Pak girl who stood up to Taliban awarded

Islamabad: A Pakistani girl Malala Yousufzai, who spoke out for children`s rights in the restive Swat valley when it was controlled by the Taliban was today conferred the nations new National Peace Prize.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani announced that 13-year-old Yousufzai would be conferred the National Peace Prize and a cash reward of Rs 5 lakh.

The government made the decision after Yousufzai was nominated for the International Peace Prize for Children in recognition of her services for peace and education.

Though the international award went to a South African girl, Yousufzai, a student of Class 8, has said she is determined to campaign for girls` education and children`s rights.

Gilani extended felicitations to Yousufzai and her family on her achievements. He directed the Cabinet Division to institute the National Peace Prize to be awarded every year to children under 18 years of age for contributions to peace and education.

Yousufzai was one of five nominees, chosen from 98 children from 42 countries, for the international award. She came to prominence when, as an 11-year-old, she wrote about the Taliban banning girls schools in the picturesque Swat valley. She was a victim of the ban imposed by the Taliban on education for girls in the troubled Swat region over two years ago. She wrote about her pain and anguish in a diary for BBC Urdu.

Asked why she started her campaign for girls` rights, Yousufzai said the violence in Swat had "a huge impact" on her mind. She said she wanted the rest of the world to stop describing the people of Swat as terrorists as they were peaceful and loving. Her diary entries included discussions with classmates about the Taliban, who then controlled most of the Swat Valley and publicly executed dozens of people who opposed them. In one entry, she described a "terrible dream" about military helicopters and the Taliban.

The Pakistan government sent the army into Swat to flush out the militants in early 2009 after the Taliban began extending their influence to districts located 100 km from Islamabad.

Hundreds of Taliban fighters were captured or killed but most of the top commanders, including Mullah Fazlullah, managed to escape.