MINGORA, PAKISTAN // For many of her compatriots, Malala Yousafzai is a stooge of the United States and a CIA agent, a symbol of the West’s evils and a global conspiracy to bring down Pakistan.
She has won the European Union’s prestigious human rights award and was one of the favourites to win the Nobel Peace Prize, but in her native Swat valley, friends and neighbours react to her success with a mixture of resentment, fear and jealousy.
“Malala is spoiling Pakistan’s name around the world,” said Mohammad Rizwan, a shop owner in her hometown of Mingora. “We didn’t need Malala to come and tell us how important education is.”
Around the corner from his shop is the quiet street where Malala, 16, was shot a year ago after trying to defy the Taliban with her outspoken views on women’s right to education.
She survived after being airlifted to Britain for treatment and has since become a symbol of defiance against militants in tribal areas on the Afghan border.
But in this deeply conservative part of Pakistan, where women are expected to stay at home and keep their views to themselves, many people view Malala’s campaign with suspicion.
In a nation thriving on conspiracy theories, some have even doubted the sincerity of her campaign, claiming it is part of her family’s ploy to move to Britain or that she is just an attention seeker.
Social media are brimming with insulting messages. “We hate Malala Yousafzai, a CIA agent,” says one Facebook page.
“Here, people have been unkind to her. They want to forget her. They think she is a drama queen. But what can you do?” said Ahmad Shah, a childhood friend of Malala’s father who helped write her speech at the United Nations this year.
“Here in Swat, we have seen the hell that is Taliban rule. And yet, some people still say they would much rather side with the Taliban than Malala. Sometimes people never learn.”
Quratulain Ali, Malala’s friend, said quietly: “We are all very happy in our hearts that she was nominated to win the Nobel prize but we don’t often speak about it openly. There could be danger for us also.”
The award went to the Hague-based Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which is overseeing the destruction’s of Syria’s arsenal.