When Malala is 13, she stops growing—suddenly, she’s one of the shortest girls in her class. As she becomes more conscious of her shortness, she begins to lose some of the confidence that made her a good public speaker and interviewee.
Despite her reputation as a living saint, here Malala reminds us that she’s also just a teenager with many universal teenaged problems and difficulties.
A new television series, Beyond the Call of Duty, becomes popular in Swat. The program is supposed to consist of real-life stories of soldiers in the Pakistani army, most of whom are stationed in Swat. Many people come to Ziauddin’s house to watch the program in the hopes of gaining information about their missing loved ones. Many of Ziauddin’s guests are women, wondering if their husbands are alive or dead. Throughout Pakistan, Ziauddin tells Malala, there are thousands of missing persons as a result of the wars between the government and the Taliban.
Through times of war and peace, Ziauddin’s house remains a gathering place for people in Mingora. For Ziauddin, hospitality is clearly a basic duty. It’s also important to note that Ziauddin tells Malala about the missing persons in Pakistan. He doesn’t try to lie to her or “spare her” because she’s young or because she’s a girl. This is probably part of why Malala seems so mature while still so young—her father has always treated her as an equal.
In November 2010, a woman named Asia Bibi, a Christian, is sentenced to death for arguing about Islam with a group of Muslims. Because there is a strict “Blasphemy Law” in Pakistan (which prevents anyone from criticizing the Quran), Bibi is sentenced to be hanged immediately. Journalists across Pakistan speak out against this sentence, and call for Bibi to be pardoned. Many others praise the Blasphemy Law, however, and argue that Bibi should be sentenced to death. Ziauddin receives death threats in the mail. Malala is horrified—Pakistan is “going crazy,” she thinks.
Up to this point, Ziauddin has been kept out of real danger by his reputation and his generosity to the people in his community. Even though some of his views are unpopular, he’s known to be a good man. That these defenses no longer work—Ziauddin is in danger of losing his life—signals that Pakistan is, as Malala puts it, “going crazy.” The order of society is breaking down, and people are turning against one another with frightening speed.
As the year goes on, it becomes increasingly common for people in Malala’s town to blame America for all their problems. People point out the drone attacks occurring in nearby towns, and say that innocent civilians are being murdered. A CIA operative named Raymond Davis shoots and kills two Pakistani men in Lahore, and is sent to jail afterwards. In the ensuing political crisis, America demands that Davis be released immediately, while Pakistan insists that Davis is a dangerous criminal, and a spy. Protests against Raymond Davis take place across the country. After weeks of negotiation, Davis is released. This makes the Pakistani government look weak in the eyes of its people. To make matters worse, an American drone bombs a Pakistani village, killing dozens of innocent people.
On the face of things, it seems harmless (and even justified) to blame America for Pakistan’s problems—Pakistani people, Malala notes, love conspiracy theories. But here Malala suggests that the impulse to reduce everything to a conspiracy theory is immoral in some ways—it’s a way of reacting to tragedy that replaces genuine empathy and helpful action. Ziauddin, for example, has no time for conspiracy theories, as he’s too busy helping his neighbors: giving them food, money, and shelter. Meanwhile the Pashtuns who criticize American imperialism (with good reason, as the US drone strikes kill many innocent people) are often too busy condemning the West to help their neighbors in any meaningful way.
In the fall of 2010, Osama bin Laden is captured and killed by American soldiers. It’s announced that American intelligence tracked down bin Laden by following one of his couriers, whose wife was from Swat. It’s initially assumed that Pakistan’s government was involved in the operation, but the American military quickly announces that it tracked down bin Laden alone.
The assassination of Osama bin Laden was a major event in American history, or at least was announced as such by the American government. It’s still not entirely clear how much influence bin Laden had over al Qaeda at the end of his life, so it can’t be known how many lives were saved by his death. Nevertheless, his death was an important symbolic moment for America, as the man who murdered thousands of New Yorkers was finally punished with death himself.
