NEW YORK - In the wake of the cold-blooded shooting of Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani education activist, The New York Times Tuesday devoted space for an open debate aimed at eliciting views about ways to safely support women’s rights in Taliban-heavy areas, or whether is it time to take a tougher stance.

Six experts on the Pak-Afghan regions took part. They are: Husain Haqqani, a former Pakistan ambassador to the United States; Dr Amna Buttar, a former member of the Punjab Assembly; Andrew Wilders, director of the US Institute of Peace; Pir Zubair Shah, a Pakistani journalist who is now an Edward Murrow fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, Fiza Shah, the founder and head of Developments in Literacy, a nonprofit dedicated to educating and empowering underprivileged students, especially girls, and training teachers and principals in Pakistan; and Mark Katz, a professor of government and politics at George Mason University.

These experts believe that the challenging task of promoting women’s rights can be achieved through dedicated efforts and a variety of measures in Taliban-infested areas. “The international community can help Pakistan fight the ideological battle against the Taliban with training, equipment and economic support,” wrote Haqqani, who is now a professor of international relations at Boston University and a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.

“The targeted attack on Malala Yusafzai should open the eyes of all those who have been looking for ways to avoid fighting these barbarians,” he said, referring to the Taliban militants. Dr Buttar wrote, “We need to change the lens through which we view Pakistan from one of conflict to one of compassion.

“Growing up in Pakistan, I never imagined, even in my wildest dreams, that there would be a time when girls would get shot for going to school. Welcome to the Pakistan that has been hijacked by organised criminals, the Taliban. They call themselves promoters of Islam. But they know nothing about Islam. If they were really familiar with this belief system, they would remember that the first word of revelation in the (holy) Quran is ‘Iqra’ (read), and would therefore refrain from bombing girls’ schools.”

Wilders wrote, “Those working for women’s rights in Taliban-heavy areas best understand how to operate in culturally sensitive ways while also recognising that there are no ‘quick fixes’.”

Fiza Shah said, “International organisations must collaborate with local NGOs to bring about a revolutionary change in the field of education.”

Pir Zubair Shah wrote, “The policy of fighting some groups who are deemed a threat while at the same time supporting other extremists for strategic purposes has confused most Pakistanis...

“After so many years of war and violence, Pakistanis still have contradicting beliefs about who the enemy is. Some think that the enemy is India, while others believe that the extremist violence in the country is due to the United States presence in Afghanistan, and that once the Americans leave, the Taliban will simply disappear. Some even attribute the attacks like the one on Malala as a reaction to the drone strikes.”

“What should be done?  asks Prof Katz. “Islamabad can provide armed protection for girls’ schools as well as the buses that serve them. The US and its allies can provide the necessary funding for such a programme. Further, the Pakistani government needs to mount a public relations effort in the region about how the education of Pakistani girls is needed for the betterment of Pakistan as a whole, and that anyone who seeks to prevent them from becoming educated is not helping Pakistan but harming it.”