Malala returns to Pakistan home town for first time since attack

More than five years after being shot by Taliban gunmen, education rights icon returns to meet family and friends.

Malala hometown visit
After landing, Malala briefly met friends and teachers from her old secondary school [Abdul Majeed/AFP]

Islamabad – Malala Yousafzai, the 20-year-old Pakistani education rights icon, has returned home to her native Swat Valley for the first time since being shot by the Taliban there more than five years ago.

Yousafzai flew from the capital Islamabad to Mingora, the main town in Swat, by helicopter on Saturday morning. She briefly met friends and teachers from her old secondary school before heading to an event organised in her honour at a nearby college.

Security was tight across the valley, security officials told Al Jazeera, with local police coordinating with the military, which still has a sizeable presence in a valley once ruled by the Pakistan Taliban.

“Mostly the trip is private, she is visiting her friends and family in Mingora,” Akhtar Hayat Khan, a senior police official, told Al Jazeera.

Yousafzai returned to Pakistan on Thursday, the first time she had been able to return since Pakistan Taliban gunmen shot her in the head on her way to school in October 2012.

Since then, she has championed the cause of young women’s right to an education, campaigning around the world and raising millions of dollars to launch programmes in Pakistan, Nigeria, Kenya, Lebanon and elsewhere.

In 2014, she jointly won the Nobel Peace Prize, along with Indian rights activist Kailash Satyarthi, becoming the youngest person ever to do so.

Last year, she was accepted for a Bachelors degree programme at Oxford University in the UK, where she has resided since receiving treatment there in 2012 for wounds sustained in the attack. 

She has often spoken, however, of how much she has missed home, and particularly the mountains of the picturesque Swat Valley, where she hails from.

“I had always dreamed that I could come back to Pakistan, and that I could move on the streets, talk to people, meet people, without any fear,” she said at an event in Islamabad on Thursday, where she was visibly emotional at her return, often wiping tears from her eyes.

Taliban crackdown

The Pakistan Taliban ruled the Swat Valley with an iron fist for almost two years until 2009, when the military launched an operation to remove them from the northern Pakistani region.

While the operation was successful in reinforcing the writ of Pakistan’s government over the valley, sporadic attacks against Taliban opponents continued for several years after it was completed, including the one against Malala.

As recently as last year, anti-Taliban leaders were still being targeted in attacks, although the frequency of such attempts has decreased.

In February, at least 11 Pakistani soldiers were killed in a suicide attack on a military base in the town of Kabal, about 10km west of Mingora.

Pakistan has blamed that attack on Afghanistan-based Pakistani Taliban fighters, and on Thursday handed Afghan authorities a dossier regarding those allegations, according to a Pakistani foreign ministry statement.

It is unclear if Yousafzai will visit her native village in the neighbouring district of Shangla, located about 35km from Mingora, where her Malala Fund has helped build a new secondary school for children in the area.

Asad Hashim is Al Jazeera’s Web Correspondent in Pakistan. He tweets @AsadHashim.

Source: Al Jazeera