Islamabad (AFP) – Malala Yousafzai is almost universally lauded abroad, but her return to Pakistan for the first time since being shot by the Taliban in 2012 has spotlighted how, for many of her countrymen, it’s complicated — at best.
Welcome messages for the 20-year-old global education advocate poured in on Thursday but there was also intense criticism of her decision to leave the country after the attack, and suspicion over her motives.
Here are a few voices highlighting Malala’s accolades as an international peace icon, and her precarious place in Pakistan.
– The inspired –
For much of Pakistan, waking up to Malala’s return Thursday felt like the homecoming of a champion.
“I think to many, many people and in other countries, in Muslim countries, she is a hero, you know, and all that she is doing to bring up, to bring children’s, girls’ education, that is wonderful,” Saeed Khalid, a customer in an Islamabad market, told AFP Thursday.
“[She] has brought pride to Pakistan,” agreed shopkeeper Ahmed Malik, though he added more needed to be done for women in Pakistan: “We accept that what happened to her was unjust but there is not a single Malala, there are others as well.”
An emotional televised address from the young Oxford student on her return unleashed a torrent of gushing tweets.
“Oh I am about to cry. This girl has gone through so much pain. Malala we are proud of you,” wrote Twitter user Muhammad Akif.
“I hope that my baby girl learns to be as articulate, as courageous as @Malala,” said Nisha Aftab on Twitter.
“So glad she’s back home where she belongs.”
– Critics at home –
But, years after the attack nearly took her life, opinions still vary widely about Malala’s contribution to Pakistan, where some conservatives see her as either a willing or unwilling stooge in a plot aimed at bringing disrepute to Pakistan.
“Pakistan is her home and if she has come home we welcome her, but we think that she has come as part of international agenda to malign Pakistan and we strongly condemn that,” Kashif Mirza, president of All Pakistan Private Schools Federation, an association representing some 200,000 schools, told AFP.
Others have repeatedly chided her for leaving Pakistan, when few have had the same opportunity to flee from the militant violence that has killed tens of thousands over the last decade.
“No one hates Malala We hate the mindset working behind her There are thousand of girls and boys who stayed back in Pakistan and fought out TTP unlike Malala,” wrote Riz Khan hours after Malala arrived in country, referring to the Pakistani Taliban.
– The Nobel committee –
A string of international awards, appearances at the United Nations, audiences with world leaders and more than one million Twitter followers speak to the view of Malala as a peace icon abroad.
Two years after being attacked by the Pakistani Taliban, Malala was honoured with the Nobel peace prize — making her the youngest recipient of the award for her part in advocating women’s education worldwide.
“Despite her youth, Malala Yousafzai has already fought for several years for the right of girls to education, and has shown by example that children and young people, too, can contribute to improving their own situations,” said the committee.
– The Taliban –
However, to the militants who tried to kill her, she was an obstacle, preventing them from ruling with an iron fist over the Swat valley where Malala lived and blogged about their oppressive practices.
“(The) Taliban believe that you were intentionally writing against them and running a smearing campaign to malign their efforts to establish Islamic system in Swat and your writings were provocative,” wrote Taliban commander Adnan Rasheed in an open letter in 2013.
“You have said in your [UN] speech yesterday that pen is mightier than sword, so they attacked you for your sword not for your books or school.”
The militant group has not yet issued any statement on her return.