ISLAMABAD – With tears in her eyes, Nobel Peace laureate Malala Yousafzai on Thursday said that she could not believe she was back in Pakistan.
Speaking at a reception hosted in her honour by Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Malala said that she spent six years abroad after the 2012 Taliban attack but always missed Pakistan.
Malala — who survived a Taliban assassination attempt and went on to win the Nobel Peace prize — returned to Pakistan earlier in the morning. She vowed to continue her campaign for girls’ education. Now 20, she lives in the United Kingdom and sh was flown to Birmingham for treatment after the 2012 attack.
An emotional Malala said that she was excited to be back in Pakistan. She appreciated the improvement in the security environment and called on the people to be united on issues such as education and healthcare.
She is visiting Pakistan for four days to highlight the work of her foundation and to create awareness of education for young girls. Officials did not confirm whether the activist would visit her hometown in Swat but festivities in her area indicated she might travel there.
Malala repeatedly wiped away her tears while recounting how much she had missed Pakistan since she flew abroad for her treatment and education.
“I still cannot believe this is happening. I have dreamed of this day for five years. All the time I was in cars and planes around the world, I used to tell myself that I am back home in Pakistan. And it was never true,” she said, as she sobbed.
She was received at Benazir Bhutto International Airport amid tight security. Television channels showed her with her parents in the airport before leaving in a convoy of nearly 15 vehicles.
Malala also met Oscar winner Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy. It is being speculated that Chinoy will make a movie on her life.
As news broke about Malala’s arrival, many Pakistanis welcomed her. The ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, the Pakistan People’s Party and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf took to the social media to welcome her and pay tributes. There were some who criticized her as a ‘western agent’.
Malala said: “I am only 20-years-old but have seen much in my life. It was very difficult for me to leave the country after the attack. I would have never left Pakistan if it was in my control. I have always wanted to go Pakistan peacefully. The country’s future is the youth and we have to work for their education.”
She maintained: “I am working for the education of children on an international level and wanted to do the same in Pakistan.”
The Nobel laureate said that extremism and terrorism in Swat had devastated the region after the Taliban took over, adding the future of Pakistan was now bright and the people were its biggest resource and asset.
“We need to invest in the education of the children in Pakistan. Malala Fund has already spent more than $ 6 million in Pakistan for the education of girls,” she said, referring to the non-profit group she co-founded with her father.
She expressed the hope that everyone in Pakistan would join hands for the betterment of the nation, adding that empowering women should top the agenda.
Prime Minister Abbasi paid rich tribute to the Nobel laureate. He expressed happiness over Malala’s return to her homeland. “Terrorism has been eliminated from Pakistan. Thousands of soldiers have sacrificed in the difficult war. Welcome home, Malala,” he said.
Earlier, Malala along with her father Ziauddin Yousafzai and the younger brother met with the prime minister at his office while State Minister for Information Marriyum Aurangzeb, Minister of State for Information Technology Anusha Rehman, Benazir Income Support Programme chairperson Marvi Memon and others were also present.
Malala vows to continue drive for girls’ education