ISLAMABAD – Pakistan sent a 14-year-old activist who was shot and seriously wounded by the Taliban to the United Kingdom for treatment Monday, saying she would require prolonged care to fully recover from the physical and psychological effects of the attack.
The shooting of Malala Yousufzai and two of her classmates as they were returning home from school in Pakistan's northwest on Oct. 9 has horrified people inside and outside the country. Tens of thousands rallied in Pakistan's largest city on Sunday to support her.
She was shot by the Taliban for promoting girls' education and criticizing the militant group.
Malala flew out of Pakistan on Monday morning in a specially-equipped air ambulance provided by the United Arab Emirates, said the Pakistani military, which has been treating the young girl at one of its hospitals.
A panel of doctors decided to send Malala to a center in the United Kingdom, "which has the capability to provide integrated care to children who have sustained severe injury," said the military in a statement sent to reporters.
Malala, who was shot in the head, will need to repair damaged bones in her skull and will require intensive "neuro rehabilitation," said the military. The decision to send the girl abroad was taken in consultation with her family, and the Pakistani government will pay for her treatment.
Pakistani military doctors earlier removed a bullet from Malala's body and were able to stabilize her condition.
The rally in the southern port city of Karachi on Sunday was the largest show of support yet for the girl. Some Pakistanis have expressed hope that the government would respond to the attack against her by intensifying its fight against the Taliban and their allies.
But protests against the shooting have been relatively small until now, usually attracting no more than a few hundred people. That response pales in comparison to the tens of thousands of people who held violent protests in Pakistan last month against a film produced in the United States that denigrated Islam's Prophet Muhammad.
Demonstrations in support of Malala -- and against rampant militant violence in the country in general -- also have been fairly small compared to those focused on issues such as U.S. drone attacks and the NATO supply route to Afghanistan that runs through Pakistan.
Right-wing Islamic parties and organizations in Pakistan that regularly pull thousands of supporters into the streets to protest against the U.S. have less of an incentive to speak out against the Taliban. They share a desire to impose Islamic law in the country -- even if they may disagree over the Taliban's violent tactics.
Pakistan's mainstream political parties are also often more willing to harangue the U.S. than direct their people power against Islamist militants shedding blood across the country -- partly out of fear and partly because they rely on Islamist parties for electoral support.
One of the exceptions is the political party that organized Sunday's rally in Karachi, the Muttahida Quami Movement. The party's chief, Altaf Hussain, criticized both Islamic and other mainstream political parties for failing to organize rallies to protest the attack on Malala.
He called the Taliban gunmen who shot the girl "beasts" and said it was an attack on "the ideology of Pakistan."
"Malala Yousufzai is a beacon of knowledge. She is the daughter of the nation," Hussain told the audience by telephone from London, where he is in self-imposed exile because of legal cases pending against him in Pakistan. His party is strongest in Karachi.
Many of the demonstrators carried the young girl's picture and banners praising her bravery and expressing solidarity.
Malala earned the enmity of the Pakistani Taliban for publicizing their behavior when they took over the northwestern Swat Valley, where she lived, and for speaking about the importance of education for girls.
The group first started to exert its influence in Swat in 2007 and quickly extended its reach to much of the valley by the next year. They set about imposing their will on residents by forcing men to grow beards, preventing women from going to the market and blowing up many schools -- the majority for girls.
Malala wrote about these practices in a journal for the BBC under a pseudonym when she was just 11. After the Taliban were pushed out of the Swat Valley in 2009 by the Pakistani military, she became even more outspoken in advocating for girls' education. She appeared frequently in the media and was given one of the country's highest honors for civilians for her bravery.
Many hope the shooting of Malala will help push the military to undertake a long-awaited offensive in the Pakistani Taliban's last main sanctuary in the country in the North Waziristan tribal area.
The Pakistani Taliban said they carried out the shooting because Malala was promoting "Western thinking." Police have arrested at least three suspects in connection with the attack, but the two gunmen who carried out the shooting remain at large.