At the age of 11, she began writing a blog under a pseudonym for the BBC about life under the Taliban in the Swat Valley. After the military ousted the militants in 2009, she began publicly speaking out about the need for girls' education, something the Taliban strongly opposes.
The group claimed responsibility for Tuesday's attack, vowed to target her again.
Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik said authorities have identified her attackers and know how they got into the valley, but no arrests have been made.
The news that surgeons were able to remove a bullet lodged in Malala's neck was greeted with relief by many. But even with such an outpouring of grief and outrage in Pakistan over the young girl's shooting, it was unclear whether it would indeed trigger a shift in public opinion against the Taliban.
Many in Pakistan view the group as waging a noble fight against U.S. troops that invaded another Muslim country, Afghanistan, and they argue that the Taliban problem within Pakistan will fade once American forces leave. They argue that Taliban attacks against targets in Pakistan aim to punish the government in Islamabad for its alliance with Washington.
"Pakistan society is polarized on who is doing terrorism," said Hasan-Askari Rizvi, a political analyst in Lahore. He said that divide has been evident even in the public condemnations of the attack, with some people speaking out strongly against the Taliban while others have criticized the government for failing to protect Malala.
Omar R. Quraishi, the editorial pages editor at Pakistan's English-language Express Tribune newspaper, questioned whether the public outrage had reached such a critical mass that it would indeed mark a turning point.
He said Kayani's strong statement in support of the girl may be an attempt to gauge whether there is enough public outrage to support a sharp response from the army against the Taliban. The general, said Quraishi, doesn't want to be in a position where people are asking: "Why are you fighting America's wars?"
The Pakistani military has been waging a deadly fight in the tribal regions against militants at a cost of about 4,000 soldiers killed. But critics, especially in the U.S., accuse the army of going after militants that attack the Pakistani state while cultivating others that it feels will be useful someday in Afghanistan.
Still, there is a precedent in Pakistan of Taliban excesses provoking public outrage, which the military has then capitalized on to move against the militants.
In 2009, after a video surfaced of militants publicly whipping a woman, purportedly in the Swat Valley, triggered a wave of public revulsion, the army felt empowered enough to launch a major offensive against the Taliban in the area. Government forces flushed the militants out of the scenic valley, but failed to capture or kill the movement's senior leaders.
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