ISLAMABAD: I can’t believe I am home, said Malala Yousafzai, her voice breaking.
The 20-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner returned to Pakistan after six years. She was shot in Swat in 2012 for being a vocal supporter of education for girls.
And so, Thursday was not a good day for the Taliban. The girl they tried to kill is very much alive and a global celebrity.
Malala is on a four-day visit.
Her first port of call was Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi in Islamabad.
Federal cabinet members Anusha Rehman, Marvi Memon and Marriyum Aurangzeb were there.
She spoke about her vision later at a gathering held at the PM House.
Malala Yousafzai said that she had left Pakistan due to medical reasons.
“I would have never left the country,” Yousafzai said while speaking at a ceremony held in her honour at the Prime Minister’s Office.
The Nobel laureate said that doctors had advised her to seek medical treatment abroad.
“I still can’t believe that I have returned to my country,” she said.
Malala said that she was only 20 years old but had witnessed a lot of memorable events.
“From growing up in Swat Valley – which was such a beautiful area – to witnessing extremism and terrorism in 2007 to 2009.. watching how difficulties engulfed our societies and how we can fight against those challenges. Then the attack on me and how I had to leave the country. You cannot control anything,” she said.
Yousafzai said that the country needs to invest in child education.
“Our future generation is the biggest resource of the country,” she added.
Yousafzai stated that women have to become independent with the help of education.
“There should be no politics on politics, economy and education,” she said.
She spoke of how girls nowadays are watching TV, reading magazines and not being inspired by role models.
She said that girls needed to know that they could be superheroes too.
“They don’t study examples. In Pakistan we have amazing women who have been political leaders,” she said, responding to a question.
“We had a female prime minister. We have women going ahead. We have Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy winning two Oscars. They are an inspiration. It’s coming together.”
Malala said that Pakistan needed unity and that it was the vision of Quaid-e-Azam.
“To make that happen we have to respect all parts of Pakistan,” she said.
She said that the culture and identity of the provinces need to be recognised and celebrated.
“Health is not political. Education is not political,” she said.
“These are issues on which there should be no disagreement. All political parties should agree on these matters. There should be no criticism.”
She referred to her activism in Swat by writing for a BBC blog and stressed that local activists can become catalysts for change.
The prime minister spoke of how Malala had represented Pakistan at the world stage.
“Two hundred thousand jawans and officers have left their homes and served in this war, in order to promote world peace,” he said.
“You represent Pakistan. Please send this message across. You have represented our girls and we are proud of you. May Allah grant you success. We are with you.Welcome home, Malala,” he said.
In 2014, Malala shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Kailash Satyarthi for “their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education.”
Malala is now 20 years old and a student at Oxford University.
Her return is believed to have been planned for some time.
Malala is a powerful figure and she arrives at a time when Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA are undergoing immense change.
Malala represents Pakistan’s soft image to the world.
For her to safely return with security measures in place is a feat that sends a message to the world.
From what we know so far, Malala is here on a leisure trip for four days with no political intentions.
She will meet the country’s civil and military leadership.
Malala will leave for UK either on Sunday or Monday.
Monday is most likely a holiday at Oxford where Malala is studying, on account of Easter.
“The most glorious thing”
Malala’s return was met with a mixed response on Twitter with some praising her while others criticised the Nobel laureate.
Award-winning Pakistani writer Kamila Shamsie said, “This is the most glorious thing.”
South Asia analyst Michael Kugelman said, “Some didn’t want it to happen. But it did. A great moment for Pakistan.”
Shaheera Jalil Albasit said: “Those abusing Malala Yousafzai for returning to Pakistan have abused her all these years for not returning to Pakistan. Bhai chhahte kiya ho!”
She said tearfully that it was “a dream” to come home since she was airlifted to Britain.
“Always it has been my dream that I should go to Pakistan and there, in peace and without any fear, I can move on streets, I can meet people, I can talk to people.
“And I think that it’s my old home again … so it is actually happening, and I am grateful to all of you.”
She added: “I don’t cry much, I don’t know why today.”
– ‘Malala is not your enemy’ –
Malala met with Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi earlier Thursday and later took questions from an audience after her televised speech, in which she also called for Pakistani unity and female empowerment.
She said Pakistan must invest in its children’s education, adding that the Malala Fund has already put more than $6 million into girls’ education in the country.
Earlier this month a school opened in Swat that was constructed and funded with part of her Nobel Prize money.
“I hope that we can all join hands in this mission for the betterment of Pakistan,” she said.
But among the messages of welcome are pockets of intense criticism from some Pakistanis, including hardline Islamists as well as members of the conservative middle class who support education for girls but object to airing the country’s problems abroad.
One leading Pakistani journalist, Hamid Mir, issued a plea for restraint when talking about her visit, warning that negative reactions “will damage Pakistan’s image”.
Other Pakistanis echoed his concerns on social media.
“Dear Pakistanis! Malala is not your enemy. Your enemies were those monsters who shot her point blank on her way to school,” wrote Twitter user Shahira Lashari.
Dear Pakistanis! Malala is not your enemy. Your enemies were those monsters who shot her point blank on her way to school. Welcome home our very own Nobel laureate and a very brave and brainy daughter of the soil #MalalaYousafzai !!!!
— Shahira Lashari (@shahirabaluch) March 28, 2018
Her schedule for the four-day trip is being closely guarded.
“She will be meeting several people here but her itinerary is not being disclosed due to security reasons,” foreign office spokesman Muhammad Faisal told AFP.