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Girl shot by the Taliban has become a powerful advocate for girls education

A prominent Taliban commander from Pakistan says he regrets the attack on Malala Yousafzai, and well he might after the teenage shooting victim spoke last week to the United Nations.

It was a moment for the ages: Celebrating her 16th birthday, Malala showed not a hint of fear or of a willingness to back down from her advocacy for girls’ education. Anyone who saw that speech couldn’t have come away unmoved by this child’s breathtakingly grown-up courage.

An activist for girls’ education since the age of 11, Malala was shot in the head and neck by Taliban gunmen last August in retribution for her public advocacy. She lay unconscious and in critical condition for days before improving enough to be flown to London for rehabilitation.

Last week, only nine months after the Taliban tried to assassinate her, she stood before the United Nations, which had declared Malala Day, speaking calmly, fearlessly and passionately about the facts of poverty and enforced ignorance, especially among women and girls. She turned 16 that day, but it might have been a 30-year-old speaking to that chamber, so assured and powerful was her 17-minute presentation.

A week later, Taliban commander Adnan Rasheed wrote a letter to Malala, expressing regrets, not about the attack on a school bus, but that he didn’t warn her before the assassination attempt. No doubt: If you set out to kill the king, then kill the king. A child who was once a regional influence in Pakistan’s Swat Valley is now an international actor for the rights of women and girls, and it’s hard to imagine a more powerful one.

Fortunately for Malala and millions of others whose lives she may influence, the Taliban failed in its attempt to silence her. Indeed, the attack made her stronger and, if it is possible, even more committed to the cause of equality for women and girls.

It is hard not to fear for her safety, so frightened is the Taliban of her power and so hateful of her cause. In the days after the assassination attempt, the Taliban swore to try again to kill her and her father. That, of course, would turn a hero into a martyr – a real one, not the false martyrs glorified by terrorists. Taliban gunmen may or may not know that and they may not even care.

Malala doesn’t care either – at least, not that you could tell from her speech to the United Nations. What the world saw on that day – Malala Day – was the arrival of an important new international voice for women’s equality, and for the education of girls. If she can remain safe, we suspect that her voice will continue to be heard for decades to come.

And the Taliban did it.