The question for the class of 10th graders at an all-girls school here in this picturesque mountain valley was a simple one: How many of them,a district official wanted to know,had heard of Malala Yousafzai?
The students stared at the official,Farrukh Atiq,in silence. Not a single hand was raised.
Everyone knows about Malala,but they do not want to affiliate with her, Atiq said on Thursday,as speculation grew that Yousafzai,who was shot in the head by the Taliban a year ago,might win the Nobel Peace Prize.
In the end,Yousafzai did not win the Nobel Prize. But after a week of intense news coverage,during which she released her memoir and won a prestigious European award for human rights,Yousafzais stature as a symbol of peace and bravery has been established across the world everywhere,it seems,except at home.
It is not just that the schoolchildren fear becoming targets. I am against Malala, said Muhammad Ayaz,22,a trader who runs a small store beside Yousafzais old school in Mingora,the main town in the Swat Valley. The media has projected Malala as a heroine of the West. But what has she done for Swat? he asked.
That sense of smoldering animosity toward Yousafzai,16,in the Swat Valley seems to be animated in part by the tensions of a rural community still traumatised by conflict.
Many residents fear the Islamists could one day return to power in the valley,an anxiety that,paradoxically,has stoked simmering hostility toward the militants most famous victim.
What is her contribution? asked Khursheed Dada,a worker with the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party,which governs Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province,including Swat.
That cynicism was echoed this week across Pakistan,where conspiracy-minded citizens loudly branded Yousafzai a CIA agent,part of a nebulous Western plot to humiliate their country and pressure their government.
Muhammad Asim,a student standing outside the gates of Punjab University in the eastern city of Lahore,dismissed the Taliban attack on Yousafzai as a made-for-TV drama. How can a girl survive after being shot in the head? he asked. It doesnt make sense.
Dilshad Begum,the district education officer for Swat,said that 14,000 girls and 17,000 boys had recently started school after an intensive door-to-door enrollment campaign led by local teachers. The threat from the Taliban was exaggerated,she added. I have been working for female education for 25 years,and never received a threat, she said.
At another school,a group of female students,assembled by their headmaster,agreed that Yousafzai did not deserve a Nobel Prize.
Not all Pakistanis joined in the criticism. By Friday there was a groundswell of support. Television stations broadcast songs lauding her work,and good luck messages flooded Facebook and Twitter. Students and women,in particular,said they had been inspired by her.
SALMAN MASOOD & DECLAN WALSH