Updated at 6 a.m. ET
Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai has returned to Pakistan for the first time since Taliban militants shot her in 2012 for her advocacy of girls’ education.
Malala, who is now 20, was 15 when a Taliban gunman boarded her school bus in northwest Pakistan, singled her out, and shot her in the head. She was transported to the U.K. for treatment, and joined by her family, has lived there since then.
She arrived Thursday at Islamabad’s Benazir Bhutto International Airport, leaving in a convoy of vehicles and armed guards. Later, she was honored by Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi.
At Abassi’s residence in Islamabad, she spoke in a mix of Urdu and English, saying she had “always dreamed of returning to Pakistan and living here in peace and without any fear.”
“Where I can move on the streets, I can meet people, I can talk to people,” she said. “May it be the same as it was earlier.”
“God willing, Pakistan, the future of Pakistan lies in its people,” Malala said. “So, we should invest in education of these children.”
Her organization, the Malala Fund, was “already working on it,” she said.
Mehnaz Naz, one of the first women to practice law in the Pakistan’s Swat Valley after the the Pakistani army pushed out most of the Taliban nearly a decade ago, tells NPR that Malala is an inspiration for women and girls in Pakistan.
“I personally like her,” Naz says. “Because she is a girl like us and [she] raised a voice for her rights, raised a voice for the education of girls and the rights of girls.”
Not everyone welcomes Malala’s return, however. Many in Pakistan think she has gained international acclaim by casting a shadow on her homeland.
Humeira Shawkat, another woman attorney in Swat, says she does not think Malala deserves any credit.
“I don’t think she’s done anything. Because your performance should be scrutinized, it should be weighed, it should be measured,” Shawkat says. “I have not taken any inspiration from her.”
At the age of 11, Malala began an anonymous blog for the BBC detailing her life under Taliban domination in her home, Swat Valley. Since her recovery, she has continued to advocate publicly for the rights of children.
In 2013, in a speech before the United Nations, she received a standing ovation.
“The terrorists thought that they would change my aims and stop my ambitions,” she said, “but nothing changed in my life, except this: weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born.”
The following year she became the youngest-ever recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, sharing the award with Kailash Satyarthi, an Indian campaigner against exploitation of children.
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