Monday, September 9, 2013
Pakistan's only female fighter pilot becomes role model for millions of girls
From the UK Telegraph: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/pakistan/10279119/Pakistans-only-female-fighter-pilot-becomes-role-model-for-millions-of-girls.html She has already made history by becoming the first woman assigned to one of Pakistan's front line dogfighting squadrons. Now at the age of 26 Flight Lieutenant Farooq says she is ready for the ultimate test. "If war breaks out, I will be flying on my senior's wing as his wingman, well, wingwoman," she said in an interview with The Daily Telegraph at the headquarters of the Pakistan Air Force in Islamabad. India and Pakistan remain locked in a stand-off over the disputed territory of Kashmir. It has twice since partition been the cause of all-out wars and the dispute is flaring once again. Both sides have claimed they have been attacked with artillery and small arms. Last month, India accused Pakistani forces of killing five of its soldiers, stoking anger among Hindu nationalists of the BJP, although the killings were denied by Islamabad For Fl Lt Farooq, it would provide the ultimate chance to prove that women were every bit the equal of men in the cockpit. "When I get orders I will go and fight. I want to prove myself, to show that I'm doing something for my country." Earlier this year she completed her training to become Pakistan's first war-ready female fighter pilot, flying the F7-PG, a Chinese version of the MiG 21 jet. Not only does that bring the responsibility of helping guard the border with India, she has also become a role model for millions of girls who dream of following in her footsteps in a country where many are denied an education and forced to stay at home. Pakistan remains a patriarchal society. In swathes of the north-west, women are seen rarely unless it is beneath the billowing folds of a burka. It has not been easy. At every test of strength and endurance she has had to match the men – and sometimes do it without lavatories. When she was posted to 20 Air Superiority Squadron, at Rafiqui base in Punjab, about 100 miles from the Indian border, there were scant facilities for female officers. "They had to build them for me," she said with a smile. But for all the broken glass ceilings and new lavatory blocks, Fl Lt Farooq remains a traditional Pakistani woman in some ways. Three weeks ago she was married to her cousin, in a match arranged for her by the two families. "We played together when we were children so I think he always knew I would not be a traditional woman," she said. Things are changing gradually for women in Pakistan. There are about 4,000 in the country's armed forces. Some 19 women have become pilots in the past decade, but most fly transporters. Of the six fighter pilots, Fl Lt Farooq is the only one to have qualified for combat and to fly regular sorties along a border where two nuclear-armed nations face off. She said there had never been any doubt that she would pilot a fast jet. Her father, a doctor, died when she was three – an experience she said had steeled her to overcome challenges as she grew up in Bahawalpur. "I was always the man of my family," she said. "In my early childhood I developed some protective skills toward my younger sister and my mother. I was a young soldier." She signed up when she was 17 and since then has survived years of near constant testing that saw her 40 classmates whittled down by half. None of the three other women made it to fighter training. Now she flies one of the PAF's front line planes, an olive green headscarf tucked beneath her helmet. Her small frame, she said, meant she had to work harder in the gym to ensure she had the strength to control her multimillion pound jet. Every day she receives dozens of telephone calls from girls hoping to follow in her footsteps. "It's not a job that people here associate with ladies so as well as doing a job for my country I'm changing the thoughts of people," she said. "It's a big responsibility but one I enjoy." Her fellow pilots treat her as an equal, she said, often forgetting who they are flying alongside. "Sometimes they are asked, what is it like to fly with a lady," said Fl Lt Farooq. "They say: what lady?"