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Women commandos raid men?s bastion

Friday is a special day for women in Pakistan. It is the day when the nation's second ever batch of women commandos finish their training, writes Kadambari Murali.

india Updated: Mar 13, 2004 01:04 IST

Friday is a special day for women in Pakistan. It is the day when the nation's second ever batch of women commandos finish their training and formally join the ranks of Pakistan's Elite Force.

Eight months ago, almost to the day, Saima Shahzadi and Fardaus Ashraf were among Pakistan's first batch of women commandos, 34 in all and the brainchild of Pakistani President General Musharraf.

Both 22-year-olds had been recruited from the police force after a gruelling physical exam that included, among other things, running a mile in under eight minutes.

“That was only one of the things in the exam,” says young Saima. “There were various other things we had to do, sit-ups, push-ups in a fixed time, stress tests, other things.”

Once they were selected, they were whisked away to a place called Bediya in Lahore, where they spent eight months training with the men (something unheard of in Pakistan) and as Saima, says, “Often bettering them.” Theyare now part of a select group of cops who actually report to the Army High Command.

Both women, currently part of the security cordon that surrounds the Indian cricket team, say that things would not have been possible without support from their families. “My waalid (father) was amazing,” says Fardaus.

“This is Pakistan, I would never have done it if he hadn't told me to forget about stereotypes and realise that I was as good as any man. There were times during the training that I felt like giving up, felt I would collapse but the memory of my father's words and his belief in my strength would keep me going.”

But it wasn't easy, says Saima. Pakistani society is changing but the change is not happening overnight. Here (and in India too) these women are a very rare exception, with their form-fitting black uniforms, their steely frames, the Glucks strapped to their hips. They are competent with semi-automatics, with AK-47s and trained in one-on-one combat. They are deadly.

“We've all had to overcome social orientation and realize that it's basically a matter of conquering your mind. At first you feel that it's impossible, then you start believing that it's possible. And finally, it becomes a habit. When you reach that stage, you're mentally prepared to be a commando,” says an articulate Saima.

Both are unmarried, though Saima is engaged to another Elite commando. “I don't want to stop being a commando after marriage but we'll have to see about the rules,” she says.

They recently declared that married women could not be commandos after one of the girls from the batch got married, pregnant and miscarried during training.

But Saima lives in hope.

First Published: Mar 13, 2004 01:04 IST