By Chris Hughes, Daily Mirror 24/11/2011

Two Taliban said they'd kill me for being a police woman.. We moved that day but our landlord was beheaded

Aziza Tajika (Pic: Daily Mirror)

Aziza Tajika (Pic: Daily Mirror)

Her beat is one of the most dangerous in the world – suicide bombings and fierce firefights with the Taliban a daily hazard.

But it takes a lot to scare Aziza Tajika. The 23-year-old Afghan is already living under a death sentence just for choosing to be a police officer.

Cradling her AK47, Aziza admits she knew the risks, having married an Afghan cop when she was 13.

But she only really became aware of the full horror when her landlord was beheaded simply for renting a room to her family.

Today, the mother-of- two – who is wearing sunglasses to disguise her identity – smiles nervously as if embarrassed by the chilling story she has to tell.

Aziza says: “Two Taliban stopped me in the street and said they know I am a police officer and they will kill me. There was nobody in the street so I screamed and screamed. I threw stones at them and went home and told my husband.

“We moved house that very day. The Taliban came to our old house at night. They killed the landlord quietly and when the four guests woke in the morning they found his body downstairs. He was on the floor.

“He had been beheaded because he had given us a home.”

She shrugs, then adds: “That will not stop me being a police officer, but I worry they will kill my children.

“My husband and I have nobody to look after them when we are at work.

“This is a difficult job but I want to help Afghanistan.”

Born in Herat, the country’s third largest city, Aziza is one of just 24 policewomen in Helmand among 7,300 male officers. That means just 0.32% are women – compared with 31.5% in England and Wales. Yet female cops are essential as only they can search other women for suicide bombs.

The Taliban has sent hundreds of female suicide bombers on to the streets of Afghanistan, knowing that male officers will not search them.

But it means the women who sign up to the Afghan Uniformed Police are targets for Taliban violence.

Zakia Kaker (Pic: Daily Mirror)

Zakia Kaker

Corporal Zakia Kaker was visited by the Taliban. They battered her with rifle butts and left her for dead for refusing to stop being in the AUP.

The 40-year-old mum-of-three spent two months in hospital recovering. Several years later she still bears the scars of that vicious attack. We catch up with her at Helmand’s police HQ, just off Lashkar Gah’s dusty highway.

With tears in her eyes Zakia recalls: “They smashed me in the head with rifles. One hit me above the eye until I was unconscious. If I have to I will have no problem killing them.”

Sadly, her story is not unique. Two months ago mum-of-six Corporal Qandi Ghul, 35, was knocked out by a bomb which killed 25 and injured 18. She still has nightmares about the body parts and screaming injured. Qandi says: “There was a huge bang – then I woke up. I hate myself some times because I survived.

“I remember what I saw that day and it makes me sleep badly. But, of course, I helped the injured and picked up bits from the bodies.”

Jamilla Haqboot (Pic: Daily Mirror)

Jamilla Haqboot

Violence is never far away in this war-torn country. Recently two cops died and a dozen were injured in a bomb blast just 300 metres away from the Lashkar Gah police HQ.

In the past six months 100 male Afghan officers have died in Helmand – 35 were killed in just two weeks.

Working throughout the province, our MoD Police have been teaching Afghan officers how to investigate and deal with crimes. Police here can earn £90 a month when the average wage for a man in Afghanistan is £20 a month.

There are no figures available for a woman’s average wage. However the Taliban diktat that women only work in the home is slowly being eroded.

The continued steady progress of training officers in the AUP will enable British combat troops to safely leave Helmand by 2015, as promised.

Our soldiers have been in Afghanistan since the 9/11 attacks and 8,500 of our troops are still here – most of them in Helmand Province.

But local security forces are gradually taking over. In Lashkar Gah they police the streets and in the economic hub of Gereshk they will take over responsibility in a few months’ time. At Lashkar Gah HQ, MoD Police Constable Mel Hooper, 29, is mentoring women in police work. Since our visit she has returned to the UK, her job handed to a fellow Brit.

Mel, 29, says: “There is progress here but not in the way we would see it.

“These women are incredibly brave and I have had great satisfaction mentoring them.

