MINGORA, Pakistan — Residents of this town in Pakistan’s scenic Swat Valley haven’t had much to get excited about in recent years.
Once a tourist destination, the industry collapsed in recent years as thousands of Taliban fighters roamed the valley, attempting to impose a rigid interpretation of Islamic law and blowing up some 400 schools in a campaign to prevent girls from getting an education.
Some residents, including a teenager named Malala Yousafzai, refused to be bullied.
On Friday, one year after a Taliban fighter shot Yousafzai in the head after she insisted on going to school, residents huddled around televisions sets waiting to see if her brave stance would be recognized with a Nobel Peace Prize.
Yousafzai, 16, was considered a favorite to win for her efforts to call attention to the plight of girls in Pakistan. If she had, she would have become only the second Pakistani in history to be awarded a Nobel Prize.
When news broke that the prize had instead gone to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, some Pakistanis were crushed.
“There is disappointment, no doubt,” said Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao, a moderate political leader from northwest Pakistan who has also been targeted by the Taliban. “There were a lot of expectations.”
But in Mingora, a town of about a half-million residents on the Swat River, residents who know Yousafzai best appeared relieved.
Mahmood Hassan, Yousafzai’s cousin and the principal of a school that she attended before her family sought refuge in England, said a Nobel Peace Prize would have only increased the risk to Yousafzai and her former school.
“We are glad to see her speaking on education for girls, and that is worth more than an award,” Hassan said. “I was worried for Malala as a Nobel Peace award-winner, because it would have attracted more threats.”
Pakistan’s army launched bloody operations to regain control of the Swat Valley in late 2007 and again in 2009. But security in Mingora remains perilous. On Tuesday, a Taliban spokesman warned that the group would continue to target Yousafzai unless she gave up “her secular ideology.”
Despite the threats, even Mingora’s youngest residents were eager Friday to talk about Yousafzai and her accomplishments, including winning the European Union’s prestigious Sakharov human rights award on Thursday.
Rashid Iqbal, a journalist and local politician in Mingora, said Yousafzai has helped to rebuild the spirit of the town, even without a Nobel Peace Prize.
“Swat had been known for militancy and the Taliban,” Iqbal said. “But thanks to God, now Malala is our identity.”