how exactly Ziauddin’s protests resulted in a compromise with the Taliban. Instead Malala emphasizes the point that protests and demonstrations can effect positive change in politics.
Swat has reached a point where there are Taliban soldiers everywhere. 70 percent of the valley is under Taliban control, and when Malala walks through Mingora, she can’t help but see Taliban. On the night of February 19, 2009, there is a breakthrough in government-Taliban relations. A peace agreement is arranged between the government and the Taliban. Under the terms of the agreement, there will be a ten-day truce, and the Taliban will release some of the prisoners they’ve kept.
Ziauddin’s compromise with the Taliban coincides—perhaps not coincidentally—with the compromise between the Taliban and the government of Pakistan. This sheds some light on why the Taliban have agreed to let girls attend school once again—they’re losing followers, and need to cave in on some of their demands.
In the midst of the ten-day truce, Malala gives an interview to a famous Pakistani reporter, Musa Khan Khel. Ziauddin has arranged for the interview using the connections he made through Adam Ellick. In the interview, Malala talks about her experiences growing up in a war-torn area. Shortly afterward, on February 22, 2009, there is important news: a permanent ceasefire has been announced. Schools will reopen with all girls properly covered by burqas, the government will pay reparations to the families of war victims, and there will be no more suicide bombers. Malala is thrilled with this news, though she learns that the American government is disappointed—it believes that Pakistan’s government has “given in” to the Taliban.
Malala already seems to conduct herself with a level of confidence that many grown men don’t possess. Perhaps this is a result of her coming of age in a war-torn country—next to the threat of a bombing, the prospects of interviewing with a famous reporter don’t seem particularly nerve-wracking at all. And of course, part of Malala’s calmness is a function of her own innate maturity and poise, qualities which no one, including Ziauddin, could teach her. As a general rule, Malala seems to respect the importance of compromises—unlike her fundamentalist opponents, she doesn’t think in terms of absolutes.
In the months following the ceasefire agreement, there are occasional flare-ups of violence. A woman is attacked by a Taliban soldier for shopping for makeup unaccompanied. Another woman manages to film the entire incident, and the footage is later broadcast across the country, to enormous outrage. Malala is outraged, too, though she’s a little irritated that this incident sparks so much anger, while the Taliban’s ban on education sparked relatively little. The Taliban remain in Swat, and one day a soldier threatens to hurt Malala’s mother if she doesn’t wear her burqa. Malala’s mother reluctantly agrees to wear the burqa in the future. One of Ziauddin’s friends summarizes the problem with Pakistan: “there cannot be two swords in one sheath.” Both the government and the Taliban continue to wield power over the people of Pakistan—there can’t be two groups in charge.
The attacks on women in Pakistan grow even more brutal, and Malala’s feelings on the matter are very telling: we realize that she regards the right to education as every bit as important as the right to life and freedom. The dilemma that Pakistan faces is essentially the dilemma of the “unstable state.” A state is often defined as a human institution that successfully claims a monopoly on the legitimate use of force in a territory. Because there are two forces vying for a monopoly on the use of force in Pakistan, the people don’t know whom to obey, and so the country is torn apart along ideological lines.
There are demonstrations and marches throughout Swat, organized by the Taliban. People march in support of the Quran, criticizing Western education and culture as “corrupt” and “wicked.” Taliban officials speak before crowds of thousands, calling democracy contrary to the wishes of Allah. Malala begins to believe that Pakistan has become a Taliban state.
The downside of the government’s compromise with the Taliban is that it has now recognized the Taliban as a legitimate political entity, in addition to a terrorist organization. As a result, the Taliban has a national platform, and so an easier time advancing its fundamentalist beliefs.
In the following months, Malala realizes that the United States was right to condemn the deal between Pakistan and the Taliban. By winning some of its demands using violence and intimidation, the Taliban has decided that it can get away with anything, provided that it uses violence. Soon there are riots in Swat, and bombings throughout Islamabad. Malala learns that President Obama has shipped 21,000 new troops to Afghanistan to fight the Taliban. Nevertheless, he has stated publicly that Pakistan has a greater threat, since it controls nuclear warheads.
The Taliban’s actions in the weeks following the compromise with the government are horrifying. Obama’s refusal to ship troops to Pakistan is a signal of the uneasy relationship the US has with the country. America recognizes that Pakistan is potentially a major threat, but it also wants to keep Pakistan as an ally and support its government in opposing the Taliban.
In May 2009, the Pakistani army sends soldiers to Swat to drive the Taliban away. There is constant gunfire near Malala’s home. Malala is terrified, but Ziauddin insists that the safest thing to do is to remain in the village. Nevertheless, a loudspeaker announces that soldiers will be “clearing the town” soon—the safest thing to do, the loudspeaker advises, is leave immediately.
For the time being, Ziauddin keeps his family in the Swat Valley, and he seems to have a good point: people are safer in their houses than outside, where the Taliban can attack them without impunity. Yet the danger in the Swat Valley has also become so great that it seems like the best course of action is to leave entirely.