A visibly emotional Malala Yousafzai, the youngest Nobel laureate in history, couldn't contain her disbelief upon finally returning home after more than five years away following a Taliban attack in Swat in 2012.
"I have dreamed of returning to Pakistan for the past five years," said a teary Yousafzai in a homecoming speech on Thursday at a function at Prime Minister House in Islamabad.
Yousafzai returned to Pakistan on a four-day visit late Wednesday night accompanied by her father Ziauddin, Farah Mohamed and Amirobyn Thompson. The 20-year-old Oxford University student from Swat has been living in the United Kingdom after surviving a Taliban attack which necessitated her departure abroad for medical treatment.
"Today, I am very happy that, after five-and-a-half years, I have set foot on the soil of my nation again," she began in Urdu. Switching to Pashto, she said: "Today is the happiest day of my life, because I have returned to my country, I have stepped foot on my nation's soil again and am among my own people."
"I am very happy, and I still can't believe ─ if I am honest ─ I still can't believe that this is actually happening, this is real. For the last five years, I have dreamed of returning back home. And whenever I would be in plane or a car and I would see the cities of London or New York, I would say [to myself], 'Just imagine that this is Pakistan, imagine that you are driving in lslamabad, imagine that this is Karachi', and it was never true. And now that I am seeing it today, I am very happy," she continued in Urdu, pausing to wipe tears away from her eyes.
"I was born in 1999," she said, stopping to wipe more tears from her eyes. "I don't cry often," she laughed.
"I am now 20-years-old, but I have seen a lot over the course of my life. From growing up in Swat ─ it was such a beautiful place ─ to then seeing terrorism and extremism from 2007 till 2009. And then seeing how many difficulties women and girls face in our society, and how we can fight against those challenges."
"And then being attacked, leaving my country...Everything was happening itself, I could not control anything. If it was my call, I would never have left my country. The doctors performed surgery on me and saved my life. But then for further treatment I had to go out and continue my education there. But it was always my dream that I return to Pakistan. And I want to be able to move freely in the streets and meet and talk to people peacefully, without any fear. And [I hope that] it will be like my old home ─ just as it was."
"So it's actually heartening, and I am grateful to all of you," she added.
Yousafzai described Pakistan's future generations as "the biggest resources we have".
"We need to invest in kids' education. The Malala Fund is already working on this. We have invested more than $6 million on girls' education in Pakistan, and we are continuing this work... I hope we can all join hands in this mission for the betterment of Pakistan, so that our future generation can receive the right education and women can become empowered, do jobs, stand on their own two feet and earn for themselves. That's the future we want to see."
"I still can't believe I am here. perhaps if I spend more time here [it will sink in]... It is literally a dream," she concluded.
'Welcome home, Malala'
PM Abbasi, who also addressed the gathering after Yousafzai, said he is happy that a daughter of the nation has returned to her homeland.
"You were a 13-year-old girl when you left and now you are the most famous citizen of the country. The entire world gave you honour and respect and Pakistan will [also]," he said.
"It is your home. Now you are not an ordinary citizen, your security is our responsibility."
"After your departure, we have fought a difficult war in which 6,500 soldiers, 25,000 policemen, paramilitary forces and civilians embraced martyrdom. Terrorism has been eliminated and still, we are fighting a war against terrorism. Set aside what the world says about us, Pakistan is fighting the largest war against terror. More than 200,000 soldiers are engaged in the war," he said.
"Welcome home, Malala," he concluded.
Earlier today, Yousafzai called on Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi at his office, where she was to attend the special function marking her achievements as an activist for girls education.
Sources told DawnNewsTV that Yousafzai shared her future plans with the premier during their meeting, and that PM Abbasi assured her of his complete support in connection with the educational projects she wanted to work on.
The premier also assured her of the provision of security in case she wants to visit anywhere in the country. The two also discussed prevailing situation in the country.
PML-N leader Marvi Memon, Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting Marriyum Aurangzeb and State Minister for Information Technology and Telecom Anusha Rahman also attended the meeting.
Yousafzai was targeted by the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban in a gun attack in 2012 while she was on her way home in a school van after taking an exam.
She sustained a bullet injury to her head and was shifted from Pakistan to a hospital in Birmingham in a precarious condition. Two other girls also sustained gunshot wounds in the attack.
The attack on the schoolgirls received widespread criticism at the national and international levels as Yousafzai received sympathy and support from across the world.
Responding to the condemnation, the TTP denounced Yousafzai, compelling her to stay back in the UK due to security concerns.
After her recovery, Yousafzai announced launching a movement for the promotion of girls’ education. She visited a number of countries as an official guest where she was warmly welcomed and given an official protocol and reception.
During a visit to Canada last year, she was provided an opportunity to address the country’s parliament, and in 2017, the United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres selected Yousafzai to be a UN messenger of peace, the highest honour bestowed by the UN chief on a global citizen.