Thursday May 23, 2024

Politics is no longer a passion: Malala

By Aamir Ghauri
March 31, 2018

ISLAMABAD: Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai, 20, returned home Thursday after five years and five months since she was attacked by the Pakistani Taliban in October 2012 for going to school in Swat, writing a blog for an international news organisation and expressing her thoughts freely. Her journey is known globally. She has met celebrities, presidents, prime ministers, rights activists and have spoken at the most prestigious world fora. She has grown from a vocal Swat schoolgirl into an international icon. But so have changed her thoughts about her ambitions and endeavours. She once wanted to be a politician. Now she thinks it is better left to those want it more. She thinks Pakistan needs to open up for its people, for its youth, for its women – most importantly for its girls and boys.

On Friday, she spoke to The News about her feelings on her return home, about those who facilitated her return and her future plans. Following is what was asked and what she said. She was joined by her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai – a pride Pashtun and Pakistani who thinks he has done well by breaking from tradition, by letting himself known by the work and wonders of his daughter.

The News: Your feelings and emotions on your return to Pakistan were witnessed by all – very original, very emotional, very understandable. How has this trip come about, who facilitated it and why now?

Malala Yousafzai: It has been more than five years that I had to leave Pakistan to receive further treatment after the attack (on October 9, 2012). In these five years, I tried my best to return to Pakistan whenever it was the best opportunity. Finally, it just worked out because the Government of Pakistan and the Army of Pakistan provided the security and made it possible. This is my college break as well. That was also one of the reasons because I could not miss my school. So this just finally happened. To be honest, I can’t believe it that I am here in Pakistan. It still feels like a dream.

TN: Your person divides opinion across this country. Many people love you but some people detest you too. How would you like to connect to both?

MY: Well, I am happy to talk to people and listen to their concerns and criticism but to be honest I don’t follow news myself on social media or any channel or newspaper, so I don’t get to hear their comments and what they say. But generally, I would say that majority of Pakistanis support me. Those who do criticize have absurd kind of criticism that doesn’t make any sense. What I want is people support my purpose of education and think about the daughters of Pakistan who need an education. Don’t think about me. I don’t want any favour or I don’t want everyone to accept me. All I care about is that they accept education as an issue.

TN: When you were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, were you ready for it and how did you like sharing it with an Indian?

MY: I was in school, in my Chemistry lesson. They usually call you on the phone half an hour before you have won the Nobel Prize. I didn’t have my phone because I didn’t use any phone so they did not call me. So mine was a surprise on TV. I didn’t know until the last minute. My teacher came into my classroom and called me outside. I was worried that I might have done something wrong and I am in trouble. But she told me that I had won the Peace Prize. I said thank you. You don’t know how to respond. For me, it was for the cause of education. It was not for me individually. It was not for Kailash Satyarthi individually, who is from India. It was for the purpose we stand up for. He has freed thousands of children from child labour. He has saved the lives of so many children. He has admitted them back to school. He has given them a future. I was awarded because I stand up for the cause of girls’ education so that all girls can go to school and also for giving the message that girls can stand up too for their rights, that they can change the world. I think that doesn’t matter where you are from. It is the cause that is important.

TN to Ziauddin Yousafzai (Malala’s father): Malala was a celebrity before even she was attacked. People knew that she was writing for BBC. People were reading Gul Makai. How was the experience for you of taking Malala to England not knowing if she would live through the ordeal? As a father, how did you go from that experience when she was shot to when she got the Nobel Prize?

ZY: People of Swat knew me as the father of Malala even before (the attack on her). I lost my name to her and I always say that I feel proud to be the father of a daughter. This pride is rare in our cultural environment or patriarchal society. The experience we have gone through is extremely traumatic. Everyone knows all that how she was attacked and on the advice of doctors, she was moved to Birmingham. But her life was saved here in CMH Peshawar. If the doctor had not performed that life-saving surgery, she would not be here for this interview. But for further operations, she had to go abroad. And then that took longer. We never knew that it would be so long. I say that it was too long because for us every day was equal to many months. We missed our country so much. Pakistan is in my dreams every night and sometime in my dream I say ‘this time it is not a dream, and I am really in Swat and Shangla.’ Then again I wake up, and I am not there. This trauma goes on but right now it is real, and I am sitting in front of you. It is a great moment, and we are thankful to the government, the army, and everybody who supported us.

TN to MY: When you talk about your (future) plans, you talk about returning to Pakistan. Are there any fears at the back of your mind when you discuss the same with your family?

MY: I am already here. If I were afraid, I would not have been here.

TN: When you think of coming back here and doing politics? Do you want to do politics in this country or from outside Pakistan?

MY: To be honest, I am no more interested in politics. Because having met all these ministers and prime ministers and presidents, you realize that becoming a prime minister is not the solution to all the problems that I used to think about when I was 11 or 12. At that time, I used to think that extremism and terrorism could be solved by becoming a prime minister. Right now, I am focused on my work on girls’ education, something that I would continue to do. I will come back to Pakistan, Insha’Allah. I would be coming more frequently, and after I finish my studies, I will come back to my country.

TN: Are you changing your desired profession because you said in your previous interviews that you want to join politics?

MY: I think I said that when I was younger. And you can change your mind with time. One day you want to be a teacher and the other day you think it’s better to be a doctor.

TN: So to be a politician is no more your desire?

MY: No it is not my desire at all. I think it is the most complicated job. And I don’t even consider this a career. I think it is service to the country. Looking at politicians right now, it has changed. Because when I thought of becoming a politician, I thought of serving the country. But things have messed up now in the current political situation. For me, achieving my goal is important. And my goal is that all children should get a safe and quality education. And that can be achieved through different ways. You can become a teacher, or a doctor, or a prime minister or a social activist, etc. There are different ways you can contribute to it.