“The laws of Helmand can be harsh and policing has to be adapted. A runaway woman can be a fugitive who has caused offence by leaving her husband, but she is also someone who needs looking after. A woman running away from home might be given a cell as refuge but she might be detained as well. Things are different here.”

In the capital of Kabul, male and female senior officers alike are trained at the Police Staff College.

Here officers from all 34 of Afghanistan’s provinces learn leadership and communications skills from British police. There are 117,000 Afghan police – just 1,200 are women.

At the Police Staff College mum-of-four Lieutenant Lasifa Jahan tells us she lost her officer husband Miragha four months ago. Lasifa, 30, says: “He was blown up by the Taliban when he was driving his vehicle outside Kabul.

“This devastated us, his whole family. But I will not give up this job. After he was killed they brought his body to our house and I saw him for the last time.

“My oldest son is 16 and he had to give up his schooling to work with a local carpenter as we needed the money.

“But I want to serve Afghanistan. Women are needed to serve as police officers so they are just as important as men. We must beat the Taliban.”

Major Zakia Noori, 37, heads a Criminal Investigations Division office looking into “sensitive crimes” including the rape of children. She knows of 150 rapists who have been jailed for up to 15 years – many of them for forcing sex on young boys.

Zakia says: “Young girls and boys sometimes hang themselves. It is my job to investigate whether it was suicide, or were they killed. When we examine their bodies we find some of them have been abused. We have found the boys hanging from trees – it is desperately sad.

“A woman can get access to information from the woman of the house better than a male police officer.”

Officer Jamilla Haqboot, 24, lost her friend, a fellow officer, just weeks ago.

She says: “I offered him my gun and he refused it. He was going to investigate an attack and was killed by the Taliban......






By Lianne Gutcher, Special for USA TODAY - 19 September 2011


Policewomen during graduation at Kabul Police Academy. Less than 1% — 1,150 officers — are women. The Ministry of Interior wants to see 5,000 policewomen by 2014.

QALAT, Afghanistan – Asked about the rigors of being a female cop in this sparsely populated Afghan province, Fatima Tajik is blunt.

"We want to leave our jobs," Tajik tells her NATO mentor, U.S. Army Maj. Maria Rodriguez. "We are risking our lives for little money: $220 per month. We also have families to take care of. All the women in Zabul hate us. Everyone hates us."

The women in this town where strict Islamic customs pervade all aspects of daily life call the policewomen "whores" for working alongside Americans and men to whom they are not married, she says. The women get phone calls telling them they will be beheaded if they don't quit the force.

Rodriguez, Female Engagement Team leader and provost marshal of the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, acknowledges the death threats and that a bomb had been placed in a teacher's home. But she asks the women to persevere.

"We don't want you to quit," Rodriguez says, promising to talk to her commander about what could be done to help the women feel safer.

The scene reflects the scope of the challenge the Afghan government and NATO forces face here in Zabul province — which abuts the Taliban's traditional homeland of Kandahar province — as they try to modernize daily living and protect Afghans from their former overlords.

The Afghan government and NATO see the female officers corps as crucial to achieving those goals.

There now are about 1,150 women in the Afghan National Police, less than 1% of the force. The Ministry of Interior wants 5,000 police women on the job by 2014.

Women are needed to perform duties that men are forbidden from doing in this tribal society in which ancient Islamic customs were strictly enforced long before radical, militant Taliban clerics took over the country in the 1990s.

For example, policewomen search women at checkpoints and are sent into the female quarters of civilian compounds where insurgents often hide.

To avoid checkpoint searches by male officers, armed male terrorists often cloak themselves in head-to-toe burqas that typically are worn by women.

The Taliban also has used women as suicide bombers. In one case, insurgents handed a bag containing a bomb to an 8-year-old girl and blew her up as she approached a police checkpoint.

"Integrating Afghan women into this (security) process supports our combined efforts to eliminate insurgent activity and eliminate Taliban influence across Afghanistan," says Lt. Col. Wayne Perry, director of media outreach for the International Security Assistance Force, which oversee coalition operations. "These programs, and the woman participating in them, will go a long way in setting the conditions to support the process of transition in Afghanistan."

