Taliban commander writes to Malala: 'come back home'

A commander with the Pakistani Taliban has written an open letter urging Malala Yousafzai, the teenaged activist who survived being shot by his group for advocating education for girls, to return to her home country and study Islam at a religious school for women.

Adnan Rasheed calls Malala's advocacy 'smearing campaign' against jihadist group

Malala Yousafzai celebrates her 16th birthday by speaking at the United Nations headquarters in New York City on Friday, July 12, 2013. A Taliban commander has since written to Malala, criticizing her work advocating for greater access to education. (United Nations Foundation, Stuart Ramson/Associated Press)

A commander with the Pakistani Taliban has written an open letter urging Malala Yousafzai, the teenaged activist who survived being shot by his group for advocating education for girls, to return to her home country and study Islam at a religious school for women.

"I advise you to come back home, adopt the Islamic and Pashtun culture, join any female Islamic madrassa near your home town, study and learn the book of Allah…" reads the letter, which was recently released to a number of media outlets.

The letter is attributed to Adnan Rasheed, a former officer with the Pakistani air force who was convicted in connection with a 2003 plot to assassinate then-Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. Rasheed was freed from prison last year by the Taliban, along with several hundred other inmates.

Rasheed is believed to be a member of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, the group that claimed responsibility for the October 2012 attack on Malala, in which a gunman shot the 15-year-old in the head as she rode on a school bus near her home in Pakistan's Swat Valley.

Malala survived after being airlifted to the Pakistani capital for treatment, and eventually to a hospital in Birmingham, England, where she now lives.

Malala addresses UN

Following the attack, Malala gained international attention for her work as a child activist advocating for girls' rights to education, culminating in a speech last Friday, her 16th birthday, before the United Nations General Assembly in New York City.

"They thought that the bullets would silence us, but they failed, and out of that silence came thousands of voices," she said.

"I'm not against anyone. Neither am I here to speak in terms of personal revenge against the Taliban or any other terrorist group. I'm here to speak for the right of education for every child."

In Rasheed's letter, which is dated July 15, he repeatedly alludes to Malala's UN speech — an event that garnered headlines around the world.

"First of all please mind that the Taliban never attacked you because of going to school or you were education lover, also please mind that Taliban or Mujahideen are not against the education of any men or women or girl," Rasheed says in the letter.

"Taliban believe that you were intentionally writing against them and running smearing campaign to malign their efforts to establish Islamic system in Swat and your writings were provocative."

Rasheed said the militants supported both boys and girls going to school, as long as they received an Islamic education and didn't study what he called a "satanic or secular curriculum."

He also said the letter contained his own personal views, and not those of the Pakistani Taliban.

The Associated Press said it received the document in an email on Tuesday night. The news agency said it spoke to a second Taliban commander on Wednesday who confirmed its authenticity.

'Unorthodox' public relations

Kamran Bokhari, vice-president for Middle Eastern and South Asian Affairs at Stratfor, a global intelligence company, called the letter "an unorthodox way for the Taliban to do public relations," in an effort to counter Malala's appeal in her home country.

Usually the group will phone its contacts in the media or release a video recording if they want to make a public statement, he said.

"It does show that they are under pressure," Bokhari said by phone. "Their target audience is not the West, it's Pakistanis."

That means treading lightly and avoiding criticizing the young activist too harshly, he said.

In the letter, Rasheed expresses regret that he didn't warn Malala before the assassination attempt that propelled her activism to the international stage. But he stopped short of apologizing for the attack that nearly claimed her life. 

The Taliban have kidnapped and shot other education activists like Malala and also have blown up hundreds of schools in Pakistan's northwest. The Pakistani army launched a large offensive against the Taliban in Swat in the spring of 2009 and drove out many of the militants, but they have continued periodic attacks.

Rasheed said the Taliban only blow up schools that Pakistani soldiers use as hideouts. Teachers and activists say this is only partly true. Some were targeted because they were used by the military, but many of the attacks were motivated by the Taliban's opposition to girls' education and schooling that doesn't follow their strict interpretation of Islam, the teachers and activists say.

Former British prime minister Gordon Brown, now a UN special envoy on global education, criticized Rasheed for writing the letter while the Taliban continues to attack schools.

"Nobody will believe a word the Taliban say about the right of girls like Malala to go to school until they stop burning down schools and stop massacring pupils," Brown said in a statement.

With files from The Associated Press