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Malala Yousafzai says Pakistan return trip ‘a dream’ as she calls for education push

Malala Yousafzai said it is “a dream” to come home to Pakistan for the first time since she was shot in the head by the Taliban and airlifted to Britain for treatment more than five years ago. 

The youngest ever Nobel laureate, now an Oxford University student and global campaigner, was warmly received by Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and members of the cabinet as she tearfully told her countrymen and women: “Today I am very happy that I have set foot on the soil of my nation again.” 

In her emotional speech at the Prime Minister’s Office, Islamabad, she said: “If I am honest, I still can’t believe that this is actually happening, this is real. For the last five years, I have dreamed of returning back home. And whenever I would be in plane or a car and I would see the cities of London or New York, I would say [to myself], ‘Just imagine that this is Pakistan, imagine that you are driving in lslamabad, imagine that this is Karachi’, and it was never true. And now that I am seeing it today, I am very happy.”

Malala, who was shot by a Taliban gunman for pursuing her education in her home area of the Swat valley, in the north of the country, also talked to the prime minister about future educational projects she wanted to work on in Pakistan and spoke about empowering women and girls. 

Malala Yousafzai was welcomed by Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, on her first trip back to her homeland since being shot by the Taliban in 2012 (picture from Twitter).

Pakistan Government/Twitter

Pausing to wipe tears from her eyes during the speech, which was broadcast live on Pakistan’s state-run TV channel, Malala added: “I am now 20 years-old, but I have seen a lot over the course of my life. From growing up in Swat, such a beautiful place, to then seeing terrorism and extremism from 2007 till 2009. And then seeing how many difficulties women and girls face in our society, and how we can fight against those challenges.”

She said: “We need to invest in kids’ education. I hope we can all join hands in this mission for the betterment of Pakistan, so that our future generation can receive the right education and women can become empowered, do jobs, stand on their own two feet and earn for themselves. That’s the future we want to see.”

Prime Minister Abbasi, who also addressed the gathering, said he was happy that a daughter of the nation had returned to her homeland.

“It is your home. You were a 13-year-old girl when you left and now you are the most famous citizen of the country. The entire world gave you honour and respect and Pakistan will [also],” he said. 

Referencing the wider challenges facing Pakistan, he added: “After your departure, we have fought a difficult war in which 6,500 soldiers, 25,000 policemen, paramilitary forces and civilians embraced martyrdom. Terrorism has been eliminated and still, we are fighting a war against terrorism. Set aside what the world says about us, Pakistan is fighting the largest war against terror. More than 200,000 soldiers are engaged in the war.”

But he concluded: “Welcome home, Malala.”

Official sources told The Telegraph that Prime Minister Abbasi had assured Malala of his full support in connection with the educational projects she wanted to set up. 

Malala said it was “coming together” in Pakistan for women and girls, adding with a half laugh, half sob: “I was born in 1999, I don’t cry often.” 

“In Pakistan we have amazing women who have been political leaders, 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,” she said. 

“I still can’t believe I am here. perhaps if I spend more time here [it will sink in]… It is literally a dream.”

The itinerary for the rest of her visit remains unclear due to security reasons. Sources were not keen to elucidate on the four-day visit, including whether Malala would visit her hometown of Swat, where she was shot in October 2012.

Foreign office spokesman Muhammad Faisal told The Telegraph: “She will be meeting several people in Pakistan, but her itinerary is not being disclosed due to security reasons.” 

Ms Yousafzai became a global symbol for human rights and a vocal campaigner for girls’ education after a gunman boarded her school bus in the Swat valley on October 9, 2012, asked “Who is Malala?” and shot her.

She was treated for her injuries in the British city of Birmingham, where she completed her schooling and resumed campaigning.

Residents of Malala’s hometown said they were happy to see her return.

Nisreen Jalil, a student who was a classmate of Malala’s, told The Telegraph: “We are delighted to see her back, she is a symbol of courage and the true face of Pakistan.”

“We believe that Malala this step will give courage to other female students of Pakistan, she is a role model for us.”

Her classmate’s welcome was echoed across social media by other people in Pakistan, with residents in Swat even coming out on to the streets to pay tribute to her. 

Article Source : https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/03/28/malala-yousafzai-returns-pakistan-first-time-since-taliban-attack/

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