KARACHI, Pakistan — Tens of thousands rallied in Pakistan's largest city Sunday in the biggest show of support yet for a 14-year-old girl shot and seriously wounded by the Taliban for criticizing it and promoting girls' education.
The Oct. 9 attack on Malala Yousafzai as she was going home from school in Pakistan's northwest horrified people inside and outside the country. At the same time, it gave hope to some that the government would respond by intensifying its fight against the Taliban and its allies.
The girl was flown to the United Kingdom for medical treatment, the Reuters news agency reported today, citing a military spokesman.
Before Sunday, protests against the shooting had been relatively small, usually attracting a few hundred people. That response pales in comparison with the tens of thousands who held violent protests in Pakistan last month against a film denigrating the prophet Mohammed.
Sunday's rally in Karachi was organized by the Muttahida Quami Movement political party. Party chief Altaf Hussain criticized other political parties for failing to organize rallies to protest the attack on Malala.
He called the Taliban gunmen who shot the girl "beasts" and said it was an attack on "the ideology of Pakistan."
"Malala Yousafzai is a beacon of knowledge. She is the daughter of the nation," he told the audience by phone from London, where he is in self-imposed exile due to legal cases against him in Pakistan.
The leaders of Pakistan's main Islamic parties have criticized the shooting but have also tried to redirect the conversation away from Taliban violence and toward civilian casualties from U.S. drone attacks on militants.
Cyril Almeida, a columnist for Pakistan's Dawn newspaper, criticized the parties, saying they prevent Pakistanis from seeing "there is a continuum from the religious right to violent Islamism."
"The religious right creates an enabling environment for violent Islamism to recruit and prosper. And violent Islamism makes state and society cower and in doing so enhances the space for the religious right," he wrote Sunday.
Malala was targeted by the Pakistani Taliban for publicizing its behavior when it took over the northwestern Swat Valley, where she lived. The group started to exert its influence there in 2007 and quickly extended its reach to much of the valley by the next year. It forced men to grow beards, prevented women from going to the market and blew up many schools — most for girls.
Malala wrote about these practices in a journal for the BBC under a pseudonym when she was 11. After the Taliban was pushed out of the Swat Valley in 2009 by the Pakistani military, she became a more outspoken advocate for girls' education. She appeared frequently in the media and was given one of the country's highest honors for civilians.
Many hope Malala's shooting will help push the military to attack the Pakistani Taliban's last main sanctuary in the country, the North Waziristan tribal area.
The Pakistani Taliban said it carried out the shooting because Malala was promoting "Western thinking." Police have arrested at least three suspects in connection with the attack, but the two gunmen who carried out the shooting remain at large.
The wing of the Pakistani Taliban believed to be behind the attack is the Swat Taliban, led by Maulana Qazi Fazlullah. He escaped the offensive in 2009 and is believed to be hiding in eastern Afghanistan, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Malala was shot in the neck, near her spine. Two of her classmates were also wounded.
Doctors at a military hospital operated on Malala to remove the bullet from her neck, and she was put on a ventilator. Her condition improved somewhat on Saturday when she was able to move her legs and hands after her sedatives were reduced.
On Sunday, she was successfully taken off the ventilator for a short period and later reconnected to avoid fatigue, the military said. Doctors said they were satisfied she was making slow and steady progress
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has written letters to top political and religious leaders in Pakistan denouncing the attack on Malala and asking them to help battle extremism in both countries, his office said in a statement. Karzai wrote that he views the shooting as an attack on Afghanistan's girls as well.