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My conversations with Malala Yousafzai, the girl who stood up to the Taliban (+video)

Pakistani journalist Owais Tohid recalls his conversations with Malala Yousafzai, the outspoken 14-year-old girl whose shooting by the Taliban has outraged the world.

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The first time I met Malala, a couple of years ago, I asked her what her name signified. She answered: "Probably, a hero like the Afghan heroine Malalai [of Maiwand] or Malalai Joya. I want to be a social activist and an honest politician like her," she said, smiling. Ms. Joya, a 30-something activist, politician, and writer who was bitterly critical of both the Taliban and the Karzai regime, was at one point dubbed the bravest woman of Afghanistan

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Malala Yousafzai certainly was well on her way for a 14-year-old. She was awarded the National Peace Award in Pakistan last year. At the time, she said: "My life is like a movie, full of dreams. I used to dream of becoming famous, to see my valley freed from the clutches of Taliban, to see girls flying like butterflies, free from any restrictions. It is becoming as a reality so I am happy, happy, and very happy," she said. "I want to change the political system so there is social justice and equality and change in the status of girls and women. I plan to set up my own academy for girls," she said, ever with confidence and a maturity beyond her years.

I remember thinking it was her love for life that made countering the Taliban possible.

Engraved in memory

Under their control of the Swat valley, the turbaned militants burned schools and banned girls’ education, and forced women to wear burqas or stay inside their homes, turning Malala's colorful valley of Swat colorless. That period is engraved in people's memories through her diary.

"Saturday January 3, 2009: Today our headmistress announced that girls should stop wearing uniform because of Taliban. Come to schools in casual wear. In our class only three out of 27 attended the school. My three friends have quit school because of Taliban threats."

"January 5, 2009: Today our teacher told us not to wear colorful dress that might make Taliban angry."

"Tuesday March 2009: On our way to school, my friend asked me to cover my head properly, otherwise Taliban will punish us."

"Thursday, March 12, 2009: I had a sore throat. My father took me to the doctor. There a woman told us about a boy named Anis, 'Anis was with Taliban.’ His Taliban friend told him that he had a dream that he is surrounded by heavenly virgins in Paradise. The boy then asked his parents if he could become a suicide bomber to go to the Paradise. The parents refused. But Anis exploded himself at a check post of security forces, anyway.”

When the security forces carried out the operation to oust the Taliban in the Swat valley, Malala had to leave her valley, as did almost a million other displaced people. I met her while she was teaching children under a tent, as most of the schools were destroyed by Taliban in Swat. "I want to see every child getting education and our whole country freed from Taliban," she told me, gesturing to the surrounding mountains.

Today, security officials say her attackers might have come down from those same mountains, either across the border where Mullah Fazlullah who had occupied Swat valley and now believed to have been in hiding in Nooristan and Kunnar provinces in Afghanistan, or from North Waziristan, which is considered to be a haven for Al Qaeda and Taliban militants.


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