By Sheree Sardar
ISLAMABAD, Oct 15 (Reuters) - The Pakistani schoolgirl shot by Taliban gunmen for pushing for girls to be educated has been sent to the United Kingdom for medical treatment, a military spokesman said on Monday.
The spokesman said in a statement that 14-year-old Malala Yousufzai, whose shooting has drawn condemnation abroad and at home, will require prolonged care to fully recover physically and psychologically.
An air ambulance transporting Yousufzai, provided by the United Arab Emirates, had departed from Islamabad and was heading for the United Kingdom, said the spokesman.
"The panel of doctors recommended that Malala be shifted abroad to a UK centre which has the capability to provide integrated care to children who have sustained severe injury," said the spokesman in a statement.
Yousufzai, a cheerful schoolgirl who had wanted to become a doctor before agreeing to her father's wishes that she strive to be a politician, has become a potent symbol of resistance against the Taliban's efforts to deprive girls of an education.
Pakistanis have held some protests and candlelight vigils but government officials have refrained from publicly criticising the Taliban by name over the attack, in what critics say is a lack of resolve against extremism.
Opponents of Pakistan's government and military say the shooting is another example of the state's failure to tackle militancy.
The shooting of Yousufzai was the culmination of years of campaigning that had pitted the fearless young girl against one of Pakistan's most ruthless Taliban commanders, Maulana Fazlullah.
Fazlullah and his faction of the Pakistani Taliban took over Yusufzai's native Swat Valley in 2009 after reaching an agreement with the government which gave them de facto control of the former tourist spot.
Fazlullah imposed the Taliban's austere version of Islam there, blowing up girls' schools and publicly executing those deemed immoral. The army later launched a major offensive in Swat, forcing many Taliban fighters to flee.
Fazlullah's men simply melted away across the porous border to Afghanistan. Earlier this year, they kidnapped and beheaded 17 Pakistani soldiers in one of several cross-border raids that have become a new security headache for Pakistan.
Yousufzai continued speaking out despite the danger. As her fame grew, Fazlullah tried everything he could to silence her. The Taliban published death threats in the newspapers and slipped them under her door. But she ignored them.
The Taliban say that's why they sent assassins, despite a tribal code forbidding the killing of women.
Taliban sources said Fazlullah ordered two men specialising in high-profile assassinations to kill Yousufzai.
Pakistan's Taliban movement, which is linked to al Qaeda, has been fighting for years to topple the U.S.-backed government and establish the kind of rule they imposed in Swat.
The United States and other Western allies who give Pakistan billions of dollars in aid have been pushing the South Asian nation to crack down harder on the Taliban, al Qaeda and other groups that have formed a complex web of militancy.
Pakistan says Western criticism of its peformance against militants is unjustified, and that it has sacrificed more than any other country that joined the U.S. war on militancy after the September 11, 2001 attacks.
The nuclear-armed country has lost thousands of soldiers.
The attack on Yousufzai has angered many Pakistanis.
But many experts argue the war on militancy can only be won if the government strengthens the economy and creates jobs to ensure that fewer people join radical groups who exploit disillusionment with the state.
Critics say successive governments have been too preocupied with internal power struggles and tensions with the powerful military to tackle the country's growing list of problems.
Suspected militants struck again on Sunday night, attacking a police checkpoint near the northwestern city of Peshawar. Six policemen were killed, including a senior officer who was beheaded. Seven policemen are still missing.
Pakistan's interior minister said police had despatched guards to protect journalists who had been threatened by Taliban militants angered by coverage of Yousufzai's case.
The Taliban have said they would now try to kill her father, a headmaster of a girls' school in Swat.