Defusing bombs is considered one of the most perilous jobs in the world, which is not really sought after for it requires absolute courage, resolute determination and nerves of steel.
Pakistani women, however, are defying all stereotypes and gender roles, by working at the forefront of various fields, including handling explosives and defusing bombs.
Hailing from Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, which is otherwise known for being strict toward women, three Pakistani sisters are transforming the culture by working as elite commandos in the Bomb Disposal Squad (BDS).
The three sisters — Pari Gul, Samina and Rukhsana — are among 24 Elite Commandos, including 11 women, who trained at Nowshera’s Police School of Explosive Handling in February 2017.
The commando training for the female workforce started at the Police School after Rafia Qaseem Baig became Pakistan’s first woman to join the bomb disposal unit in 2016.
The three sisters had already been serving the country as elite commandos for the past five years, taking part in different search and anti-militant operations.
The brave young sisters, who received training in heavy weapons, protective gear, explosive handling and physical combat, say they are committed to eliminating terrorism which has claimed lives of thousands of Pakistanis.
“It is an honour to be part of the force that is out to save the motherland and peoples’ lives,” says Pari Gul, an explosives specialist.
‘Not only a man’s job’
Bombs and explosives never frightened Pari who likes to take on challenges. Seeing police patrols while walking to school was when she first dreamed of becoming a policewoman.
The other sister, Rukhsana specialises in defusing concealed explosives. With her hard work, Rukhsana aims to “give a message to girls that it is not only a man’s job”, saying women “can defuse bombs and save our people.” She hopes the women commandos will inspire other women to join the force.
Samina’s first purpose to join the force was to help support her family, but now it has become her passion to serve the people. “It is our mission to fight the terrorists and save our countrymen,” she said. “I am not afraid; one has to die one day. It would be an honour to die with my boots on” the passionate commando says.
The girls have completed multiple courses in Civil Defence and Investigation, other than BDS basic and advance courses. In coming months, they will get specialised training in defusing “toy bombs” (explosives made to look like toys), suicide vests and booby traps.
Samina joined the police force in 2009 whereas Pari Gul and Rukhsana entered service in 2011. All three say they are very satisfied with the job.
Describing harsh days of commando training in the field, Rukhsana told how they had to bear various challenges including hunger, thirst, summer heat and winter cold waves, during their training.
“You become an elite commando only after going through the hardest training of seven months,” she says. “We worked hard and succeeded. All three of us also completed BDS training course and we performed the duty of bomb defusing by risking our lives many times.”
Recalling a frightening encounter with a terrorist in Hangu, Pari said, “We were on a hunt for militants who were hiding in a house when I saw a ‘veiled woman’ inside, who was actually the militant [in disguise]. When I entered the house, he pointed his gun at me but I was quick to overcome him and the police shot all of them down.”
What motivated these Pakistani sisters to pursue a precarious profession was their challenging childhood.
They are originally from Badin Khel, a small village in Karak district in the KP province. Their father, Nooran Shah, was born with a disability, while their mother is a housewife. The family comprises nine sisters and one brother. The commando sisters draw their inspiration from their father, Shah, who worked as a labourer in a coal mine.
He was financially unstable but still worked hard to educate all his children, defying pressure from relatives and society.
“He worked day and night to provide us with the best in life,” the sisters said in an interview with local media.