Malala Yousafzai a Polarizing Figure in Her Homeland

PHOTO: Pakistani girls gather under a poster of Malala Yousufzai in her old school in Mingora, Swat Valley, Pakistan, in this Nov. 15, 2012 file photo. PlayAnja Niedringhaus/AP Photo
WATCH Malala Yousafzai Becomes Youngest Ever to Win Nobel Peace Prize

Two years and a day after a Taliban gunman shot her in the head on a school bus full of children, the Nobel committee in Oslo named Malala Yousafzai the youngest-ever winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. But while her victory was celebrated around the world, in Yousafzai's home country of Pakistan her public image is more complicated.

While most in the country, including leading politicians and public figures, have reacted with pride at her award and have supported her over the years for her activism, a vocal segment of Pakistan’s population has not been so pleased with her global recognition.

Some portions of Pakistani society, leaning on ultra-conservative ideologies and conspiracy theories, hold onto the belief that Malala’s assassination attempt was sensationalized, or even faked, in order to discredit the country and its right-wingers. For them, this victory has done little to change their views.

“The same people who were opposed to girls’ education or prone to conspiracy theories are not changing their minds,” Shuja Nawaz, director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council, told ABC News.

Malala Yousafzai, Kailash Satyarthi Win Nobel Peace Prize

“Their accusation was that this was all staged, that the injuries were not real,” Nawaz said. “It was outlandish, but it showed that there was a lobby in Pakistan that wasn’t interested in an inclusive system where women had a role.”

Malala spent her preteen years as an education activist in the Swat Valley during the years of Taliban control. While the Taliban shut down girls’ schools in the region, she blogged about her experiences as a young female student. After the Pakistani military broke Taliban rule there, Malala pushed to expand school facilities for girls.

Her public activism soon landed her on a Taliban hit-list. On the orders of Mullah Fazlullah, a Taliban leader in Swat, she was shot in the head while riding home from school on Oct. 9, 2012.

“In those first days there was a lot of confusion, and some of the reactions were very, very ugly,” Nadeem F. Paracha, a columnist for Dawn, Pakistan’s leading English-language newspaper, told ABC News. “The reaction now to [the Nobel Prize] has been far, far better.”

Indeed, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was among the first to congratulate Malala on her victory, and leading figures from other parties and the military soon followed.

But there were some aberrations. Imran Khan, who was one of Malala’s earliest supporters and is leading a popular opposition movement in the country, congratulated her reservedly on Twitter but did not mention her at all at a massive rally for his party in the country’s heartland. And many of Khan’s followers online continued to express suspicion and resentment toward Malala.

Despite these reactions, the larger response in Pakistan has been one of celebration.

“This was an important win for moderates in Pakistan,” Nawaz said. “It showed that their efforts are being recognized.”

“There’s less confusion now," Paracha said. "The narrative in favor of her has won.”

Still, concerns persist over Malala’s security in Pakistan, where she could be targeted again by the Taliban despite the promise of government protection. Since her recovery from the 2012 shooting, Malala has campaigned for the rights of women and children from abroad, residing in the United Kingdom.

“It’s ironic that she was not in Pakistan when she won,” Nawaz told ABC News. “I’m hopeful she’ll be able to go back in the future, but we don’t know when.”

Malala is now the second Pakistani to win a Nobel. The last one, the physicist Abdus Salam, won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1979. He also spent most of his life outside of his home country after his religious group, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, began to face persecution in Pakistan. He died in the UK in 1996.

“It’s a great pity of Pakistan,” Nawaz said. “The country often fails to recognize the value of its own people until after the outside world does.”