A senior Pakistan Taliban commander has written an open letter to teen activist Malala Yousafzai – who was shot in the head last year on her way home from school – saying that he wished the attack never happened.
Adnan Rasheed described the attack as “shocking,” but at the same time did not apologize for it. He also urged the 16-year-old girl to return to Pakistan.
“I was thinking how to approach you,” Rasheed wrote, according to NBC News. “My emotions were brotherly for you because we belong to same Yousafzai tribe.”
The Associated Press received the letter by email late Tuesday and spoke to another Taliban commander Wednesday who confirmed it was authentic.
Rasheed, who has close relations with Taliban leaders, said the letter expressed his own opinion, not that of the group.
But a research director at the Federally Administered Tribal Area Research Center in Islamabad believes Rasheed’s letter is a publicity stunt, NBC News reports.
“He clearly wants to impress the Pakistani public and the international community,” Mansur Mahsud said. “Malala would not be safe if she returned.”
The Taliban, which has long opposed educating girls in Pakistan as well as neighboring Afghanistan, said it targeted Malala because she was campaigning for girls to go to school and promoted "Western thinking."
On Friday, Yousafzai celebrated her 16th birthday on the world stage at the United Nations, defiantly telling Taliban extremists that the attack gave her new courage and demanding that world leaders provide free education to all children.
The speech was Yousafzai’s first since she was shot in the head during the bus ride on her way back from school in Pakistan's Swat Valley last October. She addressed nearly 1,000 young leaders from more than 100 countries at the U.N.'s first Youth Assembly — and she had a message for them, too.
"Let us pick up our books and our pens. They are our most powerful weapons," Malala urged. "One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world. Education is the only solution. Education first."
The U.N. had declared July 12 — her 16th birthday — "Malala Day." But she insisted it was "the day of every woman, every boy and every girl who have raised their voice for their rights."
In what some observers saw as another sign of defiance, Malala said the white shawl she was wearing belonged to Pakistan's first woman prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated in December 2007 when she returned to run in elections.
"They thought that the bullets would silence us," she said. "But they failed. And then, out of that silence came thousands of voices. The terrorists thought that they would change our aims and stop our ambitions, but nothing changed in my life except this: Weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born."
In U.N. corridors, her speech got rave reviews with some diplomats and observers predicting a future political career.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.