Mingora, home to Malala Yousafzai -- the Pakistani teenage girl who was shot by the Taliban for speaking out in behalf of educating girls -- is dotted with little red riding hoods. Across the valley, Pakistani schoolgirls scurry to lessons, struggling to keep their red scarves atop their animated, intelligent heads.
Racing through Mingora and Malakand with Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Corps, I peeped at them from inside a battered bottle green Chevrolet heavily armed with machine guns yet valiantly struggling with a busted clutch. It was months before Malala's attempted assassination.
Surprised to see happy children waving to us at every corner, I turned to the Pakistani military captain leading the detail protecting me. Why were they pleased to see us? Everyone, he explained, even tiny children, knew the Pakistan military had fought the counter-insurgency, repelling the Taliban. Like my military escort and Malala, these children shared a common enemy in the Taliban.
Malala is indisputably a heroine, but Mahatma Gandhi she ain't. Perhaps that is why, despite the hopes of many around the world, the Nobel Peace Prize announced on Friday went to The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, and not to her.
A child role model of astonishing fortitude and a true advocate for education, a peacemaker she is not. But sadly, this prize was never about Malala, it was mostly about us. Our passionate desire to see her win the award reveals the dire need to symbolize hope after 12 years of western military engagement in the region. We crave an injection of "feel-good" moments in a region devoid of either hope or investment toward a peace. The intense lobbying effort for her to win this Nobel is the reflection we as western elites desire to behold, rather than the one our mirror truly reveals.
Western elites deny both our own and Pakistan's contribution to the lethal extremist ideology now endemic in the AfPak region. It's an ugly story.
While Malala might have become the world's youngest Laureate, it was physicist Abdus Salaam who became the first Pakistani laureate in 1979. Extraordinarily, Pakistan ensured Salaam, only the second Muslim to win the Nobel in history (after Egyptian President Anwar Sadat) would die persona non grata in the eyes of his countrymen, persistently denied national honors, because of his minority Muslim Ahmadi identity.
Since 1978, Pakistan has legislated official Muslim identity, denying minorities electoral representation. The legalized persecution of Ahmadi Muslims is enshrined in laws now deadly templates for persecuting all minorities in Pakistan. For decades, pacifist Ahmadi Muslims have been the obsessive focus and foundation of Pakistan's virulent extremism, normalizing hatreds, legitimizing Taliban operatives and rearing generations of sympathizers. In recent years these animosities inspired the mass killings of Ahmadi Muslims, Christians, Sufis and Shias, hallmarks of Pakistan's faith apartheid.
But extremism has many authors. Nobel Laureate President Obama is the signatory and director of assault on the same region where Malala once lived, targeting thousands of adults (and to date an estimated 176 children) killed in U.S. drone operations.
American drones -- machines with neither memory nor morals -- have been consistently deployed, unchallenged by the American people. Our drones have orphaned Malala's fellow schoolmates, terrorized her community and dismantled their humble rituals -- whether attending weddings or funerals or walking to a mud-walled schoolhouse.
Worse, while American drones certainly may eliminate occasional high-value targets, their legacy bequeaths Pakistan with generations debilitated by PTSD and psychotic breaks. Whole communities are mentally incapacitated in the name of American counter-terrorism.
On the way back from Mingora, I met with these victims in Peshawar and their doctor, psychiatrist Khalid Mufti. Soon I was seeing America through their eyes, and realizing like Malala, we are no peacemakers, either.
Aspirational awards may make us transiently feel good, but fail to recognize true authorship of conflicts, a peculiar, if glamorous dishonesty. Malala and her fellow red riding hoods are victims of a Muslim "democracy," which persecutes based on official firebrand Sunni Islamist positions. Neither the international community nor Pakistan's 187 million-strong population has raised objection to these policies now approaching their 40th year. Yet it is through this extremism, that Pakistan, just as much as the Talib gunman, pulled the trigger at Malala's temple.
While all of us glow to see a 16-year-old's courage in the face of a Taliban, (including myself as a Muslim woman of Pakistani heritage), few acknowledge Malala and her compatriots need authentic security which will be derived only of forces imposed on both Pakistan, Afghanistan and perhaps even the United States.
Yet, for now, despites billions of dollars expended, the tens of thousands of lives lost, security couldn't seem less likely. The U.S. is months from rescinding all control of Afghanistan to the Taliban. Across the porous border, rather like red riding hood bedding down with the big bad wolf, Pakistan prepares to sit at negotiation tables with the Taliban. These are desolate times indeed.
With or without Malala, Pakistan will never change until Pakistanis repudiate the extremism both inculcated in their midst and openly legislated in their name. And for this reason, though Pakistan may claim Malala, she lacks a Mahatma. And at 65 years of age, deeply enmeshed in her extremist appetites, it is not certain, when if ever, Pakistan will come to deserve her own Great Soul.