Niloofar Rahmani has become somewhat famous in the United States. She’s the first female fighter pilot from Afghanistan and her story has been sold as proof of a new dawn of western ideals in her home country. That story fell apart somewhat this year, however. In order to complete her training she’s been serving at various bases in the United States, and during the course of this process she has asked for asylum in America because she fears returning to her home nation. This has enraged the Afghanistan government and she’s been accused of lying by her own military command. (New York Times)
Contending that her “life isn’t at risk at all,” military officials in Afghanistan have asked that the United States reject the asylum case of Capt. Niloofar Rahmani, the first female fixed-wing pilot in the Afghan Air Force.
On Thursday, Captain Rahmani revealed that she had applied for asylum this summer, saying she felt unsafe in Afghanistan, where she and her family have received death threats. For the last 15 months, she has been training at air bases in Arkansas, Florida and Texas.
This attempt to flee for her life is proving embarrassing for the United States. While it sounds like Rahmani is a capable pilot, she’s become more of a political selling point for the war in Afghanistan, showing how the country is slowly but surely modernizing and our efforts there have not been in vain. The fact that she wishes to stay here to avoid some sort of honor killing or other peril shows that things really haven’t changed all that much.
The idea that she wasn’t facing any danger (as Afghan officials claim) seems problematic at best. Back in March of 2015, after she was honored during a ceremony with First Lady Michelle Obama, the pilot was being interviewed and talked about the threats she faced both from the Taliban and her own family.
She shared the extreme pressure she is under with female pilots from the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing. Rahmani said she has been subjected to multiple death threats from members of the Afghan military, people in her own country, the Taliban and eventually her extended family.
Her sister she said was beaten and is forbidden from seeing her own daughter. Her bother had to hide from gunfire while walking home from class one day. Her family has to move every couple of months to stay safe.
While serving in the military is something to be proud of, for Rahmani, there is a huge price to pay. “Being a female in the military is a shame for all family,” she said.
It’s not just the Taliban putting her in danger. The current government in Afghanistan is still ruled by people very much set in the old ways. One of the worst examples is Abdul Rashid Dostum. A former warlord, he’s now the Vice President of that nation and you should see what he’s been up to lately. (Washington Post)
Dostum has long been infamous for his cruelty: He has reportedly ordered tanks driven over enemies’ legs and been accused of suffocating hundreds of Taliban prisoners in sealed truck containers. He is also known for violent and abusive rages. But none of the accusations ever landed him in serious trouble. He was either too intimidating, or too important, to challenge.
But now, Dostum may have gone too far.
His latest alleged victim, a 63-year-old former provincial governor named Ahmad Ishchi, has accused Dostum on television of imprisoning him, beating him and ordering him raped in November; Ishchi has also submitted to medical tests at a U.S. military hospital. This time, Dostum, 62, is not a warlord but the first vice president of a government backed by the United States and Europe — a heartbeat away from replacing President Ashraf Ghani.
This is the reality of the nation that Niloofar Rahmani will be returning to if her request for asylum is denied. Their government and particularly their military remain mired in ancient, repressive culture, where pedophilia is openly embraced by military commanders and women are killed as punishment for being raped. Getting out of line and above your station – particularly for women – can be a death sentence. And to repeat the point, it’s not just the Taliban doing all of this.
I don’t know whether the final decision on this request will be handled by the Obama administration or Trump, but if we really honor the contributions of Ms. Rahmani as much as we claim to, her request should be approved. If we send her back there and she winds up dead, the blame won’t be placed entirely on people in Afghanistan.