On Wednesday morning, Pakistani education advocate Malala Yousafzai won the Nobel Peace Prize.
The 17-year-old activist — the youngest winner of the Peace Prize in the Nobel Committee's more than 100-year-long history — split the award with Indian children's rights advocate Kailash Satyarthi. She was first nominated for the prize last year and has been a perennial contender since the Pakistani Taliban first shot her in the head two years ago for encouraging young girls to attend school.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi were quick to praise the young award winner.
"She is (the) pride of Pakistan, she has made her countrymen proud," Shareef is quoted as saying in a statement from his office. "Her achievement is unparalleled and unequaled. ... Girls and boys of the world should take lead from her struggle and commitment."
And Modi tweeted:
Both Yousafzai and Satyarthi also tried to capitalize on their awards to ease the tensions that have been escalating between the two nuclear-armed neighbors in recent days. AFP reported that Yousafzai had invited both Sharif and Modi to attend the Nobel ceremony.
However, not everyone was pleased with the committee's decision. Tariq Khattak, a former editor at the Pakistan Observer, doesn't think that Malala deserved the award.
"I condemn this decision in the strongest possible words," he told the BBC Newshour. "It's a political decision, a motivated one, and a conspiracy to invoke [sic] people in the Muslim countries. And the father of Malala and Malala have done nothing at all. Her father is a good salesman, that's it. And the daughter has also become a salesgirl. And they are dancing on the tunes of West.
"Their appearance is like Pakistanis or Muslims, that's all — only appearances. Otherwise they are tools or puppets of the west. They should not have been given any award. They don't deserve anything."
He went on to question whether she was really shot: "How can they miss a girl from point blank range or a few feet and then she survives?" When pressed for why he didn't believe the story, Khattak said: "Why — when she traveled to UK and the hospital release her picture, there were no marks at all of her bullet wound?"
"She is a girl — a normal, useless type of a girl," Khattak said. "She's nothing special, nothing in her is special at all except they are selling what the West would buy happily." He went on to say he believed Yousafzai was "spying for the West."
Sadly, Khattak isn't alone in promoting conspiracy theories about Yousafzai.
From conservative members of Pakistani society being upset that Yousafzai was upending traditional separations between boys and girls' educations to broader concerns about the United States' policies toward Pakistan, these sorts of theories have gained a lot of ground in Pakistan. Last year, Maulana Gul Naseeb, a prominent figure in the JUI-F, one of Pakistan's leading religious political parties, said: "America created Malala in order to promote their own culture of nudity and to defame Pakistan around the world."
Shiza Shadid, who co-founded the Malala Fund, told an audience in Aspen, Colorado, last year that in the months after Yousafzai came forward to speak out about her attack that the narrative in Pakistan soon shifted from support to promoting the idea that she was a CIA agent and the entire thing was staged.
"I don't think it would be far-fetched to say that the majority of Pakistanis now believe that Malala is a conspiracy," Shadid said. "And I think the tragedy of the story is that this is a girl who gave her heart and soul, her life, to Pakistan, still continues to do so, is loved everywhere, and will continue to fight for girls in Pakistan."
Khattak is a former employee of the newspaper, the Pakistan Observer says.
Hayes Brown is a world news editor and reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Hayes Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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