There was a nervous energy in the room as five women in fatigues took their positions behind the INSAS Light Machine Guns on Monday. The exercise had not begun well: two groups ahead of them had not succeeded, with four of the six “terrorists” on screen running past each time.
The simulation began even as jawans instructed the women about positioning themselves; a voice, in Hindi, announced that it would be an ambush. “Shoot,” ordered Lt. Hasina Hakimi and the men on screen began dropping one by one. “Keep shooting,” urged Cap. Samriti as one persistent virtual terrorist kept running at the shooters. Then he fell and the room erupted in cheers.
Since that third round, no terrorist bested the 20 lady officers of the Afghan Air Force and National Army at the Officers’ Training Academy’s Infantry Weapons Training Simulator. The women, who don the hijab as part of their uniform, are in the city from December 4 to 24 as part of the first military training being imparted by the Indian Army to women officers from abroad.
Gentlemen cadets from Afghanistan are already being trained at the OTA; this crash course is reportedly a preparatory effort to bring Afghan lady cadets to the OTA for a full module next year. The effort is part of the Afghan National Army’s efforts at recruiting and training more women, even as it tries to plug attrition.
According to the U.S. government’s Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction, the first female officer cadet class for the ANA began in 2010. As of August 2017, there were a total of 4,500 women in the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces, representing 1.4% of all personnel.
“This is a capsule training where we expose this team to everything our cadets go through to become officers. Afghan lady officers have already visited the Army Centre of Education, Pachmarhi, but this is the first time that the Army is imparting military training to foreign women officers,” said Capt. Samriti.
However, she converses with Lt. Hakimi (21) — who has become the liaison for the delegation — in Hindi; the latter translates the Captain’s orders into Dari for her compatriots. “I learnt Hindi by watching Bollywood films. I am in the Education Corps, so I enjoy instructing and being a leader,” she said. Lt. Hakimi received basic training from the Turkish Armed Forces in Antalya.
There is an acknowledgement that they have a tough task back home. Talking to Lt. Hakimi, Capt. Anusha Nazari shows the injuries to her left wrist. “I was part of a night patrol of the Special Forces in Kunduz —17 men and 2 women — when a mine went off,” she said. Losing her father to the civil war did not stop Capt. Friba Azizi of the Signals Corps from joining the Army; her family had to move to Quetta for about five years during the fighting.
Though they are not allowed in combat roles, the exposure of some members of the Afghan delegation to combat means that their trainers too, learn from them. “Yes, I think we can learn from them. I think the women of the Indian Army should be given a fair opportunity in combat roles. If Afghan lady officers can, surely we can too,” said Maj. J.R. Sanjana of the OTA.
“There are many restrictions on Afghan women. But we are brave,” said Lt. Colonel Rebia Gharshin (38), an anaesthesiologist. The daughter of a retired Afghan Army General, Lt. Colonel Gharshin had to drop out during the Taliban years and graduated from the Kabul University later.