Afghanistan’s first female fixed wing pilot in the country’s air force awaits a response to her asylum request to the United States, which she filed last month after receiving threats from Taliban insurgents, according to her lawyer.
“Her reason for seeking asylum in the United States is she’s in fear that if she were to go back to Afghanistan that she would be persecuted,” Kimberley Motley told VOA’s Afghan Service. “She has a tremendous amount of worry about the Taliban insurgents who have put out death threats against her and, frankly, now she’s concerned with the government who has also issued a statement through the ministry of defense that if she is to return, she will be prosecuted for desertion.”
Niloofar Rahmani, 25, says she has received threats telling her to leave the military from the same insurgent faction that attempted to assassinate Malala Yousefzai in Pakistan.
Since she has filed for asylum in the United States — a move criticized by many Afghans — the Afghan ministry of defense has released a statement saying that there are no threats against Rahmani.
“I’m very disappointed,” Motley said. “I know Niloofar is, as well, at the very visceral, negative response that she has received from many people within Afghanistan about her decision to protect her life and to protect herself. She’s been ridiculed in Afghanistan; she’s been threatened by Afghan governmental officials, and many people are just frankly attacking her character and saying she straight-out lied.”
Motley said the accusations are criminal, because defamation is illegal in Afghanistan.
But the public response to her claim has largely aligned with that of the government. Rahmani gained popularity when she first enlisted in 2013, providing hope for women throughout the country who wish to break into careers usually reserved for men. But since filing her claim after completing an 18-month training program in the United States, many social media users said she wasted Afghan money and deserves to be charged with desertion.
The Afghan military also has criticized her decision, saying that any military officer should understand and accept the risks that come with the job, and that the threat to women is no greater than the threat to men.
“When an officer complains of insecurity and is afraid of security threats, then what should ordinary people do?” said Mohammad Radmanish, deputy spokesperson for the ministry of defense. “She has made an excuse for herself, but we have hundreds of educated women and female civil right activists who work and it is safe for them.”
Rahmani was a recipient of the U.S. State Department’s “Women of Courage” award in 2015.
Najiba Khalil from VOA’s Afghan Service contributed to this report.