By Zohra Bensemra
I first came up with the idea of covering Pakistani female pilots after reading an article online that ranked four of them among the country’s 100 most powerful women. But I could not approach any of the 19 female pilots without getting permission from the military, which ended up taking six months. After nearly giving up hope on the story, the spokesman for the air force approved our request with one of the pilots. It turned out to be Ayesha Farooq, the first war-ready female fighter pilot for the nuclear-armed nation.
A month later, the day finally came to meet Farooq. I left Islamabad at 5:30 a.m., impatient to arrive after waiting so long for the approval and anxious to meet her. A few hours later, I arrived at the Mushaf Air Base in Sargodha in northern Pakistan.
They took us first to the historic hall of the air force, where we were offered coffee and tea. But we soon grew impatient, asking “Where is Ayesha? We want to meet her.” Twenty-minutes later, a smiling young woman, veiled in an olive green head scarf that matched her uniform entered the room. I was disappointed to hear that Farooq could not fly for us because of a sprained ankle.
During the interview, I realized that behind her shyness was a strong woman, who had fought hard to achieve her dream of becoming a fighter pilot for her country. She spoke about her struggle to convince her mother to allow her to enroll in the male-dominated armed forces.
As an Algerian that shares a similar culture with Farooq, I was proud of her and her accomplishments. I was glad to hear her simple, humble and confident voice about being the lone combat-ready female fighter pilot.