Islamabad (AsiaNews) - "Malala has become a source of inspiration for girls and more generally young people in Pakistan". Many girls want to become leaders like her and serve the country "with the same spirit," especially in education, said Amjad Gulzar, executive director of Caritas Pakistan, who spoke to AsiaNews about Malala Yousafzai, who received her Nobel Peace Prize today in a ceremony in Oslo, Norway.
The 17-year-old Pakistani activist, who is a Muslim, shared the award, announced in October, with Kailash Satyarthi, a Indian Hindu and a leading child rights activist.
Prominent political leaders and civil society figures as well as young people and ordinary citizens are aware of her service to Pakistan, the Caritas director said. This is especially an honour for a nation known mostly for militant violence, forced Islamisation, suicide bombers and open attacks against female education.
Malala Yousafzai, who won last year's Sakharov Prize, was the victim of a Taliban attack on 9 October 2012 in the Swat Valley, a mountainous area in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, a stronghold for Islamic extremists on the border with Afghanistan. She was shot on a school bus on her way home, after morning class.
The girl, who was saved thanks to an international campaign, had become famous in 2009 at the age of 11, when she began writing a blog in her native language hosted on the BBC in which she slammed the attacks by Pakistani Islamists against female students and schools for girls and women.
The northwestern border region is a Taliban stronghold. In some areas, Sharia and the Islamic Courts hold sway. In the Swat Valley, hundreds of schools, including Christian ones, have been forced to close, jeopardising the education of tens of thousands of young people and the jobs of 8,000 female teachers.
A group of Sinhalese Carmelite nuns are among the few who offered an educational programme for women in this region, which they had to give up after a year and a half due to threats from Islamic fundamentalists. However, education remains the path for Pakistan to develop and end poverty, as AsiaNews pointed out in an education dossier.
In an interview on the eve of the Nobel Prize ceremony, Malala said she might pursue a career in politics.
After she finishes her studies in Britain, the young woman - who was disappointed that the prime ministers of India and Pakistan did not attend the award ceremony - said that she might even aspire to be prime minister of Pakistan "to serve my country" until it "becomes a developed country and I see every child get an education".
Her inspiration is two-time Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated by Islamic extremists in December 2007.
Pakistani associations and youth groups that promote child education, including for the disabled, and oppose child labour are currently celebrating as Malala gets her Nobel Prize.
Activist Sajiha Batool is one of them. "She has made Pakistan proud," she said. Perhaps, now there can be some "hope to eradicate terrorism." Still, her award brings "hope and inspiration for every girl, child, women and men."
Through the direct involvement of the Church, the executive director of Caritas Pakistan hopes to see the opening of vocational and high schools, followed eventually by an "actual Catholic university."
Speaking to AsiaNews, Amjad Gulzar stressed that education "is the only way" to "change" the country.
The Catholic Church itself has played a leading role in this regard; for Church leaders, schools are the only place where "to generate growth and development in Pakistan".
In fact, the bishops have already sponsored many initiatives and campaigns in the area, "at all levels," and "every diocese" has a "special committee" dedicated to it.
In Gulzar's view, education is even "more important" for the Christian minority, whose members can find new opportunities for growth, development and social success only if they start with books at an early age, as Malala herself acknowledged.
Finally, with his thoughts turned to Advent and Christmas, he said that "various celebrations will be held to which Muslim religious leaders, politicians and social activists are invited."