Tearful Malala on first trip to Pakistan since attack

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"I hope we can all join our hands to ensure that all of the children get education and women can stand up on their feet", she said amid applause from the Prime Minister and the Cabinet members.

As for the militants who attacked her: the man suspected of actually firing the gun at Malala, named by officials as Ataullah Khan, has always been believed to be on the run in Afghanistan, along with Pakistani Taliban chief Mullah Fazlullah, who ordered the attack.

In 2014, at the age of 17, she became the youngest ever recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, sharing the award with Kailash Satyarthi, an Indian children's rights activist.

The "Gul Makai" of Swat has become a global symbol for human rights and a vocal campaigner for girls' education since a gunman boarded her school bus in the valley on 9 October 2012, asked "Who is Malala?" and shot her. Malala also underlined that if she had a choice, then she would not have left Pakistan and stay there happily.

While she has been hailed by supporters as a champion against extremism, some Islamist hard-liners in Pakistan and elsewhere have criticized Yousafzai, calling her a mouthpiece for Western cultural views. She remained in the country after undergoing medical treatment there and started studying at the University of Oxford a year ago. "We are proud of you", Mohammad Faisal, spokesman for Pakistan's Foreign Office tweeted on her arrival. "And it was never true", she stated in between sobs of happiness. "Everything was just happening itself like you could not control anything".

Many young Pakistanis welcomed her return and wished her a safe trip, though she is seen by some at home as a controversial figure.

Within hours of touching down amid tight security on Thursday morning, Ms Yousafzai, 20, and her family were given a warm personal welcome home by Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi.

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She set up the Malala Fund with her father Ziauddin, with the goal of "working for a world where every girl can learn and lead without fear".

"Girls like Malala symbolize defiance, and there are many in Pakistan who don't like that, especially if it comes from a female", Karachi-based journalist and documentary filmmaker Sabin Agha told DW. She said Pakistan's future lies in its new generation which must be educated. "Now you are not an ordinary citizen, your security is our responsibility".

Video showed the Nobel laureate clad in a traditional Pakistani shalwar kameez and her head covered in a red and blue scarf as she sat next to the prime minister alongside her parents.

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. "Because she is a girl like us and [she] raised a voice for her rights, raised a voice for the education of girls and the rights of girls".

Swat used to be a stronghold of the militants where they had blown up girls' schools and imposed their harsh interpretation of Islamic law, or sharia until a major military operation flushed them out of the scenic valley in 2009.

Yousafzai's return Thursday made instant news in Pakistan.

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