PESHAWAR: On the day that young Malala Yousafzai won the Nobel Peace Prize, few felt more elated than her Pakhtun brethren in Swat valley.
“Malala’s achievement is a great pride for Swat and all of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, but especially for Pakhtuns who are always perceived as terrorists,” said Ahmed Shah, the principal of Sarosh Academy in Malala's hometown of Mingora, who is also a friend of Malala’s father Ziaudin.
“We are jubilant that it is our Pakhtun daughter who has brought laurels to the entire Pakistani nation,” he tells Dawn.
In a province where militancy has left several schools destroyed or closed for curfew over the years, Shah said that Malala’s Nobel is a slap on the face of terrorists and those are opposed to women’s education.
“I am so proud of Malala. I congratulated her father and also congratulate the people of Swat,” he said.
Malala, now 17 and the youngest recipient of the Nobel prize, is an education campaigner who was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman two years ago.
Pashtuns from the conservative north-western region often feel stigmatised and endure discrimination even within the country despite bearing the brunt of being the front-line state in the war against terror.
Awami National Party (ANP) Senator Zahid Khan speaking to DawnNews said Malala’s victory “has elevated the position of Pashtuns”.
“She has told the world — which perceives us as terrorists — that Pakistan has talent and courage,” Khan said. “The stigma attached to Pakistan and Pashtuns has been removed.
“We congratulate her. She has made Pakistan shine all over the world,” he added.
In a patriarchal society that often dictates how women should conduct themselves in the social and private sphere, young champions of women's rights say Malala is an inspiration.
Fazl Khaliq, Malala's teacher from the Kushal Public school said he is proud to have been the teacher of a very brave girl.
"The daughter of Swat has proved today by winning the award that all Swati girls have the courage of Malala. They are all standing up for the cause of education and are proud to be 'Malala natives'," he said.
Ninth grader Urooj Khan, who studies at a government school in Swat, says the girls of Swat are elated over Malala’s achievement.
“She has beaten the enemies of education by winning the Nobel Peace Prize,” she said. “There is no match to her courage and valour. We are all so proud of her.”
A Peshawar-based student Fouzia Khan said Malala had won the prize for Pakhtun women, adding, “Every Pakhtun girl is a Malala. They are ready to stand for girls education. No one is going to stop them now.”