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Pakistan provincial government halts Malala book launch

Launch ceremony for education activist Malala Yousafzai's book at a university in her native Pakistan is cancelled after pressure from the provincial government. 

PESHAWAR: A launch ceremony for education activist Malala Yousafzai's book at a university in her native Pakistan was cancelled after pressure from the provincial government, organisers and officials said on Tuesday.

Malala, now 16, survived a Taliban assassination attempt in the country's restive northwest in 2012 and has become a global champion for the struggle for all children to go to school.

An event to launch her memoir "I am Malala" at the Area Study Centre of Peshawar University on Monday was called off after police refused to provide security, organisers said.

She had not been due to attend in person.

"We were forced to cancel it. We were pressurised by provincial ministers and university vice chancellor," said Sarfaraz Khan, the Area Study Centre director.

"When I refused to follow this illegal order (to cancel the event) police refused to provide security."

Peshawar is the capital of the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which has borne the brunt of Pakistan's bloody homegrown Islamist insurgency.

Khan said he received numerous phone calls from two provincial ministers, followed by the university vice-chancellor, registrar and senior police officers.

The government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is led by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) party of former cricketer Imran Khan.

Provincial information minister Shah Farman confirmed the administration had halted the ceremony.

"It is true that we stopped them and there were many reasons for that," said Farman.

He said the venue was "not suitable" for the launch and accused organisers of using the event as a way to get money from the United States.

"It was just to get more US funding," Farman said.

But his party chief Imran Khan said via his official Twitter account he was baffled at the news.

"I am at a complete loss to understand why Malala's book launch in Peshawar was stopped. PTI stands 4 freedom of expression & debate," he tweeted.

Khadim Hussain, the head of the Bacha Khan Education trust, a local charity which was supporting the launch ceremony, said the pressure to cancel the event was a sop to militants.

"They stopped us to please Taliban, we will soon announce another date for the book launching," Hussain said.

The book describes Malala's life under the Taliban's brutal rule in the Swat valley in the mid-2000s and hints at her ambition to enter Pakistani politics.

While it has had a positive reception around the world, reaction to the book inside Pakistan has been mixed.

Some private schools banned it from their premises in November due to what they called its "anti-Pakistan and anti-Islam content".

A senior police official said allowing the ceremony to go ahead would have meant attracting Taliban attacks in future.

"Everyone knows that Taliban are against Malala, so we do not want to open another front for ourselves," the official said, requesting anonymity.

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