Pakistan teen's plight to survive would-be assassin's bullet 'slow and steady'

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (CNN) -- Malala Yousufzai's defiance is the stuff of legend: A 14-year-old teenager who took to the Internet to tell the world of her daily battle against the Pakistan Taliban to get an education.

So, too, is her fight to survive a would-be assassin's bullet to the head.

Her plight has united much of the nation, with everyone from elected officials to children decrying the attempted killing of the teen. Thousands took to the streets Sunday in Karachi, at a rally supporting Malala organized by the fiercely anti-Taliban MQM political party.

Massive posters and billboards said, "Malala, our prayers are with you."

The teen remained under the close watch of doctors at a Rawalpindi hospital where she was unconscious and on a ventilator.

"She is making slow and steady progress which is in keeping with expectations," the Pakistani military said in a statement released Sunday. "Recovery from this type of injury is always slow."

Doctors will assess Malala's progress again Sunday evening, the statement said.

Over the weekend, the teen moved her limbs after doctors "reduced sedation to make a clinical assessment," military spokesman Maj. Gen. Asim Bajwa said.

It was the first indication that young Malala may recover from the shooting, though Bajwa cautioned against "putting a percentage" on her survival.

"Such cases are very rare, that you get hit directly in the head and you survive," Bajwa told CNN in an interview that aired Sunday.

"...We are hopeful. She is getting the best treatment that she could."

A delegation from the United Arab Emirates arrived Sunday to check on Malala's condition and is exploring the possibility of offering her medical treatment outside of Pakistan, two UAE officials said.

Malala had become a Pakistani and international icon for her efforts defending the right of girls to go to school where she lives, the Taliban-heavy Swat Valley.

She was riding home in a school van on Tuesday in the tense region, which sits along the Afghan border, when gunmen jumped into the vehicle and demanded to know which girl she was. Her horrified classmates pointed to her, and the men fired. Two other girls were wounded, but not seriously.

Since then, supporters have gathered around the country for vigils to pray for her recovery. Government officials in Peshawar, the main city in the northwestern region where Malala is from, were silent for one minute in her honor.

Malala gained fame for blogging about how girls should have rights in Pakistan, including the right to learn. She spoke out in a region of the country where support for Islamic fundamentalism runs high.

"I have the right of education," she said in a CNN interview last year. "I have the right to play. I have the right to sing. I have the right to talk. I have the right to go to market. I have the right to speak up."

Malala, whose writing earned her Pakistan's first National Peace Prize, also encouraged young people to take a stand against the Taliban -- and to not hide in their bedrooms.

Police arrested 200 suspects, but released all but 35. Those still in detention gave police information that led to the arrest of three more suspects, said Ghulam Muhammad, a local government official.

Bajwa refused to comment on the reports of the arrests, saying it was "not appropriate" to disclose details until the investigation was complete.

He did, however, point blame.

"There is no doubt in anyone's mind this is Taliban," he said.

The Taliban, indeed, claimed responsibility for the shooting attack, saying they figured shooting the girl would have an impact in the West. The Taliban believe no girl should be educated, and they've threatened that if Malala survives, they will murder her.

"We do not tolerate people like Malala speaking against us," Taliban spokesman Ihsanullah Ihsan said.

Malala's family, meanwhile, waits, and hopes, yet they are afraid to give away where they are exactly. They're terrified that the Taliban who would gun down a teenager wouldn't hesitate to come after them.

In the wake of the shooting, the teenager has come to symbolize a battle between freedom and oppression, violence and peace, a young generation and a group that is hell-bent on keeping Pakistan under the grip of Islamic extremism.

On her blog, Malala often wrote about her life in Swat Valley, a hotbed of militant activity.

The valley near the Afghanistan border once attracted tourists to Pakistan's only ski resort, as well as visitors to the ancient Buddhist ruins in the area. But that was before militants -- their faces covered -- unleashed a wave of violence in 2003.

They demanded veils for women, beards for men and a ban on music and television. They allowed boys' schools to operate but closed those for girls.

But young Malala defied the Taliban edict, demanding an education.

For that, she got a bullet to the head -- and the attention of much of the world.

CNN's Jessica King, Caroline Faraj and journalists Nasir Habib, Aamir Iqbal and Noreen Shams contributed to this report.