How Malala Yousafzai's Courage Inspired a Nation: 'We Are No Longer Afraid'

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For six years, the Pakistani Taliban fought an organized, violent and brutal campaign against the military and Pakistani state institutions, including schools. For many militants, girls' education was a symbol of both Western influence and the authority of a government they wanted to overthrow.

But as the military moved into communities mostly run by the Taliban, schools often became the front line: Soldiers and militants both used schools as bases.

"Most of the schools that came under attack were being used by the militants or the military as hideouts," said Imtiaz Gul, the executive director of an independent think tank in Islamabad, the Centre for Research and Security Studies.

Now that the offensives are over, the schools have been returned to the educators -- and attacks have decreased. Shah, the education specialist from Swat, said that "the situation is OK and peace has been restored to some extent. And now parents want to send their children to schools."

Yet, despite the renewed confidence in learning, sending children to school still requires some bravery and a little bit of faith.

In communities near the Afghan border, some residents have told local media in the last few months that the Taliban are still using tactics famous from Afghanistan in the 1990s: letters posted to town centers at night warning parents to shun schools and describing girls' education as "a product of the West."

In Swat, many of the schools destroyed in the attacks have not reopened, Shah said. And the constant presence of soldiers, while helping keep the peace, is a reminder of how fragile it remains.

"They select whatever means they need to spread terror. It may be schools, it may be buses, it may be churches," said Shah. "They want to spread fear among the people. And they are successful."

Send Books, Not Tanks

For Malala Yousafzai, the solution is not a reliance on military action, but the creation of a national commitment to education. Only that, she said, can guarantee students' and parents' desire to learn and educate will not be broken.

For many years the Pakistani government has failed to provide enough support for schools: the country spends less than 2 percent of its budget on education. In the U.S., the percentage is about 4 percent, according to the New America Foundation. And according to the U.N., Pakistan's literacy rate is 113th out of 120 countries.

Earlier this month, when Pakistan's new prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, met with Yousafzai at the U.N. General Assembly in New York, Sharif pledged to increase the national commitment to 4 percent. The 16-year-old Yousafzai -- whom Sharif recently named the country's roving ambassador for education -- thanked him for his commitment, but argued it was not enough.

"I hope this will become 5, 6, 7 percent," she told Sharif, according to Zaidi.

VIDEO: Pakistani girl celebrates her 16th birthday on day she speaks to United Nations student delegates.
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Later that same night, speaking at the Clinton Global Initiative, the teenager who has become a global icon of courage challenged world leaders to elevate education over war.

"Instead of sending weapons, instead of sending tanks to Afghanistan and all these countries which are suffering from terrorism, send books," she said. "Instead of sending tanks, send pens. Instead of sending soldiers, send teachers. This is the only way we can fight for education."

For more information on Malala, visit http://www.malalafund.org/

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