Reflections from a Pakistani Scholar

I Am Malala: A Resource Guide for Educators is a unique endeavor to enlighten students and academics, providing a well-deserved space to the emerging struggle for life, peace, and education around the world. It is a privilege and honor to have worked with my brother in peace, Ziauddin Yousafzai, as well as the faculty of the Global Women's Institute at the George Washington University, to provide my input on a broad range of issues covered by the resource guide.

Education has the power to transform lives, communities, and societies. I once asked Malala why she had chosen education as her single-point agenda. Her clear and simple response was that education offers health and hope, options and opportunities.

Malala's journey of peace through education and nonviolent resistance is shaping a new discourse from the United Nations, through refugee camps in Jordan, on to villages in Kenya, and into schools in the Swat Valley, sharing the message of struggle and hope. This is happening because Malala chose peace and forgiveness over the violence that has brought prolonged suffering and misery to the lives of those in her own Pashtun community in Pakistan and Afghanistan and in many countries around the world.  

Before 9/11, the idyllic Swat Valley, the land of Malala, was calm. Fruit orchards and vegetable gardens were in abundance. People were renowned for their folk music and storytelling; schools were in almost every village and town; and people lived in peace, resolving their disputes nonviolently through Jirga and Sulha. Suddenly armed militancy appeared on the scene, destroying peace, prosperity, and Pashtunwali, the way of life of Pashtun people. Traditions faded quickly into the past, as the deadly conflict and trauma of war scarred a generation of children and of women. 

Swat has fresh water, green forests, precious gemstones, and small cottage industries with the potential to export hydropower, water, fresh and dried fruits, vegetables, and gems. Pashtuns are dreamers, innovative and creative. Women make fine crafts, and men produce stirring poetry and art. They have the capacity to resolve their disputes and conflicts creatively through the long-standing institutions of Jirga and Sulha. Once interference in their social, cultural, and political affairs has ended, Pashtuns will expel extremism from their land. 

Malala's struggle for peace and education against the worst form of violence in the Swat Valley almost cost Malala her own life. But instead she has become a torchbearer for peaceful and active resistance. Malala provides continuity for building stable societies, as embodied by those heroes of nonviolence Rumi, Bacha Khan, Gandhi, Mandela, King, and Mother Teresa. With this shining lineage we are inspired to contribute to a generation of young people—women and men—who are well-educated in many fields and grounded in the knowledge of processes that create a peaceful society.

This guide will set a foundation to explore the lives and struggle of Pashtun people and address the root causes of war in Malala's land. I am confident that students and academics will create forums, seminars, conferences, and research centers for dialogue to defeat extremism and bring peace to the people of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and our shared world.

Jahab Zeb
Director of the Global Peace Council Canada
The Centre for Peace Advancement at Conrad Grebel University College, affiliated with the University of Waterloo, Canada