Speaking at a ceremony held in her honour by the prime minister, a visibly moved Yousafzai wiped tears from her eyes as she spoke of coming home for the first time since she was shot by Taliban gunmen in an assassination attempt more than five years ago.
“I am very happy today, that after five and a half years I have set foot on my soil, in my nation again,” she said.
“I am very happy, and I still can’t believe that this is actually happening. ...It is literally like a dream.
“I am 20 years old, but I have seen a lot in this life,” she said, tears welling up in her eyes. “From growing up in Swat Valley, such a beautiful region, and then seeing extremism and terrorism from 2007 until 2009, and seeing all the difficulties that women face in our society … and then the attack, to have to leave the country. Everything was happening by itself, [I] could not control anything. If it were up to me, I would never have left this country.”
Calling her “one of the most famous Pakistanis”, the prime minister Abbasi said that “our daughter, who has gained fame throughout the world, has returned home”.
“There is no doubt that when you left here, you were a 13-year-old child, but as you have returned you are now one of the most famous Pakistanis,” he said.
“This is your home. You can return any time you want.”
The 20-year-old, the youngest person ever to win the Nobel prize, landed in the capital Islamabad early on Thursday morning.
Television footage showed her sitting alongside her parents in an airport lounge and, later, travelling in a security convoy into the city.
Yousafzai was shot in the head by Taliban gunmen in October 2012 for speaking out against their ban on girls education in her native Swat Valley, in Pakistan’s north.
Two other students were wounded in that attack.
After receiving emergency medical treatment in Pakistan, she was moved to the United Kingdom for specialised medical procedures, where she has resided ever since due to fears for her security if she returned to Pakistan.
Following the attack, the Pakistani Taliban vowed to kill her if she ever returned.
Focus on education
Since recovering from her wounds, Yousafzai has championed the cause of education across the globe, speaking out passionately at the United Nations and other fora for the right of all children, and particularly young women, to receive an education.
In 2013, she and her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, a teacher and rights activist, founded the Malala Fund, which champions the right of every girl to 12 years of free and safe education. The Fund has invested more than $6 million in girl’s education in Pakistan.
It is unclear if Yousafzai will visit her native Swat Valley, where she made her name as a young rights activist, writing a series of anonymous blogs for the BBC while the valley was under Taliban rule in 2009.
Pakistan’s military fought a protracted battle to retake the scenic rural valley, eventually displacing the Taliban from Swat that year.
Attacks such as the one that targeted Yousafzai, however, continued for several years, with the Taliban exacting revenge on those who stood up to them during their reign.
In 2016, Taliban commanders attempted to extort money from local traders, sparking fears that they were attempting to launch a comeback in Swat, which was home to current Pakistan Taliban chief Mullah Fazlullah.
“I really miss my friends and family. But I also miss the landscape,” Yousafzai told Pakistani publication Mangobaaz in an interview earlier this week.
“When I woke up in the hospital in the UK, I looked outside and asked the doctors where are the mountains and rivers. Swat Valley is a paradise on Earth, and I don’t think I fully appreciated its beauty until it wasn’t outside my window every day.”
Yousafzai currently attends Oxford University, where she is pursuing a Bachelors degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics.
Asad Hashim is Al Jazeera’s Web Correspondent in Pakistan. He tweets @AsadHashim