TN: You are now living in England, a democracy, a pluralistic and multicultural society. Why do you think our society is unable to achieve that sort of democracy or democratic norms so far?

MY: Firstly, just reminding people of the importance of democracy because people don’t realize how important democracy is and I was really surprised by the UK system because they do value democracy and consider this as one of their fundamental value and beliefs. That is something that we also need to realize in Pakistan. For the betterment and progress of Pakistan, democracy is needed. And the basis of democracy is that the people make the decisions about who should represent them and what policies should be implemented. It is the voice of the people that needs to be recognized. Not the one particular group that imposes their own decisions without the will of the people.

TN: Tomorrow when you complete your studies, what difference would it make in making this country (Pakistan) more prosperous, peaceful and welcoming to all people?

MY: It would be a great achievement if I can be able to highlight three things. First thing is empowering girls and women, educating them and giving them opportunities, so that they can contribute to the society. I think women don’t need anything extra. It is just allowing them and not stopping them. People usually ask my father what he has done for his daughter. He always asks them not to ask what he did but ask him what he didn’t do. He didn’t clip the wings of his daughter. So don’t cut the wings of your girls and women. Allow them to fly. Allow them to have dreams, follow their dreams and achieve their dreams.

The second thing is valuing people's freedom of speech and freedom of expression. Making sure that people's views are respected and that people become important resource of this country rather than land and other things.

Third thing is democracy for Pakistan. Democracy means stability; democracy means progress and democracy means peace.

TN: When you say democracy, what in your opinion should be the form of democratic system in Pakistan - the parliamentary form of the government as per the Constitution or the presidential form of government like in the United States?

MY: Personally, I think both forms of governments have pros and cons. In one, the president has more power compared to the parliamentary form where parliament is more answerable to the people. I think that strengthening democracy is important. It is a second debate if it should be presidential or parliamentary.

TN: Now that you have moved away from joining politics as possible profession, would you consider joining a political party?

MY: No I would not because I think when you join a political party some people automatically turn against you. I think that’s the environment that we have created so far.

TN: You have successfully faced so much against yourself. If you think political parties are not delivering, why don’t you create your own political party? As a global icon, raising voice is one thing but why not go beyond that and do something that has not been done yet?

MY: I think that to reach out to young people, a political party is not the only way. I want to reach all young people regardless of any political views and I think this is something I am already doing through my education campaign and Malala fund.

TN: You have lived outside Pakistan for over five years now. You have mixed with students and society from different backgrounds. How you think Pakistan and Pakistanis are perceived by the outside world?

MY: To be honest, in recent years, I have noticed that international media doesn’t cover Pakistani politics as such. When media doesn’t cover, people don’t hear much about it. There are only breaking news about the suicide attacks, attack on APS, and attack on Malala etc. That’s what people hear. I think it is a negative image. But then you also hear about the activists in Pakistan that are working for the betterment of Pakistan and the beauty of Pakistan. But I think more needs to be done. I am part of the Oxford Pakistan Society now. Hopefully, we would be able to do more to bring Pakistani people to speak to people in the UK and present the real image of Pakistan.

TN to ZY (the father): How would you compare the times when you were growing up or you were of Malala’s age to Pakistan today when you have to be so careful about what to say, where to go, who to meet?

ZY: There is huge difference. When I was growing up as a child like her, we were reading ‘dineeyat’ which was about all faiths. After Zia came, it turned into Islamiyaat. Gradually radicalization grew as I grew older. We became less tolerant, less accommodating for difference of opinion and also we lost some peaceful regions in our country like Swat Valley. In my youth days, we could walk freely in the streets and mountains of Swat at midnight. It was the most peaceful place in the world. But later, when Malala was growing up in 2005, we lost that paradise.

Fortunately, things are getting better with every passing day. And we are regaining that lost paradise. Once I asked a handicraft shopkeeper that the operation is done and things have improved. Was he happy about that? He said that he was only happy - not very happy. He said that he would believe in peace when he would see here people from Australia, America, and England walking in the streets of Swat. We have to do a lot to have that peace and tolerance and love back to the whole country. We are hopeful that the day would come.

TN to MY: Education for girls is something close to your heart, what do you think is not right with our school system? What needs to be done?

MY: I think a few things. Firstly, when I went to the UK, they were teaching subjects like cooking, physical education, music, drama etc. These are the subjects that are not appreciated and valued in Pakistan and many other countries as well. It was giving me a message that all subjects are important and people should follow what they are interested in and what they like most. Not that you have to study science or mathematics or become an engineer or a doctor. There are other careers and other opportunities as well. We should have a variety of subjects to find out what students are really interested in and what they want to learn in future. Also encouraging critical thinking and allowing students to evaluate and analyse things is important and also to allow them to question things.

In the UK, we didn’t have government written specific books for any subject. In Pakistan, books are government-regulated and controlled. In UK, they just write certain topics that need to be covered and then you are open to do the research and find the books. It gives you an opportunity to see that there are different points of views and opinion and lets you decide what opinion you agree to. I don't agree with government running the education system. There could be vested interests and biases. We want our education system to be completely independent and unbiased and with no vested interests.

TN: Why you chose the Lady Margaret Hall. Was Benazir Bhutto an influenced as she went to LMH in Oxford?

MY: It was one of the reasons. The other was it has beautiful gardens. It is also away from the main town. There are not many tourists and also it was the first women’s college.

TN: You are tomorrow’s Pakistan. What changes you think are necessary for the society to improve socially and politically?

MY: Clearly quality education for girls and boys. Also, making sure that we give equal rights to women, making them part of the society and economy. And let girls follow their dreams without any fear. Seeing girls going to school and achieving what they want in their life.

Myra Imran of The News assisted in the interview.