Pakistan fighter pilot wins battle of sexes, now she's ready for war

Published: June 13, 2013
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Ayesha Farooq, 26, Pakistan's only female war-ready fighter pilot, smiles during an interview with Reuters at Mushaf base in Sargodha on June 6, 2013. PHOTO: REUTERS

Ayesha Farooq, 26, Pakistan's only female war-ready fighter pilot, smiles during an interview with Reuters at Mushaf base in Sargodha on June 6, 2013. PHOTO: REUTERS

MUSHAF AIR BASE: With an olive green head scarf poking out from her helmet, Ayesha Farooq flashes a cheeky grin when asked if it is lonely being the only war-ready female fighter pilot in Pakistan.

Farooq, hailing from Bahawalpur, is one of 19 women who have become pilots in the Pakistan Air Force over the last decade – there are five other female fighter pilots, but they have yet to take the final tests to qualify for combat.

“I don’t feel any different. We do the same activities, the same precision bombing,” the soft-spoken 26-year-old said of her male colleagues at Mushaf base in Sargodha, where neatly piled missiles sit.

A growing number of women have joined Pakistan’s defence forces in recent years as attitudes towards women change.

“Because of terrorism and our geographical location it’s very important that we stay on our toes,” said Farooq, referring to Taliban militancy and a sharp rise in sectarian violence.

Deteriorating security in neighbouring Afghanistan, where US-led troops are preparing to leave by the end of next year, and an uneasy relationship with arch rival India to the east add to the mix.

Ayesha Farooq, 26, Pakistan’s only female war-ready fighter pilot, gives the thumb-up sign from the cockpit of a Chinese-made F-7PG fighter jet at Mushaf base in Sargodha. PHOTO: REUTERS

Farooq, whose slim frame offers a study in contrast with her burly male colleagues, was at loggerheads with her widowed and uneducated mother seven years ago when she said she wanted to join the air force.

“In our society most girls don’t even think about doing such things as flying an aircraft,” she said.

Family pressure against the traditionally male domain of the armed forces dissuaded other women from taking the next step to become combat ready, air force officials said. They fly slower aircraft instead, ferrying troops and equipment around the country.

“Less of a taboo”

Centuries-old rule in the tribal belt area along the border with Afghanistan, where rape, mutilation and the killing of women are ordered to mete out justice, underlines Pakistan’s failures in protecting women’s rights.

But women are becoming more aware of those rights and signing up with the air force is about as empowering as it gets.

“More and more ladies are joining now,” said Nasim Abbas, Wing Commander of Squadron 20, made up of 25 pilots, including Farooq, who fly Chinese-made F-7PG fighter jets.

“It’s seen as less of a taboo. There’s been a shift in the nation’s, the society’s, way of thinking,” Abbas told Reuters on the base in Sargodha.

There are now about 4,000 women in Pakistan’s armed forces, largely confined to desk jobs and medical work.

But over the last decade, women have became sky marshals, defending Pakistan’s commercial liners against insurgent attacks, and a select few are serving in the elite anti-terrorist force. Like most female soldiers in the world, Pakistani women are still banned from ground combat.

Pakistan now has 316 women in the air force compared to around 100 five years ago, Abbas said.

“In Pakistan, it’s very important to defend our front lines because of terrorism and it’s very important for everyone to be part of it,” said avionics engineer Anam Hassan, 24, as she set out for work on an F-16 fighter aircraft, her thick black hair tucked under a baseball cap.

“It just took a while for the air force to accept this.”

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Reader Comments (44)

  • Muhammad
    Jun 13, 2013 - 3:22AM

    MashaAllah! May there be many more! The Taliban must be having a heart attack right now…

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  • Nadir
    Jun 13, 2013 - 3:22AM

    How are these terrorists? They must name India as number one enemy!

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  • Aamir - Toronto
    Jun 13, 2013 - 5:02AM

    A brave daughter of Pakistan……..really proud of you !!!!

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  • naeem khan Manhattan,Ks
    Jun 13, 2013 - 5:26AM

    It gives lots of pride to us Pakistani Americans to see that women could do the same as men do.The society has pushed back the female population but things are opening up for all those girls who are as intelligent or even more so than some of the men in our country. Congratulations to these girls and hopefully their service to the nation will encourage other girls to become fighter pilots. The nation should be proud of these girls, who knows one of these girls could become Air Marshall one of these days, I hope so.

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  • Humayun
    Jun 13, 2013 - 6:13AM

    “Rape and Mutilation of women is ordered in tribal belt along Afghanistan border…” – ET : This is an absolutely new one for me ! Are you sure about this ?

