‘Don’t believe’ Taliban propaganda on women’s rights, first female Afghan air force pilot says

‘The world will be the witness of the Taliban. They are going to stone a woman in a Kabul stadium again for nothing,’ Niloofar Rahmani says

Gustaf Kilander
Washington, DC
Thursday 19 August 2021 10:42 BST
‘Don’t believe’ Taliban about women’s rights, says female Afghan Air Force pilot
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The first female pilot in the Afghan air force has warned others not to believe Taliban propaganda on women’s rights.

Speaking to Fox News, Niloofar Rahmani said the Taliban will “hurt women the most”.

Afghanistan's first female pilot, Niloofar Rahmani
Afghanistan's first female pilot, Niloofar Rahmani (Getty Images)

“Unfortunately, my family is still there. And since I have heard what happened in Afghanistan, I cannot sleep, I cannot get my mind together, I am so in fear for their security. And, of course, it hasn’t been only about me,” she added.

The 29-year-old said her “family and parents are in danger,” adding that her parents have previously been “targeted by the Taliban” because of their support for their daughter’s career.

The resurgence of the Taliban amid the US withdrawal of its military presence has prompted widespread fear and worry among Afghans in general, but for women and girls in particular as the extremist group works to severely curtail women’s rights, including access to education and employment.

Despite a history of oppression, Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban’s longtime spokesman, said on Tuesday that the Taliban would honour women’s rights within the norms of Islamic law, without elaborating on what that would mean in practice.

The Taliban have encouraged women to return to work and have allowed girls to return to school, handing out Islamic headscarves at the door. A female news anchor interviewed a Taliban official on Afghan TV on Monday.

The treatment of women varies widely across the Muslim world and sometimes even within the same country, with rural areas tending to be far more conservative. Some Muslim countries, including neighbouring Pakistan, have had female prime ministers, while ultraconservative Saudi Arabia only recently allowed women to drive.

Ms Rahmani managed to leave Afghanistan for India in 2015 and was granted asylum to the US in 2018. She rose to prominence as the country’s first female air force pilot after the Taliban lost power as the US entered the country in 2001 on the hunt for terrorists following the 9/11 attacks. Her parents and sister are still in Kabul.

She said the Taliban have been sending her “death threats since 2013,” adding that she does not believe the Taliban’s claims that they will respect the rights of women and girls.

“The world will be the witness of the Taliban. They are going to stone a woman in a Kabul stadium again for nothing,” she said.

On the same day that Mr Mujahid said the Taliban would honour women’s rights, Taliban fighters shot and killed a woman in Takhar province after she didn’t wear a burqa in public.

Mr Mujahid also said the Taliban would offer blanket amnesty to Afghans who worked with the fallen US-supported Afghan government, an offer that was met with widespread scepticism. Both US and UK officials have said that the Taliban will be judged on their actions and not on their words.

“We never thought the situation and the stories back in Afghanistan was going to repeat again like it’s going to repeat now,” Ms Rhamani told Fox 13 Tampa Bay.

“The Taliban started threatening me and my family by saying I’m not a good Muslim woman, I have abandoned my Muslim culture and I deserve to be honour-killed.”

“They said my family brought shame to them,” she said. “We would relocate two, sometimes three times per month. The government never supported me in this. The Air Force told me they never forced me to be there, and I could leave ... if I wanted.”

“My brother was shot by the Taliban twice because he was my support, he had been helping me get from one side of Kabul to the other just to go to work.”

She told the local TV station that she spoke to her father this weekend.

“My dad is a very strong man,” she said, becoming emotional. “So he’s trying to tell me everything is fine. But that’s not the case.”

She’s working on becoming a US citizen, hoping to some time join the US military.

“All of a sudden, they’re seeing these evils in the city,” she said about the young girls experiencing Taliban rule for the first time. “And they’re just waiting for America to evacuate completely, and then they’ll know that Afghanistan is completely under their control and they’ll start the violence and laws, and it’ll be the same laws they had 20 years ago, maybe even stronger.”

She watched the chaotic scenes from the Kabul airport in horror, with desperate Afghans hanging on to the outside of US military planes as they took off.

“No human being would do that unless they thought it was worth risking their life over being in Afghanistan,” she said. “Because most of them lived under the Taliban regime beforehand. They are so afraid, that they’re ready to die just hanging on the aeroplane instead of living under that government.”

“This is a war against women, not against men,” she told Fox News. “I am just so much in fear for my family that I do not want to put them at risk for what I have done for my country.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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