Afghan Defense Ministry: Asylum seeking pilot’s betrayal has shamed her country

This 2015 file photograph shows Afghanistan's first female pilot Niloofar Rahmani sitting in a fixed-wing Afghan Air Force aviator aircraft at an airfield in Kabul.

The decision made by the first female pilot in Afghan Air Force (AAF) to seek Asylum in the United States over fears for her safety in Afghanistan is being viewed as an embarrassment by her county’s leaders.

25-year-old  said she hopes to start a new life in the U.S. because “her life would be in danger if she returns home.”

She has spent the last fifteen months in Little Rock, Arkansas training to be a C-130 transport pilot with the U.S. Air Force at Little Rock Air Force base.

“What she said in the US was irresponsible and unexpected. She was meant to be a role model for other young Afghans,” Defence Ministry spokesman Mohammad Radmanesh told AFP Monday.

“She has betrayed her country. It is a shame,” he said.

Rahmani became a symbol of hope for millions of Afghan women when she surfaced in the press in 2013 after becoming Afghanistan’s first woman pilot since the Taliban era, dressed in tan combat boots, khaki overalls and aviator glasses.

The once-unimaginable feat won her the US State Department’s “Women of Courage Award” last year.

With her fame came death threats from insurgents.  She also routinely faced contempt from her male colleagues in a conservative nation where many still believe that a woman does not belong outside the home.

In an interview with AFP in Kabul last year, Rahmani said she always carried a pistol for her protection and though she has grown accustomed to the ogling eyes of men, she never left her airbase in uniform, lest it make her a target.

Rahmani’s lawyer Kimberly Motley said her decision to seek asylum in the US had been a “heartbreakingly difficult decision”.  “Niloofar and her family have received vicious threats which have unfortunately confirmed that her safety is at significant risk if she were to come back to Afghanistan,” Motley told AFP.  “The real betrayal to Afghanistan is against those who threaten her life, her family’s life, and also to those who continue to oppress women,” she said.

Ironically, some of the most virulent criticism over her decision has come from women, according to Dar Al Sharq Press.

“Dear Niloofar, do you think your problems are bigger than that of millions of other Afghan women?” photojournalist Maryam Khamoshwrote on Facebook. “I sometimes wish I were Niloofar and could soar in the sky and bomb the enemies of my people. But you, Niloofar, who touched the skies from the ashes of our land have shamed our flag.”

An Afghan man came to her defense on Facebook, saying “When someone like Zardad (the warlord recently deported back to Afghanistan from Britain after release from prison)  can roam freely in Kabul then Niloofar has the right to not come back.”

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