LAHORE - Continuing her meteoric rise in the face of divided public opinion, Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the head by the Taliban in 2012 for advocating girls’ right to education, won the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize on Friday. She is the youngest-ever recipient of the coveted Prize.

Like scientist Abdus Salam who first brought Pakistan this honour by winning the 1979 Nobel Prize in Physics, Malala’s elevation is also surrounded by many controversies and theories, some of which term her a Western stooge raised to project Pakistan as a conservative country, averse to anything progressive, including education. However, there was no dearth of support for her as many saw her winning the Prize as a breath of fresh air, a gift for Pakistan.

The 17-year-old shared the Prize with Indian campaigner against child trafficking and labour Kailash Satyarthi. Sixty-year-old Satyarthi is the first Indian-born winner of the accolade.

They were picked for their struggle against the oppression of children and young people, and for the right of all children to education, the Norwegian Nobel Committee said.

Some Pakistanis on social media meanwhile revived the Twitter hashtag #MalalaDrama, used to post negative comments about her, that gained popularity last year when Malala was first nominated for the Nobel.

The prize, worth about $1.1 million, will be presented in Oslo on Dec. 10, the anniversary of the death of Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, who founded the award in his 1895 will.

The previous youngest winner was Australian-born British scientist Lawrence Bragg, who was 25 when he shared the Physics Prize with his father in 1915.

The sharing of the award between an Indian and a Pakistani came after a week of hostilities along the border of the disputed region of Kashmir - the worst fighting between the nuclear-armed rivals in more than a decade.

“The Nobel Committee regards it as an important point for a Hindu and a Muslim, an Indian and a Pakistani, to join in a common struggle for education and against extremism,” said Thorbjoern Jagland, the head of the Norwegian Nobel Committee.

Kristian Berg Harpviken, head of the Peace Research Institute in Oslo, described the joint award “an innovative prize that brings attention to the problems of the young”.

Malala told reporters in the English city of Birmingham where she now lives that she had spoken by telephone with Satyarthi on Friday and they had agreed to invite the prime ministers of India and Pakistan to the ceremony in December.

“The tension that is going on is really disappointing and I’m really sad because I want both countries to have dialogue to have talks about peace,” she said.

Satyarthi earlier said he hoped to work with Malala for peace.

“I will invite her to join hands to establish peace for our subcontinent, which is a must for children, which is a must for every Indian, for every Pakistani, for every citizen of the world,” he said at the New Delhi office of his organisation, Bachpan Bachao Andolan, or Save the Childhood Movement.

Malala said she had found out about winning the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday from a teacher during a chemistry lesson, adding that the news had come as a big surprise.

“This is not the end of this campaign which I have started. I think this is really the beginning. I want to see every child going to school,” she said, adding she felt “really honoured”.

“I used to say that I think I do not deserve the Nobel peace prize . I still believe that,” Malala said.

“But I believe it is not only an award for what I’ve done but an encouragement for giving me hope, for giving me the courage to go and continue this.”

Malala was attacked in 2012 on a school bus in the Swat Valley of northwest Pakistan by masked gunmen as a punishment for a blog that she wrote for the BBC’s Urdu service to campaign against the Taliban’s efforts to deny women education.

Unable to return to Pakistan after her recovery, Malala moved to England, setting up the Malala Fund and supporting local education advocacy groups with a focus on Pakistan, Nigeria, Jordan, Syria and Kenya.

Her former teacher, Ahmed Shah, said the peace prize was wonderful news for Pakistan.

“This is a breath of fresh air, a gift for Pakistan, at a time when we are embroiled in terrorism and violence and wars,” Shah told a news agency by telephone from the Swat Valley.

“Those who oppose her, extremist elements or whoever else, they have been rendered irrelevant. They are a weak minority.”

Malala dedicated her Nobel peace prize to “voiceless” children around the world. She was honoured to be the youngest person to receive the accolade.

“The award is for all the children who are voiceless, whose voices need to be heard,” Malala told the press conference.

She told an audience that included her parents and two younger brothers: “I felt more powerful and more courageous because this award is not just a piece of metal or a medal you wear or an award you keep in your room.

“This is encouragement for me to go forward.”

The global spotlight has provoked a backlash in parts of Pakistani society, with the Taliban issuing her a life threat. There have also been concerns about exposing a child to such a level of public exposure.

Last month, Pakistan’s military said they had arrested 10 suspected Taliban militants accused of being involved in the murder attempt against her.

Malala addressed the UN Youth Assembly last year at an event Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called “Malala Day”. This year she travelled to Nigeria to demand the release of 200 schoolgirls kidnapped by the Islamist group Boko Haram.

Satyarthi, who gave up a career as an electrical engineer in 1980 to campaign against child labour, has headed various forms of peaceful protests and demonstrations, focusing on the exploitation of children for financial gain.

Former British prime minister Gordon Brown, the United Nations special envoy for global education, voiced delight at the Nobel victory for Malala and Satyarthi.

Britain’s International Development Secretary Justine Greening also congratulated the joint winners saying the prize was “richly deserved”.

The reaction in the streets of Birmingham, which has a large minority population of Pakistani origin, was also overwhelmingly positive.

“I like her. She’s confident, speaking up for herself, for women,” said 30-year-old Zara Hussain as she waited at a bus stop in Birmingham holding a baby. “She could be president (of Pakistan) if she carries on.” But local estate agent Basharat Hussain, 30, said: “I personally think she shouldn’t have got it. “She’s inspiring but I think they’re using her for political motives, she’s been used by different organisations and governments.”

—Compiled from dispatches of news agencies