Malala Yousafzai, world’s youngest Nobel laureate, returns to home in Pakistan
ISLAMABAD — Malala Yousafzai, the world’s youngest Nobel laureate, made her first trip back to Pakistan on Thursday, more than five years after Taliban militants shot her in the head for fighting for the right for girls to go to school.
Yousafzai was flown to Britain in 2012 for medical care and then impressed the world with her eloquent defense of the rights of girls and women. She went on to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014, together with Indian child rights activist Kailash Satyarthi, before being accepted to Oxford University.
While she has been hailed by supporters as a champion against extremism, some Islamist hard-liners in Pakistan and elsewhere have criticized Yousafzai as a mouthpiece for Western cultural views.
In a sign of the attention she still draws in Pakistan, security for Yousafzai’s visit was extremely tight.
‘‘I have been dreaming of returning to Pakistan for the last five years and today I am very happy, but I can still not believe that this is actually happening,’’ she said tearfully at a reception hosted by Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi.
‘‘Today after five and half years I have set foot on my soil. Whenever I would travel, in plane or in car, I would imagine that it’s Pakistan and I am driving in Islamabad. I would imagine this is Karachi, and it was never true, but now that I see it, I am very happy,’’ she added.
The reception included senior government functionaries, leading social activists, parliamentarians, and guests from her home region of Swat who came to welcome what they dubbed ‘‘daughter of Pakistan.’’
‘‘The entire world gave you honor and respect and Pakistan will also give you honor. It is your home . . . you are not an ordinary citizen, your security is our responsibility,’’ the prime minister said at the meeting.
He also referred to the militants that wounded Yousafzai and the battle Pakistan is still fighting.
‘‘We are fighting a war against terror. No matter what the world says about us, Pakistan is fighting the largest war against terror and our more than 200,000 soldiers are fighting this war,’’ he said.
Video showed the Nobel laureate clad in traditional Pakistani shalwar kameez and her head covered in a red and blue scarf sitting next to the premier along with her parents. She also met with female ministers.
The 20-year-old Yousafzai arrived in the early hours of the morning amid tight security at Islamabad’s Benazir Bhutto International Airport.
Pakistani news channels aired footage of her leaving the airport along with her parents in a convoy of over a dozen vehicles, many carrying police and security personnel.
It is not yet clear whether she will visit her home village in the Swat Valley.
Her four-day itinerary has her staying mostly in Islamabad and meeting Pakistani officials, media representatives, and social activists as well as relatives.
‘‘It’s the happiest day of my life that I am back to my country and meeting my people. All my countrymen sitting here I want to welcome you,’’ she said in Pashto, the native language of her region.
‘‘I continued my education in the UK but I always wanted to move freely in Pakistan. I want to invest in the education of children. Pakistani women should be empowered.’’
Even in her early teens, Yousafzai was known as a champion of girls’ education, something that cannot be taken for granted in parts of Pakistan and elsewhere in the region.