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Peace Prize winner Malala returns to Pakistan for first time since being shot

Security was tight as the 20-year-old met Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi for talks in Islamabad.

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai returned to Pakistan early on Thursday for the first time since she was shot in 2012 by Taliban militants angered by her championing of education for girls.

Tight security greeted the now 20-year-old university student on her arrival at Benazir Bhutto International Airport.

Local television showed her with her parents in the lounge at the airport before leaving for the capital, Islamabad, in a convoy of nearly 15 vehicles, many of them occupied by heavily armed police.

Hours after her arrival, Ms Yousafzai met Pakistan Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, according to a government statement.

Her return to her homeland had been shrouded in secrecy but, as news broke, Pakistanis welcomed her back.

Cricketer turned opposition leader Imran Khan’s party said her return was a sign of the defeat of extremism in the country.

Mohammad Hassan, one of Ms Yousafzai’s cousins in the north-western town of Mingora, said it was one of the happiest days of his life, though he was not sure whether she would visit her home town of Swat, where the shooting took place.

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Pakistan Malala Yousafzai

Javeria Khan, a 12-year-old schoolgirl in Ms Yousafzai’s hometown, said she was excited about her return.

“I wish I could see her in Swat. I wish she had come here, but we welcome her,” she said, as she sat with fellow students.

Marvi Memon, a senior leader of the ruling Muslim League party, also welcomed Ms Yousafzai, saying it was a pleasant surprise for her to see her back home and it was a “proud day” for Pakistan.

Ms Yousafzai was just 14 but already known for her activism when Taliban gunman boarded the school van in which she was sitting and demanded to know “who is Malala?” before shooting her in the head.

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Pakistan Malala Yousafzai

Two of her classmates were also injured.

Ms Yousafzai was flown, in a critical condition, to the garrison city of Rawalpindi before being airlifted to Birmingham in the UK.

She has since spoken at the United Nations, mesmerising the world with her eloquence and her unrelenting commitment to the promotion of girls’ education through the Malala Fund, a book, meetings with refugees and other activism.

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Pakistan Malala Yousafzai

She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014, along with Indian child-rights activist Kailash Satyarthi, and said on the day she collected the award that “education is one of the blessings of life, and one of its necessities”.

She remained in Britain after undergoing medical treatment there and won a place at the University of Oxford last year.

At home in Pakistan, however, she has been condemned by some as a Western mouthpiece, with some even suggesting on social media that the shooting was staged.

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Nobel Peace Prize 2014

Ms Yousafzai has repeatedly responded to the criticism with a grace far outstripping her years, often saying education is neither Western, nor Eastern.

Often when she has spoken in public she has championed her home country and spoken in her native Pashto language, always promising to return.

On March 23, when Pakistan celebrated Pakistan Day, she tweeted: “I cherish fond memories of home, of playing cricket on rooftops and singing the national anthem in school. Happy Pakistan Day!”

Local television channels have been showing her return to Pakistan with some replaying the horror of her shooting and the rush to get her treatment.

Pakistani officials said they captured several suspects after the attack on Ms Yousafzai, but the head of the Taliban in Pakistan, Mullah Fazlullah, was still on the run and believed to be hiding in neighbouring Afghanistan.

Mr Fazlullah’s spokesman, Mohammad Khurasani, said earlier this month that Mr Fazlullah’s son was among 21 “holy warriors” killed by missiles fired by a US drone at a seminary in Afghanistan.

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