In the aftermath of bin Laden’s death, Pakistani intelligence is embarrassed. As the director of the CIA says, ISI agents either knew about bin Laden’s location near Abottabad and did nothing about it, or they didn’t know—in short, they’re either enemies of the US, or they’re incompetent. Malala finds it amazing that bin Laden was able to hide in Pakistan for so long. Many Pakistanis believe that Americans killed bin Laden years ago, and were waiting for an opportune time to embarrass Pakistan. It’s also widely noted that Pakistan spends billions of dollars on its military, and yet couldn’t protect its borders from the American helicopters that flew onto bin Laden’s property. The US government, for its part, feels betrayed by Pakistan: after years of sending it foreign aid, it had to kill bin Laden on its own.
After bin Laden’s death there’s a lively debate in the international community about the way the US handled the incident. The overall effect of this debate is to harden relationships between America and Pakistan. Malala suggests that this only worsens the situation in Pakistan: US foreign aid is in jeopardy of being cut off, and American drone strikes persist, and may even be on the rise. Instability has been good for the Taliban so far, as they first rose to power in the instability following 9/11. Thus, bin Laden’s death doesn’t bode well for Malala, her family, and the women of Pakistan.
In October 2011, Malala receives some exciting news: she’s been nominated for the KidsRights award in Amsterdam. KidsRights is an international children’s advocacy group, based in Europe. Malala’s name was passed on to KidsRights by the great South African leader Desmond Tutu, one of Ziauddin’s heroes. In the end, Malala doesn’t win the award—unlike most of the other nominees, she admits, she has merely spoken out against the Taliban, rather than using money and organizing to enact real change.
Malala’s earliest honors are just nominations, not proper awards. But it’s an undeniably great achievement to be nominated for anything, let alone a humanitarian award, by a man as great as Desmond Tutu, who is one of the two or three people most responsible for ending apartheid in South Africa. Malala is humble when she doesn’t win the award—she remembers the poise and calmness she first discovered after losing the speaking contest many years ago.
Shortly after her nomination, Malala is invited to an educational gala in Lahore. There, she makes an impressive speech about the value of education. A few weeks later, it’s announced that Malala has been awarded Pakistan’s first National Peace Prize, awarded to someone who embodies the struggle for peace. Malala attends an awards ceremony in December, where she receives half a million rupees and a medal. At the ceremony, Malala meets Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, the political leader of Pakistan. She takes this opportunities to give Gilani a list of demands: a women’s university in Swat, rebuilt schools, etc. As Malala talks to Gilani, she senses that he’s not taking her demands seriously. Privately she resolves to use politics to make these changes herself when she’s older.
It’s an important sign that Malala’s first major award is given to her by the Pakistani government itself. Although Malala has found great fault in her culture’s attitude toward violence and women’s rights, she’s still endowed with a deep love for her homeland. Here, at the beginning of her career on a global stage, Malala is pleased to discover that Pakistan appreciates her as well. Yet Malala is too motivated and too intelligent to rest on her laurels—even as she accepts her award, she notices Gilani’s unsatisfying responses to her questions, and her desire to change Pakistan grows more intense than ever.
2010 ends on a sad note for Malala. Her Aunt Babo, the eldest sister of her mother, dies. Babo had tried to treat her diabetes by visiting a doctor who promised to cure it overnight. In the end, the doctor injected Babo with lethal chemicals, killing her. Ziauddin insists that Babo’s story proves that women need to learn to educate themselves and take care of themselves.
Ziauddin’s interpretation of Aunt Babo’s death is, for Malala’s purposes, the only one she needs to hear. At this critical time in her life, Babo’s death offers a grim reminder of the urgency of Malala’s political mission.
Malala has won a great deal of money in only a few months: more than a million rupees. She uses this money to rebuild schools in Swat, and to start an educational foundation whose goal is to provide free education for homeless children. Malala resolves to not “rest on her laurels,” and decides to continue looking for new ways to help those who are suffering.
Because of her poor upbringing, Malala is always concerned about money, and as a dutiful child, she wants to use her winnings to help her father with his schools. It’s inspiring to see Malala always thinking ahead—she’ll never rest, we can sense, until she’s accomplished all of her goals.