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Nobel Peace Prize Winner Malala Lives Under Constant Threat of Death

Monday, 13 October 2014 06:26 AM

Two policemen with AK-47 rifles stood guard in the narrow ally outside of Malala Yousafzai’s uncle’s house in Pakistan this weekend, watching for anything suspicious after she became the first teenager to win a Nobel Peace Prize.

Yousafzai, 17, celebrated the award some 5,000 miles (8,000 kilometers) away in the U.K., where she’s lived since Taliban militants shot her in the face on the way to school two years ago. She plans to stay away from Pakistan for at least another three years, according to Mahmudul Hassan, her uncle.

“Apparently security is fine but Allah knows better,” he said at his home in Mingora, a town in the northwest Swat River valley, where Pakistani Taliban militants briefly took power five years ago. “We can’t risk her life.”

Pakistan’s battle with Taliban militancy is far from over, with an army offensive in June near the Afghan border doing little to ally fears in Mingora. A rally two days ago for Yousafzai, who shared the award with Indian child rights activist Kailash Satyarthi, attracted only several dozen people.

“Targeted killings are still taking place,” Ahmed Shah, a private school principal who led the rally two days ago, said in an interview. “Members of the tribal council, politicians, opinion-makers are being shot dead. In such an environment, how can people come onto the streets?”

Five years ago, Swat’s scenic mountains, rivers and lakes became infiltrated with Taliban guerrillas, who imposed their strict interpretation of Islamic law. They denied education to girls, beheaded local officials and burned schools in a battle that uprooted 2 million people from their homes in the forested valley that sits 155 miles north of the capital Islamabad.

Bullet Strikes

While a 10-week army offensive starting in May 2009 ended their rule, Taliban strikes remained common. Militants attacked Yousafzai in October 2012 on her way to school in retaliation for her campaign for girls to be given equal rights to education. The bullet struck just above her left eye, grazing her brain.

She flew to the U.K. for emergency treatment, where she now attends school in Birmingham. As she gained global fame for her struggle against illiteracy, poverty and terrorism, resentment grew in Pakistan. Critics said the U.S. and other western countries were using her to disparage local culture.

Those sentiments manifested after the peace prize. Amirul Azeem, a spokesman for the religious Jamaat-e-Islami party, asked why Yousafzai won the award over Palestinian children who continued attending school amid persistent violence.

Critics Complain

“There are many talented girls who have proven their mettle, but why was she was chosen?” Ali Raza Yousafzai, a student at Sarhad University in Peshawar, a prominent city in the northwest dominated by residents who share the Pashtun ethnicity of the Taliban militants, said while visiting Mingora to see his family, which isn’t related to Malala. “What extraordinary thing did she do?”

In awarding the peace prize, the Nobel committee cited Yousafzai’s fight for girls to be educated “under the most dangerous circumstances.” She also showed that young people can lead by example, the committee said.

After the Taliban banned girls from school, Yousafzai said she had two options: Stay silent and be killed, or speak and be killed. She saw her dreams of becoming a doctor disappearing.

“My life would just be getting married at the age of 13 or 14, not going to school, not becoming who I really can be,” Yousafzai told reporters in Birmingham on Oct. 10. “So I decided that I would speak up.”

Attitudes Changing

Yousafzai said this is just the beginning of her campaign for every child to go to school. One day, she said, she wants to become a “good politician.”

Youzafzai had an autobiography published last year entitled “I am Malala” which she dedicated to “all the girls who have faced injustice and been silenced.”

“Over the last year I’ve seen many other places, but my valley remains to be the most beautiful place in the world,” Yousafzai writes of her homeland in the book. “I don’t know when I will see it again but I know that I will.”

Taliban militants still want her dead.

“Characters like Malala should know that we are not deterred by propaganda of infidels,” Ehsanullah Ehsan, a spokesman for Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, a faction of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP, that attacked Yousafzai. “We have prepared sharp and shiny knives for enemy of Islam.”

‘Pride of Pakistan’

Perceptions of Yousafzai in Swat Valley and throughout the country are slowly starting to shift. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called her the “Pride of Pakistan” after the award.

“I can see a change in people’s attitude,” Fazal Khaliq, Yousafzai’s teacher in Mingora, said at the rally to celebrate her. “Those considering her anti-Pakistan, anti-Pashtun and anti-Islam are now thinking differently.”

Improving the plight of millions of Pakistani women who are deprived of basic education and equal work opportunities may prove just as hard.

Only 23 percent of women older than 10 work in Pakistan, compared with 78 percent of males in the same category, according to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics. Some 37 percent of rural women can read and write, compared with 64 percent of men, Finance Ministry statistics show.

Irfan Alam, a farmer in Mingora, said Yousafzai’s award would improve perceptions of Swat and compel Pakistan’s leaders to focus more on education.

“It doesn’t matter if she comes back soon or not, but she should not forget its people and their problems,” he said while picking his children up from school. “She is talented and there are many more who need attention.”


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Two policemen with AK-47 rifles stood guard in the narrow ally outside of Malala Yousafzai's uncle's house in Pakistan this weekend, watching for anything suspicious after she became the first teenager to win a Nobel Peace Prize. Yousafzai, 17, celebrated the award some...
malala, death, threats, uk, home, swat
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2014-26-13
Monday, 13 October 2014 06:26 AM
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