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Malala Returns To Pakistan


Malala Yousafzai, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, returned to Pakistan for the first time since Taliban gunmen shot her in the head in 2012. Today, Malala made a brief visit to her own village in the Swat Valley. Since arriving in Pakistan, she's spent time with family, addressed the nation on national TV and met with the prime minister in Islamabad. NPR's Diaa Hadid is in Islamabad and reports on Malala's stops along the way.

DIAA HADID, BYLINE: Malala is staying in one of Pakistan's most secure hotels. There are barricades, guards, scanners. Intelligence agents buffer her delegation. All this to keep her safe. She's still in danger from the same militants who shot her five years ago. And in the middle of all that, I catch a glimpse of her. She's taking selfies with cousins. I found one of her cousins outside the hotel. Her name is Sima Bibi.

SIMA BIBI: We all are very happy. And also, Malala is happy, too. She says that, I'm really happy to see her relatives.

HADID: It's a rare moment when Malala gets to do something ordinary. She doesn't get to be ordinary. She's a Nobel Peace Prize winner. She's a U.N. ambassador. She runs a fund that advocates for girls' education. She's a humanitarian superstar. She's just 20 years old. And in Pakistan, she's controversial, influential, and she's arrived at an interesting time.

Elections are just months away. On Twitter, people ask, is Malala here to improve the ruling party's image? Maybe she's improving Pakistan's image. The country took a battering by President Trump. He loudly accused Pakistan of harboring Taliban insurgents, the same people who shot Malala.

Right now there's also a movement among the Pashtuns. They're a Pakistani minority, and they demand equality. Malala is a Pashtun. She's supported them before. But if she says something here, it's more powerful. This is Mohsen Dawar. He's an activist with the Pashtun movement.

MOHSEN DAWAR: If you have support from your own people also, and someone like Malala speaks in your support, then it does make a difference.

HADID: For others, seeing Malala return is a sign that things are getting better in Pakistan.

MOSHARRAF ZAIDI: It speaks to us that circumstances in this country have changed for the better.

HADID: Mosharraf Zaidi is an education advocate himself. He is also a columnist and co-hosts a podcast. It's called "How To Pakistan." He acknowledges Pakistanis pile a lot onto Malala.

ZAIDI: She speaks so eloquently and so passionately. So I think we all want to push all of our agendas. We want a brighter future.

HADID: Malala's stated agenda is women's empowerment. Here she is speaking to Reuters.


MALALA YOUSAFZAI: The wife of prophet - peace be upon him - was a businesswoman, which teaches us that women should be involved in the economy. They should be doing businesses. They should be getting jobs. And they should be speaking up for themselves.

HADID: She says she wants Pakistan to do more for education. In a working-class market in Islamabad, most people agreed. The only vocal dissenter is Mohammed Taqi.

MOHAMMED TAQI: (Foreign language spoken).

HADID: He says Malala doesn't follow Islam. But a woman hobbles towards us on crutches. She has a disfigured leg. Bibi Rehmat is 32.

BIBI REHMAT: (Foreign language spoken).

HADID: She can't read or write. But she says she has two daughters, and she wants them to grow up like Malala, brave and educated. 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.