PESHAWAR, Pakistan -- As a shocked Pakistan prayed for her recovery, Malala Yousufzai, the 14-year-old Pakistani girl shot by the Taliban for writing a blog about daily life in the war-torn Swat Valley, was still in a critical condition Wednesday after surgery to remove a bullet, her surgeon told NBC News.
Doctors said her head, face and neck started swelling Tuesday night, prompting doctors to call an emergency meeting at 1 a.m. Wednesday (4 p.m. ET) when they decided to operate on her.
Surgery at the Combined Military Hospital in Peshawar started at 2 a.m. and was completed at 5 a.m. Wednesday (5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday ET). The doctors' panel treating Malala, which includes military and civilian staff, is led by senior neurosurgeon Mumtaz Khan.
Talking to NBC News after the surgery, Khan said Malala's brain had started swelling as its left portion was damaged by the bullet.
He said they operated on the damaged part of her brain and neck and removed the bullet from her body.
"Malala is still in critical condition and had been shifted to the intensive care unit of the hospital, but I am optimistic and by the grace of Allah she will recover," Khan said.
A plane is on standby at Bacha Khan International airport to take her to the United Arab Emirates for treatment if doctors decide this is necessary.
Malala was nominated for the International Children's Peace Prize in 2011 for a blog she wrote under a pseudonym for the BBC's Urdu-language news service. She started writing it when she was just 11.
She also won the National Peace Prize in Pakistan, was honored with a school named after her, and quickly became an outspoken critic of the Taliban in Pakistan and a public advocate for peace.
In her blog, Malala chronicled life in the Swat Valley under the brutal and oppressive rule of the local faction of the Pakistani Taliban, who carried out public floggings, hung dead bodies in the streets, and banned education for girls.
In early 2011, the militants had added Malala to their hit list.
Nosheen Abbas, of BBC Urdu, told NBC News that Malala was "very passionate about education, and she spoke about that a lot to me."
"It angered her deeply when girls' schools were closed, and she was affected, and her class fellows were affected. She would talk about (hiding school bags)," she said.
"She was so open about what they were doing to her city, and she was so vocal about it -- that is what made her so threatening," she added.
Abbas tried to explain why the Taliban had reacted so strongly.
"When it's coming from a child, it's innocent, it's honest, it's open, and I think that's what was so threatening," she said of the blog.
"I think that code of honor that used to exist where women and children, they weren't attacked, they were honored in a way never touched. I think that no longer exists, I think that is what it shows," she added.
Grief across Pakistan
Meantime, the shooting drew a huge outpouring of reaction across Pakistan. The front pages of national newspapers carried pictures of a bandaged and bloody Yousufzai being brought to hospital. "Hate targets hope" the Express Tribune said in a headline.
Pakistan's president, prime minister, and heads of various opposition parties joined human rights group Amnesty International and the United Nations in condemning the attack.
"Pakistan's future belongs to Malala and brave young girls like her. History won't remember the cowards who tried to kill her at school," Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said on Twitter.
The attack was also condemned by many leaders of ethnic Pashtun tribes in northwest Pakistan.
"This attack is against Pashtun and Islamic practices," said Khurshid Kaka Ji, leader of a jirga, or tribal council, in Swat, a one-time tourist destination of peaks and meadows where the military has battled the Taliban intermittently since 2007.
"The security forces and police deployed should capture the attackers and punish them. If they do not catch these people, then the peace that Swat has gained through bloodshed will be shaken."
Reuters and NBC's Waj Khan contributed to this report from Islamabad.
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