Militants who tried to kill Malala Yousafzai have strengthened the resolve of schoolgirls to attend school, her friends said.
Even the girls who saw a gunman shoot the 14-year-old pro-education activist and two schoolmates on their bus on October 9th in Mingora, in the Swat District of Pakistan, are not backing down on their hopes and dreams of getting an education.
"The clear proof of our bravery is that – when the attackers asked us, 'Who among you is Malala?' – none of us replied seconds before (the shooter) began firing," said 10th-grader Shazia, one of two other injured girls and recovering from bullet wounds to her shoulder and neck.
The girl said outlawed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan's (TTP) claim of responsibility "bears no meaning for us".
"We know the Taliban militants 'execute' their opponents," Shazia said. "We know that only the Taliban can do this uncivilised act of attacking girls."
The girls and their families remember atrocities the Taliban committed during the militants' two-year reign of terror (2007-2009) in Swat. Citing examples, she mentioned the killing of women; bombings of mosques, schools, funeral ceremonies and the Taliban's displaying of foes' severed heads.
"I was neither scared the moment when the gunmen approached us nor am I now because we went to school [anyway] when Swat was under the Taliban and thousands of students had opted to stay home," Shazia recalled.
"This [attack] cannot dent our determination, and the only weapon is to arm girls with education and defeat guns with pens," said Kanat, the third girl injured in the shooting. "We will continue education to accomplish Malala's mission."
Kanat said "there's no looking back" for Malala, mentioning her own plans to become a doctor.
TTP tactics won't deter girls
The TTP want to frighten students into abandoning school, but won't succeed, according to Asma Ali, a physics teacher at Malala's school. Students showed their defiance when they turned up in droves for the October 12th morning assembly to pray for Malala.
The credit for that attitude belongs to Malala, she said, adding, "Our students aren't afraid."
The attempted murder of the Mingora resident who under a pen name blogged in 2009 about Taliban abuses for the BBC Urdu service, aroused widespread debate in Pakistan but has not shaken the resolve of the girls of Mingora.
"If we feared the Taliban, we couldn't get education; therefore, we are totally oblivious to the Taliban's attacks," said Spogmay, a 7th grade girl who was on Malala's bus. "It was like hell. For a moment, I thought we would not survive, the way (the gunman) fired at us indiscriminately.
"I am sure that the scales of justice would tip in our favour and ever-smiling, brave and intelligent Malala will regain health very soon," Spogmay said, adding students would rally around Malala to ensure women's education in the future.
Malala's best friend Shazia said, "I will give my life in exchange for Malala's. Losing a friend like her is unbearable."
She recalled how Malala persuaded the girls to attend schools in the Taliban era.
"Malala used to tell us they should wear veils in compliance with the Taliban's directives, but shouldn't remain absent."
Saeeda, an 8th-grade student at the same school said, "We have promised Malala that we should fight the Taliban with pen and books and I will keep that promise even at the cost of my life.
"Malala told the girls on a daily basis that 'The Taliban are the enemy of humanity and Islam.' We should stand up against them to thwart their efforts aiming to bar women from schools," Saeeda said, adding Malala's approach kept up the courage of all 500 girls at the school.
Saeeda said though her parents advised her to stay home during the Taliban's rule, she had promised Malala she would never miss school. "All the people must pray for Malala," she said. "She is the beacon of hope for millions of girls."
Parents equally determined
Fathers of Malala's schoolmates were determined not to let the Taliban chase their daughters from the schools.
"[Shazia] is extremely concerned about education and has been asking different questions," said her father Muhammad Ramzan. "But I prevailed upon her that everything will be right and they would be in school again."
Ramzan said he worried over Malala's condition as if she were his own daughter. "I am a proud father because my daughter has proved that she is not afraid of anyone," he said.
Jamil Shah, Saeeda's father, said he would stand by his daughter "through thick and thin" and would spare no effort to ensure that she gets an education.