Malala Yousafzai: an inspiration for millions in Pakistan


When a Taliban gunman shot Malala Yousafzai two years ago, few thought it would elevate her to global acclaim.

The teenage Pakistani campaigner for girls' education survived the assassination attempt, and has thrived to become one of the most sought-out international celebrities. The 17-year-old from the north-western valley of Swat, once controlled by Islamist militants, has since won many awards for her courage in campaigning for education and against Taliban bombings of schools, culminating in the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday. Yousafzai is an inspiration for millions of girls in Pakistan seeking education and a hoping for change in a radicalized Islamic society.

'Her courage and confidence is a true inspiration'

"She is great," said one of her former classmates. "We all want to be like her."

The girl from Swat was among millions of Pakistanis whose hopes for Malala's Nobel success were dashed last year, when she was already among the favourites.

"I hope she wins the Nobel this time. She deserves it," the girl said before Friday's award was announced.

"Her courage and confidence is a true inspiration," added the girl, who did not wish to be named because she feared that public recognition could expose her to a Taliban attack.

Malala's struggle for girls' education seems to be bearing fruit now, at least in her home town.

Official statistics show a steep rise in school enrollment in Swat valley.

A total of 140,000 girls enrolled at government schools in 2013-14, compared to 99,477 two years ago, said Jamaluddin Khan, who reports for Pakistan's Dawn newspaper from the district.

"Malala, her campaign and the attack on her are certainly the factors behind the rise," Khan said.

Taliban militants blew up 119 girls' schools in Swat when they controlled the valley during 2007-09. Khan said more than half of them had been reconstructed since the militants were largely driven out of the region by the armed forces.

Yousafzai rose to prominence at the age of 11, during Taliban rule, when she wrote a diary for the BBC in Urdu which documented life under strict sharia.

She wrote under the pseudonym Gul Makai, heroine of a folk tale in the Pashto language, the mother tongue of Yousafzai and millions of Pakistani and Afghan Pukhtuns.

Yousafzai disclosed her identity as the author after the Taliban were driven out of the valley.

She resumed her formal studies when schools were opened and her campaign motivated other girls as well.

Educators, media and many among civil society responded to her struggle: At the age of 15 she was a household name across Pakistan and was already becoming known in some other parts of the world.

Then on October 9, 2012, a Taliban assassin shot her in the head as she was returning home from school aboard a bus. Two other girls were wounded in the attack.

She was taken by military helicopter to the regional capital Peshawar, where army doctors saved her life. She was later flown to Britain for further treatment and rehabilitation.

Yousafzai is now in Birmingham, settling into a new environment and school with her family.

But she wants to come back to Pakistan to serve her country.

"I will go back to Pakistan to become a politician," she told the BBC in an interview last year.

And she is being missed back home as well.

"We really want her to be among us," her cousin Mahmood ul Hassan Yousafzai said. "She is very special to our entire family."

He said it would mean a lot for the family if she won the Nobel prize, "but the most important thing for us is that she is still alive after that terrible incident."

For Hassan, it was a remarkable story that a girl from a remote mountainous valley went on to address the UN in 2013.

"I think it was sheer commitment that made it possible," he said. "Now other girls in our society also feel motivated."

Anthropologist Samar Minallah said the girl's achievements were not being properly recognized in her own country.

"Pakistan doesn't appreciate her like the rest of the world," she said. "Some people are spreading confusion about her motives."

Some sceptics have even suggested that Yousafzai was working toward an "anti-Islam" agenda engineered by foreigners.

Maulana Samiul Haq, a leading cleric, said she had been hijacked by the West to "promote their evil designs."

The Taliban have already said they would try to kill her again, as they murdered her favorite politician, two-time former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.


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