KARACHI — Tens of thousands rallied in Pakistan’s largest city Sunday in the biggest show of support yet for a 14-year-old girl who was shot and seriously wounded by the Taliban for promoting girls’ education and criticizing the militant group.
The Oct. 9 attack on Malala Yousufzai as she was returning 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 their allies.
But protests against the shooting have been relatively small until now, 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 Mohammed.
Demonstrations in support of Yousufzai — and against rampant militant violence in the country in general — have also been fairly small compared with those focused on issues such as US drone attacks and the NATO supply route to Afghanistan that runs through Pakistan.
Right-wing Islamic parties and organizations in Pakistan that regularly pull thousands of supporters into the streets to protest against the United States have less of an incentive to speak out against the Taliban. The two share a desire to impose Islamic law in the country — even if they may disagree over the Taliban’s violent tactics.
One of the exceptions is the political party that organized Sunday’s rally in the southern port city of 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 on Yousufzai.
He called the Taliban gunmen who shot the girl beasts and said it was an attack on ‘‘the ideology of Pakistan.’’
‘‘Malala Yousufzai is a beacon of knowledge. She is the daughter of the nation,’’ 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 strongest in Karachi.
Many of the demonstrators carried the young girl’s picture and banners praising her bravery and expressing solidarity.
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 US drone attacks.
Yousufzai earned the enmity of the Pakistani Taliban for publicizing their behavior when they took over the northwestern Swat Valley, where she lived, and for speaking about the importance of education for girls.
The group first started to exert its influence in Swat in 2007 and quickly extended its reach to much of the valley by the next year. It set about imposing its 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.
Yousufzai wrote about these practices in a journal for the BBC under a pseudonym when she was 11. After the Taliban were pushed out of the Swat Valley in 2009 by the Pakistani military, she became even more outspoken in advocating for girls’ education.
Many hope the shooting of Yousufzai will help push the military to undertake a long-awaited offensive in the Pakistani Taliban’s last main sanctuary in the country in the North Waziristan tribal area.
The Pakistani Taliban said they carried out the shooting because Yousufzai 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 girl was shot in the neck, and the bullet headed toward her spine. Two of her classmates were also wounded in the attack.
Doctors at a military hospital operated on Yousufzai to remove the bullet from her neck, and she was put on a ventilator. Her condition improved 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 are satisfied she is making slow progress and will decide whether to send her abroad for treatment. They have not said whether she suffered any brain damage or other permanent damage.