‘Back with eyes open’: Malala re­turns to town where she was shot


Malala Yousafzai vis­ited the Swat Val­ley on Saturday for her first trip back to the once mil­i­tant-in­fested Pak­istani re­gion where she was shot in the head by the Tal­iban more than five years ago.

“I left Swat with my eyes closed and now I am back with my eyes open,” she told AFP, re­fer­ring to how she was air­lifted out in a coma af­ter the at­tack in 2012.

“I am ex­tremely de­lighted. My dream has come true. Peace has re­turned to Swat be­cause of the in­valu­able sac­ri­fices ren­dered by my broth­ers and sis­ters,” she said at a school out­side Mingora, the district’s main town, where she was es­corted by the Pak­istani mil­i­tary.

The brief trip by the 20-year-old No­bel lau­re­ate is a highly sym­bolic mo­ment for Pak­istan, which reg­u­larly touts Swat as a suc­cess story in its long bat­tle with ex­trem­ism as it de­fends it­self against ac­cu­sa­tions by the US and oth­ers that its north­west re­mains a safe haven for mil­i­tancy.

The visit — on which she was ac­com­pa­nied by her father, mother, and two broth­ers — was kept tightly un­der wraps. She took pic­tures of Swat Val­ley from an army he­li­copter and tweeted them say­ing: “The most beau­ti­ful place on earth to me.”

Af­ter fly­ing from Is­lam­abad, she met with friends and fam­ily be­fore vis­it­ing the all-boys Swat Cadet Col­lege Guli Bagh, a mil­i­tary-run school some 15km out­side Mingora.

“So much joy see­ing my fam­ily home, vis­it­ing friends and putting my feet on this soil again,” she tweeted.

There she lin­gered some 45 min­utes, tak­ing pho­to­graphs, be­fore trav­el­ing back to Is­lam­abad. The en­tire visit is be­lieved to have lasted just over two hours.

Mingora is where Malala’s fam­ily was liv­ing and where she was at­tend­ing school on Oct. 9, 2012, when a gun­man boarded her school bus, asked “Who is Malala?,” and shot her. She was treated first at an army hos­pi­tal then air­lifted to the Bri­tish city of Birm­ing­ham.

Her near-mirac­u­lous re­cov­ery, and tire­less ca­reer as an ed­u­ca­tion ad­vo­cate, have since turned her into a global sym­bol for hu­man rights, and in 2014 she be­came the youngest per­son ever to be awarded the No­bel Peace Prize when she was just 17.

Her fam­ily also told AFP of their joy in com­ing home. “I am un­able to be­lieve I am back in Swat and meet­ing my own peo­ple,” her father Zi­aud­din Yousafzai said, in com­ments echoed by her mother Toor Pekai.

The trip comes two days af­ter Malala, cur­rently a stu­dent at Ox­ford Univer­sity in Bri­tain, made her emo­tional re­turn to Pak­istan, where her sur­prise visit has been met with wide­spread joy and pride.

She broke down in tears as she made a tele­vised speech on Thurs­day, say­ing it was her “dream” to be back, and has vowed to Pak­istani me­dia that she will re­turn per­ma­nently af­ter she has com­pleted her ed­u­ca­tion. There had been much spec­u­la­tion within the coun­try over whether Malala would go to Swat dur­ing her visit. The moun­tain­ous re­gion is a tourist des­ti­na­tion famed for its pris­tine scenery.

Malala Yousafzai with her father Zi­aud­din Yousafzai, right, mother Toor Pekai and brother Atal Yousafzai dur­ing her home­town visit on Saturday. (AFP)

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