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Nobel Peace Laureate Malala Yousafzai Visits Pakistan For First Time Since Leaving


The Nobel Peace Laureate Malala Yousafzai returned to her homeland Pakistan today. This is her first visit since a Taliban gunman boarded her school bus and shot her. NPR's Diaa Hadid reports from Islamabad.

DIAA HADID, BYLINE: Malala arrived unannounced - surrounded by security and her four-day itinerary shrouded in secrecy. She was given a dignitary's welcome.


HADID: She was emotional as she spoke in a mix of English and Urdu at the prime minister's residence in Islamabad.


MALALA YOUSAFZAI: (Speaking in Urdu).

HADID: It was carried live on Pakistani national television. The sound is a bit crackly.


YOUSAFZAI: I still can't believe that this is actually happening.

HADID: For years, she says she peered out of airplane windows and imagine she was seeing home, the postcard-pretty Swat Valley. I'm very happy, she adds. The Swat Valley is where she lived when a Taliban gunman shot her in the head. She was targeted because her family advocated women's education. Malala survived and was flown to Britain for further treatment. Her family joined her, and they've lived there ever since.

Malala's achieved a lot in the intervening five years. She's the youngest person to ever be awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for her work advocating girls' education. She's a U.N. Messenger of Peace. She studies at Oxford University. And she's just 20 years old. She's an inspiration to some here, like Mehnaz Naz. She's from the Swat Valley like Malala, and she's one of the first women to start practicing law here after the Pakistani army pushed the Taliban out from their area. She says Malala fought for their rights.

MEHNAZ NAZ: (Speaking Urdu).

HADID: "She's a girl like us," she says, "and she raised her voice for the education of girls." But mostly, she's unpopular. Humeira Shawkat is also a lawyer in the Swat Valley. She says the Taliban threatens her all the time. Once they even kidnapped her father.

HUMEIRA SHAWKAT: (Speaking Urdu).

HADID: Shawkat says she doesn't think Malala's done anything inspiring. It's a view echoed on Twitter, where many Pakistanis seem to eye roll. They said the Taliban shot plenty of other children who never got Malala's attention. Malala appeared to speak to that.


YOUSAFZAI: (Speaking in Urdu).

HADID: She says she's just 20 years old, and she's seen so much in her life. She says, "if it was in my power, I'd have never left." She says she's always dreamed of returning to Pakistan and living here in peace. Diaa Hadid, NPR News, Islamabad. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Diaa Hadid chiefly covers Pakistan and Afghanistan for NPR News. She is based in NPR's bureau in Islamabad. There, Hadid and her team were awarded a Murrow in 2019 for hard news for their story on why abortion rates in Pakistan are among the highest in the world.