Niloofar Rahmani is the first female pilot in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001 – and serves as a role model for other young Afghan women, encouraging them to join the Afghan Air Force (AAF) writes Shakeela Ibrahimkhail
Completing her training in Kabul, Rahmani – who won the 2015 from U.S. State Department – has served with the Afghan military for four years.
Able to fly fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters, Captain Rahmani, 23, is the only Afghan woman who plays a major role in transporting soldiers from the battle ground.
“I can’t wait to fly despite risks and threats,” she told TOLO News correspondent who flew with her to eastern Jalalabad. “But my passion to fly helps me defy all the threats.”
She has participated in 360 operations, flying for more than 600 hours during her career.
Rahmani explained that she decided to join the Air Force in order to turn her father’s dreams into reality.
She told TOLO News during a day-long trip and interview that she had also completed a two-year training program with NATO.
However, the day of the interview, bad weather resulted in her having to cancel a planned trip to Badakhshan where she was to help soldiers fighting insurgents in the northeastern province.
“Today, I planned to fly to Badakhshan and bring back the bodies of our dead soldiers to Kabul,” she said.
Meanwhile, her colleagues and friends are extremely proud of her, saying that Rahmani was performing her duties under tough circumstances.
“She is a very brave and skilled pilot,” an AAF pilot Aimal Khair Khowa said. “She has brought honor to Afghanistan.”
“Niloofar is the first female pilot to transport the bodies of dead soldiers,” said Azizullah Pamiri, another member of AAF.
Meanwhile, the commander of fixed-wing aircrafts, Aimal stressed that Niloofar would start training new pilots in the future.
“Niloofar is equal to her male counterparts,” Aimal said. “We are considering her for the position of an instructor for new pilots in future.”
However, when she started flying, many thought she was a foreigner.
“When I flew the aircraft to Herat province, many people were whispering with each other that this girl is a foreigner and can’t speak in local languages. But when I went to them and spoke to them, they couldn’t believe an Afghan girl is so talented,” Rahmani said.
She said her dream was to see Afghan women taking a lead in the country.
“I want all women to believe in themselves and never feel that they are weak.”
She expressed that her commitment to serving in Afghan military was endless – defying threats she and her family received during her service.
Rahmani said she was committed to her country, religion and duty, and promised to conduct her duties in line with Islamic principles.
Original Tolo News article HERE.
Breaking ranks, soaring high . . .
With a hint of swagger, Afghanistan’s first female pilot, since the fall of the Taleban, is defying death threats and archaic gender norms to infiltrate what is almost entirely a male preserve.
Dressed in khaki overalls, aviator shades and a black headscarf, 23-year-old Niloofar Rahmani cuts a striking presence as she struts across the tarmac at the Kabul Air Force base, which is otherwise devoid of women.
“Ever since I was a child, when I saw a bird in the sky, I wanted to fly a plane,” she told AFP at the base, hemmed in by rolling dun-coloured hills.
“Many girls in Afghanistan have dreams… but a number of problems threats stand in the way.”
Rahmani, who grew up in Kabul, enlisted for an air force training programme in 2010 and kept it secret from her relatives who believe a woman does not belong outside the home.
Two years later, she became the first female fixed-wing aviator in Afghanistan’s history and the country’s first woman pilot since the ouster of the Taleban regime.
The once-unimaginable feat recently won her the US State Department’s International Women of Courage Award — and earned her the sobriquet “Afghan Top Gun” on social media, after the 1986 Tom Cruise film about flying aces in the US Navy.
It is believed there were female Afghan pilots during the pre-Taleban Communist era, but details are scant.
Nearly 14 years since the Taleban government was toppled in a US-led invasion, Afghan women have taken giant strides toward progress, with female lawmakers and security personnel now commonplace.
That marks a sea change in women’s rights, as previously women weren’t allowed to leave their homes without a male chaperone and were brutally consigned to the shadows.
But gender parity still remains a distant dream as conservative attitudes prevail.
Rahmani has received threatening calls and letters purportedly from the Taleban, warning her to quit.
The threats grew so menacing in 2013 that Rahmani was forced to leave the country for two months.
“They threatened to hurt me and my family,” she said over the roar of military transport planes. “My only choice was to be strong and ignore them.”
Rahmani always carries a pistol for her protection and though she has grown accustomed to the ogling eyes of men, she never leaves the base in uniform, lest it make her a target.
“Simple things like walking on the streets and going shopping is no longer possible. My freedom has all gone,” she said.
But more than physical threats, it is pervasive conservatism that hurts the most, with Afghanistan stuck in what many deride as a medieval time warp.
Rahmani says she was heartbroken when a mob in Kabul savagely lynched a young woman called Farkhunda last month after an amulet seller, whom she had castigated, falsely accused her of burning the Holy Quran.
“Animals don’t do this to other animals,” she said of the daylight murder which sparked nationwide protests.
“This wasn’t done by the Taleban. This was done by ordinary people — the young Afghan generation.”
Rahmani also recalled a flight mission when she defied orders from a superior who stopped her from airlifting wounded soldiers in a restive southern province.
Women are traditionally forbidden from transporting the dead or wounded in Afghanistan as “many believe that females have a small heart and are too emotional,” Rahmani said.
Upon completing the task, “I told my commander, ‘punish me if you think I did anything wrong’,” she recalled.
“He smiled and said: ‘You did good’.”
In order to be treated on par with her male colleagues, Rahmani says she can’t afford to display jangled nerves.
“I have to be tough — so tough, that I show no emotion,” she said.
But while Rahmani is pushing at the boundaries of change, she is cautious not to disrespect cultural norms in a country known for its strict gender segregation. One recent morning, when a male colleague at the base reached out to shake her hand, she declined.
“Why not?” he said, disappointed.
Rahmani smiled politely and later told AFP she didn’t want to send out the wrong signal.
In conservative Afghanistan, even a simple gesture such as a handshake between men and women can sometimes be interpreted as a sign of bad character.
Rahmani is only one of three Afghan women who have trained to become pilots since the 2001 invasion, and one of them has since quit the air force.
When asked how long it would be before the air force has an equal number of men and women pilots, she was forthright.
“Not anytime soon. Maybe 20 or 30 years,” she said.
“But I have hope.”
(c) Khaleej Times
See also: Mama Asia article written in 2013 about pilot Latifa Nabizada.