RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
In early October, we reported on the shooting of a young Pakistani girl by that country's Taliban. Malala Yousafzai had spoken out publicly against the militant group for trying to prevent girls like her from attending school. She's now recovering at a hospital in Birmingham, England, a place that specializes in war injuries. That shooting had a profound effect on her hometown of Mingora, in Pakistan's Swat Valley.
NPR's Jackie Northam travelled to Mingora for a look at the town then and now.
JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: On October 9th, Kainat Riaz left her high school and climbed into the back of a small van. The bright-eyed 16-year-old sat near another schoolgirl, Malala Yousafzai. At just 15 years old, Malala had already earned a name in her country and internationally for her courage. Kainat says there was lots of chatter in the six-seater van as it shuttled the girls home. Then, in the middle of a busy road, the van suddenly stopped, and a masked gunman got into the vehicle.
KAINAT RIAZ: (Through translator) We saw a gun in his hand and were terrified, and we started shouting. He told us to be quiet. We were afraid. He asked us who Malala was.
NORTHAM: Kainat says no one said a thing, but they all looked at Malala.
RIAZ: (Through translator) I think he himself knew Malala, because he fired his gun at her. She fell over, and there was blood coming from her ear. It all happened very fast.
NORTHAM: The gunman shot Malala in the head and the neck, and kept firing. In the frenzy, Kainat was also shot. So, too, was 13-year-old Shazia Ramazan, who had been sitting next to her good friend Malala at the time.
SHAZIA RAMAZAN: (Through translator) All the girls started crying and shouting. We tried to lift Malala, to help her, to get her out of the van.
NORTHAM: The gunman and an accomplice escaped through a small alley. The Taliban claimed responsibility. Shazia, a slight girl with a quick smile, shows the bullet wound in her left hand. Another bullet hit her right arm. Sitting on a daybed at her parents' home, Shazia seems remarkably composed, although both she and Kainat say they could not sleep for several nights after the shooting. Both Kainat and Shazia have police, armed with Kalashnikovs, posted around the clock outside their homes in Mingora.
(SOUNDBITE OF TRAFFIC)
NORTHAM: Security was stepped up through Mingora after the Malala shooting. Now there are many checkpoints, snarling traffic on the city's narrow, congested streets. This is a far cry from a few years ago, when the Swat Valley was a peaceful, idyllic area, often referred to as the Switzerland of Pakistan. The sheer beauty of its soaring, verdant hills and deep valleys drew tourists from all over the world. But then Taliban militants began moving into the area in 2009, imposing their strict interpretation of Islam. Eventually, Pakistan's military launched a major operation, and claimed it had flushed out the militants. Ahmed Shah, a close friend of Malala's family, says after that, the people of Swat enjoyed some peace.
AHMED SHAH: For the last one year, the situation was good. It really was in peaceful condition. But after the incident of Malala, the people are very much fearful, and they think that those people might come again and start their activities in the whole valley of Swat.
NORTHAM: Shah says there have been a couple of other recent attacks against people who have also publicly spoken out against the Taliban, and many people are worried militants are filtering back into Swat. Kamran Rehman Khan, the most senior government official in Swat, says the security forces and intelligence agencies are closely monitoring the situation.
KAMRAN REHMAN KHAN: We are taking all available measures which are available to us to make sure that such an incident doesn't occur in future. Nothing is guaranteed in this world, with all the security operators. We still get people who sneak in and do crimes.
NORTHAM: Khan says militants are likely infiltrating Swat across the border with Afghanistan, but Khan says some locals may also be providing help.
KHAN: We do understand that there are sympathizers here. And the people, because of maybe their ideology or maybe their misperceptions, do provide help. And we are trying to get hold of those people.
NORTHAM: Khan maintains that Swat is one of the safest places in Pakistan. Still, reminders of Malala's shooting are never far away here in Mingora. Her face is on posters and billboards, and there are now special days and charities named in her honor. Jackie Northam, NPR News.