MINGORA, Paistan, March 31 – Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai made her first visit to Pakistan since she was shot by Taliban militants in 2012 near her home in the northern Swat Valley.
Yousafzai met with Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi in the capital Islamabad on Thursday, his office said in a statement. Local television showed the education activist leaving Islamabad airport in the early hours of the morning amid heavy security for what is expected to be a four-day visit. An agenda for her trip hasn’t been published due to safety concerns.
The 20-year-old became the first teenager to win the Nobel Peace Prize four years ago and is currently studying at the University of Oxford. While traveling to school by bus in October 2012, she was shot in the head in retaliation for her campaign for girls to be given equal education rights in the conservative country, defying threats from militants in her hometown of Mingora.
The bullet struck just above her left eye, grazing her brain, and Yousafzai was flown to the U.K. for emergency treatment.
“I have always dreamed of coming back to Pakistan — we need to empower women,” Yousafzai said in a speech in Islamabad with tears in her eyes. “If I wanted I would have never left my country, for further treatment I had to go out.”
Since then Pakistan’s military has neutered some insurgent groups who target the country domestically and tourists are now returning to areas including picturesque Swat, which is known locally as the Switzerland of Pakistan.
Lauded internationally, Yousafzai gained global recognition after pledging to continue her struggle against illiteracy, poverty and terrorism. However, her return has received a mixed reaction in her home nation. Many in the South Asian nation see her as part of a Western conspiracy against Pakistan.
Malala’s visit “gives the message that extremism can be challenged and defeated if one stands up against it,” said Farzana Bari, a human rights activist and former head of the Gender Studies department at Islamabad’s Quaid-i-Azam University.
“This will help promote peace and girls’ education in Pakistan as we still have large areas where girls and women are discriminated against,” she said.