“I’ve never been so happy” – Nobel winner Malala in Pakistan

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai said on Friday (March 30) that she had pined for her home in Pakistan's picturesque Swat Valley, even as she recalled two years of living in fear under the Taliban's harsh interpretation of Islam.

Visiting her homeland for the first time on Thursday (March 29) since a Taliban gunman shot her in the head over her blog advocating girls’ education, 20-year-old Yousafzai also contradicted Pakistani critics who accuse her of promoting an ideology at odds with the country’s Islamic values. “I am proud of my religion and I am proud of my country,” she told Reuters in an interview at a hotel in the capital, Islamabad, on Friday.

Wearing a rose-printed head scarf and flowing tunic and trousers – one of many outfits family and friends brought her from Pakistan to Britain, where she is studying at Oxford University – Yousafzai said she was elated at being home, though she is still waiting for security clearance to visit Swat.

She said she had wanted to return before but, aside from security concerns, there was the hectic pace of school and her entry exams to Oxford, where she began studying last year for a degree in politics, philosophy and economics.

Malala’s journey to becoming the youngest ever Nobel prize winner began in Pakistan, with the local branch of the hard-line Taliban movement taking over her hometown in Swat, about 250 kilometres from the capital, Islamabad. The Tehreek-E-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) banned girls’ education and burned about 200 schools, following the example of the 1990s Taliban government in neighbouring Afghanistan, which forcibly excluded women from nearly every aspect of public life.

Recalling those days, Malala said she still remembered going to sleep with the fear that she may not be alive the next morning.

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