MINGORA, PAKISTAN: In the Pakistani hometown of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai, reminders are frequent of the daughter of scenic northwestern Swat Valley who survived a gun attack and so are memories of harsh rule by the Taliban.
Yousafzai is visiting Pakistan for the first time since the Pakistani Taliban now on the run but still able to launch attacks shot her in the head in 2012 over her advocacy for girls’ education and opposition to Islamist militancy.
By late Friday it was not yet clear whether security considerations would allow Yousafzai to return to Swat Valley, but many are eagerly awaiting her.
“We’re very happy that Malala has come to Pakistan. We welcome Malala,” said Arfa Akhtar, a third grade student in a school where Yousafzai once studied. “I’m also Malala. I’m with Malala in this mission.”
Barkat Ali, 66, says he remembers holding Malala in his lap when she was a child in Mingora. He is proud of the 20-year-old’s struggle to promote girls’ education, just as he is of his refusal 10 years ago to turn over his son when the Taliban demanded new fighters.
“They were the old illiterate people who would say that our daughters will not go to schools,” Ali said, recalling two mortar shells landing in his street, often patrolled by the Taliban.
“Now people have become sensible. They educate their girls.”
The Pakistani Taliban took over much of the valley starting in 2007, banning girls’ education, killing people, flogging women and hanging bodies from electric poles to enforce their harsh interpretation of Islamic law before the Pakistani army drove them out in 2009.
Not everyone in Swat, though, has such reverence for Yousafzai who became the youngest Nobel laureate in history in 2014 at age 17.
Swat resident Mohammad Nisar Khan says the international celebrity and official protection given to the young woman overshadows the sacrifices made by others in Swat.
“We were the ones who stood up against the Taliban… My four uncles and two cousins were slaughtered by the Taliban in Matta. They were brutally martyred. Yet, no one has asked about me,” Khan said.