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25 April 2024

Security high in Pakistan’s Swat but Malala visit uncertain

Photo: AFP


A Pakistani women’s activist said Friday that Malala Yousafzai, who has returned to Pakistan’s capital Islamabad for the first time since a Taliban militant shot her in 2012, was hoping to visit her Swat Valley hometown but that the trip depended on security clearances from the government.

Security was visibly beefed up in Mingora, the Nobel Peace Prize winner’s hometown, but authorities wouldn’t confirm whether she would be arriving there. Yousafzai is expected to return to London on Monday.

Activist Adnan Tabassum, also from Swat, met with Yousafzai on Thursday in Islamabad. She said Yousafzai told her that she wanted to travel to Swat to see her former school friends and relatives.

According to Tabassum, 20-year-old Yousafzai asked authorities to allow her to go to Shangla village in Swat, where a school has been built by her Malala Fund.

“Malala is not afraid of going to Swat, where the terrorists opened fire on her in 2012 and wounded her. It is her wish to again see her hometown, her school and her home, where she spent years of her life,” she told The Associated Press.

In October 2012, Yousafzai was shot in the head by a Taliban assassin who had jumped inside her school van and yelled, “Who is Malala?” She had been targeted for speaking out on education in her home of Mingora in the Swat Valley. Only 14 when she was shot, Yousafzai has since delighted in telling the Taliban that instead of silencing her, they have amplified her voice. She has also written a book, spoken at the United Nations and met with refugees.

Yousafzai praised the Pakistan army in an interview on the independent Geo news channel Friday for providing her timely medical treatment, saying her surgery was done by an army surgeon at the “right time” and she later received post-trauma treatment in Britain. She said she planned to again return to Pakistan in the future.

Schoolgirls in Yousafzai’s hometown said they were keen to see her.

“I admire Malala because she strived to promote girls’ education,” said Amna Khan, 12, as she entered one of the schools in Mingora.

On Thursday, Yousafzai met with Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi at his office, where she also attended a gathering and made an emotional speech in which she said it was one of the happiest days of her life to be in Pakistan.

Yousafzai won praise from across Pakistan on her return home, but some critics on social media have tried to undermine her efforts to promote girls’ education, though these efforts have been snubbed by Information Minister Maryam Aurangzeb and Yousafzai’s admirers.

Since her attack and recovery, Yousafzai has led the Malala Fund, which she said has invested $6 million in schools and to provide books and uniforms for schoolchildren. She became the youngest person to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014.

Yousafzai landed in Pakistan just before dawn Thursday, flanked by heavy security. Secrecy surrounded her arrival as well as details of her visit. The security was extraordinary as the Taliban had warned in the past that they would again target her again if she came back to Pakistan.