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Malala Yousafzai’s Homecoming Stirs Adoration And Criticism
Malala Yousafzai returns to Pakistan for first time since an attack by the Taliban nearly ended her life.

Malala Yousafzai’s Homecoming Stirs Adoration And Criticism

The Nobel Peace Laureate returns to Pakistan nearly six years after the attack that nearly ended her life

[Islamabad]—Amid tight security and a heavily armed military escort, girls’ education advocate Malala Yousafzai visited her native city of Mingora, Pakistan late last month. Accompanied by her father, mother and two brothers, she arrived in an army helicopter. During the trip, she met with friends and extended family members, and visited Swat Cadet College in the region of Gulibagh, about 15 kilometers from Mingora.

On the security front, intelligence specialists in Islamabad told The Media Line that they were concerned about the family’s request to visit Swat. Nevertheless, the family was granted clearance to visit areas of the valley under the close watch of the Pakistan Army.

Yousafzai resided in Mingora until 2012 when a Taliban gunman tried to murder her because of her advocacy in support of girls’ education. She was on her way home in a school van when the attacker entered and shot her in the head at point blank range. Yousafzai, who barely survived the attack, was airlifted to the Armed Forces Institute of Cardiology in Rawalpindi, and later to a hospital in Birmingham, England. The shooting was widely condemned by the international community.

In 2014, Yousafzai received the Nobel Peace Prize for her work in promoting education among children. She was just 17 at the time, making her the youngest-ever Nobel Prize recipient. Now twenty, she is a student at Oxford University.

Soon after Yousafzai arrived in Islamabad on March 29, she attended an event at the home of Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, who expressed happiness over Yousafzai’s international fame and homecoming, saying, “it is our dream that you are successful. We pray for you. Welcome home Malala.”

Abbasi assured Yousafzai that the government and people of Pakistan support her efforts to make education accessible to all young people. The prime minster called on Yousafzai to share Pakistan’s message of peace with the world.

In an emotional speech aired on state television, Yousafzai said that returning to Pakistan was one of the happiest events of her life. Welling up in tears, she said that when she left the country she was in a coma but now is now back with eyes-wide-open. “I have stepped foot on my nation’s soil again and am among my own people,” Malala affirmed.

“I would have never left the country,” she continued. “I am 20 years old but have witnessed a lot of memorable events. Girls need to know that they can be superheroes too.”

Yousafzai also reflected on the tight security surrounding her visit, saying that she wants to be able to move freely in the streets, meeting and talking to people peacefully, without fear.

When the Pakistani Taliban took over large areas of the Swat Valley in 2007 they banned education for girls, enforcing strict interpretations of Islamic law with killings, beatings and floggings. The Pakistan Army drove them out of the region in 2009.

Haroon Siraj, a journalist at the Swat Press Club, told The Media Line that he encountered many problems at the local level when reporting on Yousafzai. His father, Sirajuddin Siraj, who wrote for Nawa-i-Waqt and The Nation, was killed by Taliban assailants for reporting on her case.

Siraj noted that Yousafzai’s visit to Swat involved a tour of a school established by the Malala Fund. After receiving a warm welcome at the school, she met with a number of relatives, family friends and former neighbors.

Yousafzai’s next visit was to Swat Cadet College in the lush green region of Gulibagh, near the village of Charbagh. There, she met with students and teachers and expressed her pleasure over the establishment of an educational institution in the area. Speaking to students, Yousafzai said it is her aim to return to Swat after completing her education, adding that she misses the beauty of the valley. Her former home is now being rented by family friends who have kept Yousafzai’s books, school trophies and luggage in her old room.

But along with praise and enthusiasm for Yousafzai’s homecoming came harsh criticism. Some teachers designated March 30 as “I am not Malala Day” in schools across Pakistan.

Kashif Mirza, president of All Pakistan Private Schools’ Federation, an association representing over 200,000 private schools across the country, organized a massive protest in Lahore, the capital of Punjab Province. “She maligned Pakistan, Islam and the Pakistani army after going abroad,” said Mirza. He explained that his federation condemned the attack on Yousafzai but said that during her time abroad she fell under the influence of foreign agendas.

“Pakistan is her home and we welcome her, but we believe that she has come as part of an international agenda to malign our country. We strongly condemn this.”

Yousafzai’s return also sparked harsh criticisms on Pakistan’s social media. In one image posted on Facebook she appears with a Freemasonry symbol and a quote alleging that she is working on behalf of the organization’s agenda.

Tayyeba Zia Cheema, a leading Pakistani columnist, roundly criticized Yousafzai in Nawa-i-Waqt, the country’s largest Urdu-language daily newspaper.  Zia Cheema wrote that the Nobel Prize winner has earned millions of dollars in the name of education for girls but has not accomplished anything of note.

“Malala has done nothing for girls’ education in Pakistan but because of Pakistan she came to the limelight. In return, she has always accused Pakistan of encouraging terrorist activity. The drama was staged by her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, and time will tell how successful this drama will be.”

After the emotional homecoming, Yousafzai returned to Britain on April 2.

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