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  • Nasreen
    Jun 13, 2013 - 6:15AM

    Allah may protect her from all eveils, Ameen.
    We certainly, proud of you, you are brave, courageious and an example for other daughters in Pakistan.

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  • Arsalan R
    Jun 13, 2013 - 7:02AM

    Michael Jackson famously said: “Make love not war”.

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  • Call Sign
    Jun 13, 2013 - 8:13AM

    “Fahrenheit” – two thumbs up!!

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  • S Malik
    Jun 13, 2013 - 8:20AM

    Very encouraging to see… proud of you !!!

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  • Syed A. Mateen
    Jun 13, 2013 - 8:24AM

    I am proud that daughters of Pakistan have gone one step further with courage and boldness that they are equally capable to defend their motherland like our Jawans of Pakistan Army, Navy and Air Force.

    Women of Pakistan must come out from their shells, as Pakistani Women are talented and can do wonders, like any other women of any developed nation.

    Jeeti Raho Beti Ayesha Farooq.

    AMEEN..

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  • Ali
    Jun 13, 2013 - 8:59AM

    You go girl. We are proud of you.

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  • Cobrajock
    Jun 13, 2013 - 9:01AM

    Proud to have a daughter like you …………… Happy Landings !

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  • maidaumair
    Jun 13, 2013 - 9:09AM

    you go girl..so proud to have such beautiful women in our country.They are the real face of pakistan.Say no to the ages old system where female oppression and injustice to women was rampant.Say hello to the liberated woman of today.God bless Pakistan!!!

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  • citizen
    Jun 13, 2013 - 9:11AM

    wow wow just wow. You are an inspiration :)

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  • Dajjal
    Jun 13, 2013 - 10:06AM

    Awesome, but lets hope they fly better than they drive….

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  • Fudge
    Jun 13, 2013 - 10:23AM

    @Dajjal:
    Misogynistic! Nobody gets to be a fighter pilot for nothing.

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  • PakArmySoldier
    Jun 13, 2013 - 11:28AM

    Once again, Pakistan Air Force leads in improving gender parity within the military.

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  • Adnan Siddiqi
    Jun 13, 2013 - 11:32AM

    Fahrenheit! Now that’s one cool call sign.

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  • Sita White Bhabi
    Jun 13, 2013 - 11:40AM

    @Muhammad: MashaAllah! May there be many more! The Taliban must be having a heart attack right now…

    PTI and JI as well !

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  • True Karachiwala
    Jun 13, 2013 - 11:42AM

    Courage written on her face !

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  • fairhope01
    Jun 13, 2013 - 12:07PM

    Being a male, I quite intimidated by the title “Battle of Sexes” come on give me a break. I hate the way western media and ours alike portray Pakistani women as they are oppressed beyond comprehension. Lets not dance on others tunes.
    Good for her and good for Pakistan, she did well, she got the job. I also appreciate the way Ayesh Farooq she knocks down the questions about male domination and what not. Kudos to you.

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  • mindless
    Jun 13, 2013 - 12:14PM

    Extremely proud of such daughters. Bravo!!!!!!!!

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  • Mishal
    Jun 13, 2013 - 12:15PM

    I am glad that pakistan’s society is changing for good iA. But pakistani parents who left the country some twenty yrs ago still think pakistani society to be the same and may not be comfortable with daughters entering a male dominated profession in pakistan even though they wont object to their daughters practising it in another country.

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  • Jun 13, 2013 - 2:12PM

    Very well done

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  • Syed Parvez Ali
    Jun 13, 2013 - 2:31PM

    Allah may protect her from all eveils, Ameen.
    We certainly, proud of you, you are brave, courageious and an example for other daughters in Pakistan.
    S Parvez Ali

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  • Traditionalist
    Jun 13, 2013 - 2:42PM

    Mashallah ! How beautifully she has covered herself with a scarf……….All the women who go for work should cover themselves like her when going to work………..May Allah give her reward for setting an example for women

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  • Jadoon
    Jun 13, 2013 - 2:45PM

    “Centuries-old rule in the tribal belt area along the border with Afghanistan, where rape, mutilation and the killing of women are ordered to mete out justice, underlines Pakistan’s failures in protecting women’s rights”………. Please do some research before spreading out misinformation.

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  • Tabdeeli
    Jun 13, 2013 - 3:53PM

    It gives me great pleasure to see women progressing in Pakistan. Matter of Pride

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  • Uza Syed
    Jun 13, 2013 - 4:23PM

    Thank you President Musharraf! You made it possible and we all, men & women, in Pakistan must accept this fact that without you at the helms it won’t be possible for our women to enter and train for such wonderful job.

