Coming from places as varied as Mardan, Multan and Hyderabad, the first trendsetting batch of lady cadets were very enthusiastic — they wouldn’t have got this far without enthusiasm. There may have been some apprehension with regard to taking on the responsibility of being the first entrants in their field, but any fears the women had were well-hidden and proved baseless as the unit proved highly competent in all disciplines, from theoretical military subjects to the strenuous soldier training, alongside their male counterparts.
“Being the first batch of Lady Officers, we felt the onus of responsibility from the very first day; and we continue feeling the same way even today when around 200 lady officers have entered the mainstream army and the 7th Lady Cadet Course is all poised to pass out from the Academy,” says Captain Sonya, currently appointed as instructor in the Pakistan Military Academy’s English Department.
With time, the number of applicants vying for the prestigious armed forces service has swelled considerably. Women are successfully entering the Pakistan Army to serve in different disciplines — from engineering to law to languages to information technology — in various capacities.
“For some of us the inspiration comes either from having a father or brother in the armed forces. But it is essentially the lure of the khaki uniform,’’ says Captain Saba, who is serving as the assistant platoon commander with the 7th batch of LCs in the Pakistan Military Academy, Abbottabad.
“And of course it is no secret that the Pakistan Army means a life of discipline and prestige that no other field can match up to. Really we feel proud and honoured to be part of this great institution.”
The selected candidates, who must possess evidence of higher education (either Master’s degrees or Bachelors with Honours) are required to undergo a strenuous six-month regime before they can attain the rank of captain. ‘‘We are required to take combat training and study subjects such as field firing, map-reading and military tactics, and then be able to practically demonstrate our knowledge. This also includes digging trenches and learning to survive on a bare minimum in severe weather conditions.”
The women are unanimous in claiming that unlike well-publicised incidents of the sort in America, the women officers of Pakistan’s armed forces have never faced sexual harassment, or indeed, any difficulty in working with their predominantly male counterparts. Captain Sonia insists that the Pakistan army is too disciplined for this sort of ugly situation to occur.
When asked if a conventional marriage remains a priority, what with the rigours of their work, the level of commitment involved, and the rotating posts which involve army personnel moving every two-to-three years, Captain Wajiha who got married a couple of years ago and now has a one-year-old daughter says, “This is not the priority when you opt for the job; but yes, one has to look into the issue realistically.
“We have examples of lady officers who have got married to Army and Air Force officers as well as girls who’ve found husbands in government jobs,” she explains. “To date, things have worked out pretty well for all of us. You see, you have to resolve problems and if there is a sincere will and determination to be just to your cause on your part, fate paves the way.”
Published in the Express Tribune, June 20th, 2010.