After Friday prayer, Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf visited Yousafzai’s family at a heavily guarded military hospital in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, where doctors were considering whether to send her abroad for treatment.
“The next 48 hours will be critical,” Ashraf told reporters. Extremists targeted Yousafzai, who was shot in the head while riding in a school bus on Tuesday in Mingora, because, he said, “they were scared of the power of her vision.”
“She is the true face of Pakistan,” he added.
Afzal Khan Afridi, the Mingora police chief, declined to specify the number of people arrested or what role they were suspected of playing in the shooting, saying he said he did not want to endanger the investigation.
A 15-year-old girl who was wounded alongside Yousafzai described how easily the Taliban had been able to attack the school bus. “A young man in his early 20s approached the bus and asked for Malala,” the girl, Kainat Riaz, said in an interview at her family’s home in Swat. “Then he started firing.”
The fate of Yousafzai, who has become a symbol of defiance of the Taliban’s extremist ideology, has gripped Pakistan. Television stations have provided intensive coverage of her medical treatment, and leaders from across the nation’s political and religious spectrums have united in condemning the attack.
A senior official from Jamaat-e-Islami, the country’s largest religious party, accompanied Ashraf to the hospital. So did the parliamentary leader of the secular Muttahida Qaumi Movement, which dominates Pakistan’s largest city, Karachi.
In an interview with CNN on Thursday, the foreign minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, described the attack as a traumatic “wake-up call” that could prove to be a turning point in Pakistan’s war against extremism.
The army is directing efforts to save Yousafzai, who is on a ventilator. Government officials have estimated her chances of survival at 50 to 70 per cent.
Some analysts have speculated that the army could leverage the unusually strong criticism of the Taliban in this case to begin a new military operation in the tribal belt, but others said the uproar would not ultimately lead to a crackdown.
The shooting embarrassed the army because it had claimed to have largely eliminated the Taliban from the Swat Valley after a major military operation in 2009. Yet Riaz described how the gunmen stopped their bus, which was carrying about 16 students, in the center of Mingora, which is the valley’s main town and is near a military checkpoint.
Riaz, contradicting earlier reports, she said that the attackers were not masked and that the gunmen did not board the bus, but opened fire from outside after identifying Yousafzai.
A third student who was wounded, Shazia Ramzan, is at a hospital in Peshawar. Riaz said that her family had left the valley but returned after the 2009 military operation, and that she had been studying for two years.
“We were feeling good because there was no sign of the Taliban,” she said as two police officers stood guard outside her home.
Sirajuddin Ahmad, the spokesman for the Taliban in the Swat Valley, said that Yousafzai became a target because she had been “brainwashed” into making anti-Taliban statements by her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai.
“We warned him several times to stop his daughter from using dirty language against us, but he didn’t listen and forced us to take this extreme step,” he said.
Both father and daughter remain on the Taliban’s list of intended victims, he said.