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  • Ali Zaid
    Jun 13, 2013 - 4:26PM

    Proud of you!!!

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  • Insaan
    Jun 13, 2013 - 5:43PM

    Saudi arabia will never allow a Muslim woman alone with a non-Mehram man in Cockpit of jet fighter plane. Saudis being true Muslims don’t let women drive, they know what could happen when a woman is given freedom to drive and go places.

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  • Singh
    Jun 13, 2013 - 6:39PM

    @Traditionalist: Mashallah ! How beautifully she has covered herself with a scarf……….All the women who go for work should cover themselves like her when going to work………..May Allah give her reward for setting an example for women
    Female don’t cover their head with scarf due to some religious sentiment. It is required to tied the hair & cover with head scarf so they don’t entangle during flight or working in field.

    don’t drag religion into everything.

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  • hamza khan
    Jun 13, 2013 - 7:59PM

    salute to the female fighter pilots of PAF! and salute to president pervez musharraf who opened up the ranks of military for our women.

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  • Hamid Siddiqui
    Jun 13, 2013 - 9:02PM

    @Insaan: Please improve your knowledge about Saudi Arabia, you are not very right.

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  • Hamid Siddiqui
    Jun 13, 2013 - 9:12PM

    @Singh: I agree with you when you said don’t drag religion into everything. But without any prejudice love to inform a nice person like yourself that scarf is not just to protect hairs from getting entangle, although it is not the pillar or must in religion, but it is recommended in Islam for a women to keep herself covered head to toe as well as possible. And nowadays the educated women allover the world and specially understand the importance of these Islamic instructions and are following them without any pressures. As I believe I have seen among Sikh women too specially in the Gurdwaras

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  • Awais
    Jun 13, 2013 - 9:13PM

    @Singh:
    The only people who cover their heads to take care of their hair is male sikhs. You are talking about reason why Muslim women cover their hair. Ask any muslim woman taking a headscarf and you will have your answer. Please go ask first then comment out of ignorance. There are female pilots in US, Israel etc but they don’t cover like this lad does. So you are saying they don’t need protection while flying or working in field?

    Rubbish!

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  • Hamid Siddiqui
    Jun 13, 2013 - 9:16PM

    You do not need any appreciation from any one of us, you have been rewarded by ALLAH, that the biggest and the most satisfying appreciation one can ever imagine. All I can say is……………
    Including myself the nation is proud of you, we very respectfully salute you, and pray for your success.

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  • writer
    Jun 13, 2013 - 10:19PM

    One Word. Awesome!!!!!!

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  • Rex Minor
    Jun 13, 2013 - 10:42PM

    @Sita White Bhabi:
    @Muhammad:

    The world saw the performance of the Pakistan Air Force combat readiness a few days ago when the enemy fighter air crafts entered its air space. Now the PAF press announces and presents a female combat fighter pilot, who appears on the AlJazeera TV channel and talks about terrorism! In other words where the long range artillery has failed to subdue the Pashtuns in the tribal territory a female Pilot is just about ready to drop the bombs from the air on them with more accuracy..
    A macabre proposition and a PR stunt.?

    Rex Minor

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  • Green tiger
    Jun 14, 2013 - 12:16AM

    F-7 isn’t a fighter plane. Its a 1960 plane which moves at 60 kmph. Guys, cool. This is just propaganda.

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  • Rex Minor
    Jun 14, 2013 - 2:12PM

    @Green tiger:

    You reckon 60kmph is sufficient for this kite to aiborne?

    Rex Minor

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  • Jun 14, 2013 - 6:00PM

    @Insaan:
    Grow up. So what could happen? Why, don’t men and boys do all sorts of nasty and shameful ‘things’ when they are given freedom to drive and go places??!!! As far as SA is concerned I’d rather keep my mouth shut!

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  • Mohammad Taslim-Dean
    Jun 14, 2013 - 6:34PM

    May Allah Guides you to right path gives you strength, good health, prosperity,courage, and most of all True Imaan so that you can serve your country with honour and flying colours. AAMEEEN!!!!!!

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  • Sultan ahmad
    Jun 29, 2013 - 5:08PM

    Mashallah!! Subhanallah!! Aysha v r very proud of u & Pak. U r the real ideal woman for Pak & Muslim women. Your brave & courage may change Pak Taliban & govt.for better humanity & living of Paki. May u go higher & higher above defending culture & society. Insha Allah!!! wish u a bright future.

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