KARACHI, Pakistan — Tens of thousands rallied in Pakistan's largest city Sunday in support of a 14-year-old girl critically wounded by the Taliban for promoting girls' education and criticizing the militant group.
The demonstration in the southern city of Karachi was by far the largest since Malala Yousufzai and two of her classmates were shot Oct. 9 while returning home from school in Pakistan's northwest.
The attack horrified people worldwide and sparked hope among some that it would prompt the government to intensify its fight against the Taliban and their allies.
But protests against the shooting had been relatively small before Sunday, usually attracting no more than a few hundred people. That response pales in comparison to the tens of thousands of people who held violent protests in Pakistan last month against a film produced in the United States that denigrated Islam's Prophet Muhammad.
Demonstrations in support of Malala — and against rampant militant violence in general — also have been fairly small compared with those focused on issues such as U.S. drone attacks and the NATO supply route to Afghanistan that runs through Pakistan.
Right-wing Islamic parties and groups in Pakistan that regularly pull thousands of supporters into the streets to protest against the U.S. have less of an incentive to speak out against the Taliban, who share their desire to impose Islamic law — even if they may disagree with some of the group's violent tactics.
Pakistan's mainstream political parties also are often more willing to harangue the U.S. than direct their people power against Islamist militants shedding blood across the country — partly out of fear and partly because they rely on Islamist parties for electoral support.
One of the exceptions is the political party that organized Sunday's rally in Karachi, the Muttahida Quami Movement.
The party's chief, Altaf Hussain, criticized both Islamic and other mainstream political parties for failing to organize rallies to protest the attack against Malala. He called the Taliban gunmen who shot the girl "beasts," and said the shooting was an attack on "the ideology of Pakistan."
"Malala Yousufzai is a beacon of knowledge. She is the daughter of the nation," Mr. Hussain told the audience by telephone from London, where he is in self-imposed exile because of legal cases pending against him in Pakistan. His party is the strongest in Karachi.
Many of the demonstrators carried the young girl's picture and banners praising her bravery and expressing solidarity.
The United Arab Emirates plans to send a specialized aircraft to serve as an ambulance for the girl in case doctors decide to send her abroad, the Pakistani ambassador to the country, Jamil Ahmed Khan, said Sunday on Pakistan's Geo TV. .
Malala earned the enmity of the Taliban for publicizing their behavior when they took over the northwestern Swat Valley, where she lives, and for speaking about the importance of education for girls.
The militants first started to exert their influence in Swat in 2007. They set about imposing their will on residents by forcing men to grow beards, preventing women from going to the market and blowing up many schools — the majority for girls.
Malala wrote about these practices in a journal for the BBC under a pseudonym when she was just 11.
After the Taliban were pushed out of the valley in 2009 by the Pakistani military, she became even more outspoken in advocating for girls' education. She appeared in the media and was given one of the country's highest honors for civilians for her bravery.
The Pakistani Taliban said they carried out the shooting because Malala was promoting "Western thinking."
Police have arrested at least three suspects in the attack, but the two gunmen remain at large.