TheÂ shooting TuesdayÂ of Malala Yousafzai, who remains in critical condition in a Peshawar military hospital, brought condemnation from conservative clerics, secular politicians, the military and media figures at a time when Pakistanis had seemed almost numb to rising extremism.
More than 3,000 peopleÂ died last year in extremist attacksÂ here, but images of the bandaged, unconscious teenager prompted a national debate about the corrosive impact of Talibanization.
â€œThe world image of Pakistan is, to put it mildly, not very good,â€ said Ijaz Khattak, a professor at the University of Peshawar who knows Yousafzai and her father, an educator and peace activist in Swat. â€œSociety is seen as increasingly sympathetic to these terrorists. What this incident can prove to be is a catalyst, because the outrage can turn the tide against the religious fundamentalism.â€
Yousafzai was already aÂ national heroÂ for her fearless opposition to the Taliban, which closed her fatherâ€™s school and other girlsâ€™ schools in Swat when the militants imposed harsh Islamic law there from 2007 until 2009. In conversations Wednesday, Pakistanis referred to her as â€œthat brave girlâ€ and tuned into television networksâ€™ constant updates on her condition after surgeons removed the life-threatening bullet.
Doctors said her prognosis had improved.
An editorial Wednesday in the News, an English-language daily, seemed to capture the national mood: â€œMalala Yousafzai is in critical condition today, and so is Pakistan,â€ it said. â€œWe are infected with the cancer of extremism, and unless it is cut out we will slide ever further into the bestiality that this latest atrocity exemplifies.â€
Police said they have identified a shooting suspect but have not apprehended him. Akbar Khan Hoti, chief of police for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, told a television news channel that the attacker traveled from eastern Afghanistan.
The provincial administration, meanwhile, announced a $100,000 reward for information leading to the suspectâ€™s capture.
The countryâ€™s top military leader, Chief of Army Staff Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, visited the girlâ€™s hospital bedside and declared her shooting â€œinhumanâ€ and a â€œheinous act of terrorism.â€