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KABUL: A young activist from the same area of Pakistan as Malala Yousafzai, the girl shot in the head by a Taliban gunman this month, has been warned in a threatening phone call that she will be next.
Hinna Khan, a 17-year-old from Swat, was named during a call made to her mother’s mobile phone two days after Malala, who spoke out against the Taliban, was attacked as she sat in a van with her classmates, in the town of Mingora.
Hinna’s father, Reyatullah Khan, said: “The Taliban have kidnapped me and tortured me in the past for promoting women’s development, but now they are threatening the entire family.”
Khan has long publicly opposed the Taliban and in 2008 he gathered a “jirga” of locals to denounce the extremists for forcing schools to close down in Swat. Since 1999 he and his wife have worked through their own organisation to promote development and literacy programmes that support women.
Although he has received threats for many years, he is now taking them far more seriously in the wake of the attack on Malala, who is now recovering in hospital in the UK.
Two weeks before the attempt to kill the 14-year-old, Khan discovered someone had painted a red cross on the gate of the family house in Islamabad, where they have lived since fleeing Swat.
“I removed it but someone just repainted it,” he said. “Then after Malala was attacked we received telephone calls threatening that ‘your daughter is next,’ and ‘we have already sent people to Islamabad to target her.’”
The caller said the family were guilty of having “forgotten your culture”.
The Taliban - which have issued no public warning against the Khans - justified their attempt to kill Malala because she had campaigned for “secular” rule, rather than the form of government based on the movement’s interpretation of Islamic law.
Hinna has also been involved herself in her parent’s work, organising demonstrations in Islamabad in 2008 calling for peace in Swat. At the time the valley was struggling to cope with a rising Taliban insurgency, later crushed by a major military operation mounted by the Pakistani army. The insurgents also took over the Khans’ house in Swat, turning it into a Taliban “office” in early 2009.
Reyatullah Khan said he had not received any help, despite appealing to the country’s interior minister for protection. He said he was so concerned that he was thinking of joining relatives in Afghanistan - a substantially more dangerous place than the leafy suburban streets of Islamabad.