Malala praised abroad, viewed with skepticism at home

Though praised officially, Malala winning the Noble prize was met with mixed reactions and skepticism from the conservative masses in the country

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More than a week has passed since the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Pakistani teen activist Malala Yousafzai and Indian child rights advocate Kailash Satyarthi. In Pakistan, the award, although praised officially, wasn’t welcomed to the level one would have expected and was met with mixed reactions and skepticism from the conservative masses in the country.

Pakistan’s president, prime minister and the powerful military congratulated the teen and messages of felicitation were given front page space in almost all the leading dailies alongside the news of Malala receiving the prestigious award. An advertisement from the government congratulated “Dukhtar-e-Pakistan Malala Yousafzai on being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.”

But the response from the general public fell short of the jubilation and celebrations seen when the country wins a crucial cricket match for example.

Many men and women in Pakistan view Malala as a pawn in a Western conspiracy and she has been labeled by some as a “Western stooge.”

“Malala doesn’t deserve to be awarded the Nobel,” said a 45-year-old local shopkeeper. “She is too young for this prize. Usually the award is given to the people who invented something new for the benefit of humanity and mankind. But Malala hasn’t done something physically at all,” he said.

“In fact she is a part of the conspiracy of the West and will be used against the Muslims.”

Pakistan’s Taliban banned girls’ education in the Swat when they virtually ruled the region between 2007 and 2009 until they were flushed out in a military operation in 2009. But In October 2012, Malala, along with two other girls, was shot in the head for her persistent campaign advocating girls’ right to education. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the shooting.

“After Malala’s tragic incident, for a moment the area was in shock and a state of fear,” said Iffat Nasir, a senior education official based in Swat.

“But after seeing the overwhelming response from the national and international community to the Malala’ bravery, it gave courage to the girls of Swat,” she said.

“Malala is the voice of child education and a ‘symbol of courage,’” said Nasir. Swat has seen a rapid increase in girls’ enrollment in the past couple of years.

“She is a role model of this land,” said Gulnar Bibi, 38, a teacher by profession.

“Those who don’t like her are just jealous. Half of Swat’s population applies for Europe but Malala was respected by Europe itself. Now, these people are ‘patriots’ and called her a ‘traitor,’” she said.

“We are proud that she became the symbol of this land at such a young age.”

Swat Valley is full of rivers, lush green forests and snow-covered peaks, making it a fascinating landscape and ideal spot.

“People used to call Swat the Switzerland of Pakistan. Then it was called the land of the Taliban. Later it was called the land of checkpoints of security forces but now it will be recognized as the ‘land of Malala,’” said Bibi.

“Malala is the symbol of courage,” added Masooma Jabeen, a 24-year-old university student.

“Here people say there is some conspiracy behind the Prize – referring to the Nobel Peace Prize. Who else’s isn’t victimized of conspiracy?” she asked.

“We have to accept it and respect her. Malala’s fault is that she was born before her time. People will need some time to understand this,” said Jabeen.

“I hope soon a chapter about her [Malala] will be included in our text books,” she said.
Samiur Rehman, a local political figure who is affiliated with a religious group, disagrees with Nasir.

“Malala is a Western brand in local attire,” Rehman said, asking: “If the West really cares about the education campaign launched by Malala, why have they not bothered to restore the schools destroyed in FATA [Federally Administered Tribal Areas]?”

“Western countries select people from our society and then use them against us,” said Rehman.

Pakistani Taliban’s splinter group TTP Jamaat Ul Ahrar described the award as “serving infidels.”

“With this award being given to Malala, it has been established that the infidels have generously awarded their beloved for serving them very well,” said the spokesman for the group, Eshanullah Ehsan.

“No Muslim will feel proud by taking any award from the enemies of Muslims,” he said. “Neither Muslims can expect any award from the infidels.”

Inspired by Malala, Hadeeqa Bashir, a 12-year-old girl in seventh grade, launched an awareness campaign in Swat about girls’ education and child marriages.

“I am proud of Malala,” Bashir said. “She has told the world that we are peaceful people and love education.”

Bashir has formed a group of at least 35 young girls and has a campaign called “girls united for human rights.”

“She [Malala] is a brave girl. She stood firm against the militants while they were virtually ruling the valley. I also want to be like her,” Bashir said.

“The benefit of this award should reach the people of Swat,” local journalist Niaz Ahmed Khan said.

The situation of girls’ education is still not favorable in Swat and a lot of girls don’t have access to higher education because of lack of institutions.

“We need a separate university for girls as thousands of girls have to quit higher education as they can’t afford to leave their houses for other cities,” Khan said, adding that there is a university but that it was co-education one which discouraged attendance from girls with conservative backgrounds.