MINGORA, Pakistan (Reuters) – Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Malaya Yousafzai's hometown in Pakistan often recalls memories of the daughter of the scenic northwestern Swat Valley who survived a weapons attack – as well as memories of the Taliban's harsh rule.
Yousafzai is when she first visited Pakistan after the Pakistani Taliban – now on the run, but still able to carry out attacks – her 2012 fight for education for girls and the opposition against Islamist militancy shot into the head.
It was not clear late on Friday whether Yousafzai could return to the Swat Valley for safety reasons, but many are eagerly awaiting her.
"We are very happy that Malala came to Pakistan and we welcome Malala," said Arfa Akhtar, a third-grade student in a school where Yousafzai once studied. "I am also Malala, I am with Malala in this mission."
Barkat Ali, 66, relates that he remembers holding Malala in his lap when she was a child in Mingora. He is proud of the 20-year-old's struggle to promote the education of girls, as well as his refusal to deliver his son 10 years ago when the Taliban demanded new fighters.
"They were the old illiterates who would say that our daughters will not go to school," Ali said, recalling two mortar shells that landed in his street and were often guarded by the Taliban.
"Now people have become rational, they train their girls."
The Pakistani Taliban took over much of the valley in 2007. They banned girls' education, killed people, beat up women and hung corpses of electric poles to enforce their harsh interpretation of Islamic law before the Pakistani army expelled them in 2009.
Not everyone in Swat, however, has such reverence for Yousafzai, who became the youngest Nobel laureate in history at the age of 17 in 2014.
Swat-based Mohammad Nisar Khan says the international celebrity and official protection of the young woman overshadow the victims of others in Swat.
"We were the ones who stood up against the Taliban … My four uncles and two cousins were slaughtered by the Taliban in Matta, they were brutally martyred, but nobody asked for me," Khan said.
"Can anyone show me a bold act that Malala Yousafzai has occurred … that we did not perform at the age of 50?"
In other parts of Pakistan, their arrival was openly hostile to those accusing them of building a career abroad by painting a negative image of their homeland.
In the eastern city of Lahore, a group of private schools protested with teachers and her students, who shouted "I'm not Malala", some wore black armbands.
The organizer of the protest, Kashif Mirza, said that dozens of private schoolchildren had participated and teachers told students in classes "that Malala does not represent true Pakistan".
"She slandered Pakistan, Islam and the Pakistani army after she went abroad," said Mirza, who heads the president of the All-Pakistan Private Schools Federation. He said his group condemned the attack on Yousafzai, but said that since she went abroad, she had been influenced by foreign powers.
Other private schools, however, refused to join the protest against Malala.
"None of our offices has witnessed such a day because we do not support an event that spreads hatred," said Tabraiz Bokhari, spokesman for the Beacon House School System, with 200 affiliates throughout Pakistan.
In the nine years since the army expelled the Taliban, Swat has largely been peaceful, although there are still occasional militant attacks, including a military-focused attack a few weeks ago.
Many Swat residents, including family friend Jawad Iqbal, hope Malala will return on this journey.
"The people of Swat and all of Pakistan are with Malala," said Iqbal in front of a portrait of Yousafzai with her father, who is a teacher.
"God wants, we will face the terrorism and extremism in our region with the weapon of education, with the weapon of a pen, with the weapons of teachers and with the weapons of books."
Along the street where Malala was shot in her school bus, resident Amir Zeb also said he hopes Malala will visit her hometown.
"Malala Yousafzai is the daughter of Pakistan," he said, adding. "We are proud of her."
Additional coverage by Mubasher Bukhari in LAHORE, Pakistan; Letter from Asif Shahzad; Arrangement by Peter Graff