In the two years ending in December, NATO will spend $20 billion — one-third of Afghanistan's gross domestic product for the same period — training, equipping and developing the Afghan National Security Forces that are supposed to take over for U.S. troops and others by the end of 2014.

Among those forces are the Afghan National Police. It is a notoriously corrupt force, but nonetheless critical to the U.S.-led counterinsurgency strategy, which relies on local police to prevent the Taliban from retaking towns cleared by the military.

That's why retaining women who have stepped forward to become police officers is increasingly important.

After meeting with Rodriguez, the frustrated women police officers, who wear full burqas while on the job in public, decide to stick with the force — for now.

However, many other policewomen have quit under pressures from a community in which fundamental Islam is prevalent.

"If it were true," says Tajik of the slurs against policewomen, "we would have quit, too."

'The police force needs women'

The capital of Zabul province is Qalat, which is Persian for "fortified place."

The city of several thousand people is known for its 19th-century British fortress, and for being among the first places the Taliban resumed power after the 2001 U.S.-led invasion that forced the group from Kabul. The province got its first airstrip only five years ago, and it's unpaved.

The Afghan National Army was largely welcomed by locals when it arrived with U.S. special forces, Romanian troops and civilian engineers.

Since then, the number of roadside bombs has declined and some projects to improve transportation and education are moving forward.

Bibi Khala Girls' School, with places for 1,500 pupils, opened about two years ago, and fertilizer and seed is being handed out to farmers to encourage them to replace the poppy crop that is converted to opium and sold with the help of the Taliban for a cut.

But some things are not changing.

When 30 women here completed a 2½-month police training course, they were lauded by their U.S. mentors for the vital role they were going to play in bringing security to the nation.

Then, almost immediately, more than 20 of the new recruits quit amid rumors that the local police chief was abusing some of the women sexually, according to Fatima Tajik.

"It's lies," says Tajik, who has been a policewoman for three years.

Even the suggestion of impropriety here can damage a woman's honor and bring shame on their families.

In Helmand, the province to the south of Zabul, women face a similar dilemma.

A surge of U.S. Marines in Helmand has forced the insurgents to the outskirts. The 16 women now on the police force are supported by the government — but not always by the community.

"Helmand is very conservative province but people understand that the police force needs women — and not just for ensuring security," says Daud Ahmadi, a spokesman for Provincial Governor Gulab Mangal.

"It is also better for our culture: If women keep joining the police, then other women will take their lead and start filling key roles in other sectors throughout Afghanistan," he says.

"Islam says women are free to work, and it's good for Afghanistan because they can play key role in reconstructing the war-torn country."

Many influential Afghans disagree with Ahmadi's view.

Nabil Muradi, a mullah and tribal elder from Kabul province to the north, says it is wrong for women to join the security services.

"I have heard, and people believe, that (unmarried) men and women in the army and police have sexual relations with each other," he says. "These women become prostitutes. Afghanistan is an Islamic country and we have to follow the laws of Quran not the laws of westerners."

Some provinces are less resistant to the idea, says Canadian Navy Capt. Angus Topshee, director of Afghan National Police instruction centers at the NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan.

"There are lots of variations in attitude to women in the force," Topshee says. "In the Kabul area, there is a lot of receptiveness. But in other parts of the country, it is a complete anathema."

Working in secret

In Zabul's provincial police headquarters, the lack of resources for policewomen and the extent of the community's hostility toward them is clear. The nine women remaining on the provincial force said they have no uniforms and no weapons. They complain about name-calling and slurs for working alongside U.S. troops and men.

Bibi Shireeni Tajak says she will stay on the job despite the risks.

"I was married when I was 11. My husband was 40. I had a baby at 12. I have no education. The Taliban killed two of my brothers by beheading them," she said. "I was stuck at home and I went kind of crazy. I decided to become a policewoman, and I fell in love with the job."

Another policewoman, Bibi Anwara, says her husband divorced her when he learned she had joined the force.

"When I told him I had quit, he remarried me. Now I do the job in secret," she said, proudly producing her police ID card, which she keeps tucked in her bra.

Afghanistan's most senior policewoman, Brigadier Gen. Shafiqa Quraishi, said women will be integral to the future of law enforcement in Afghanistan even though some today are relegated to administrative work and even tea-making.

"There are women in counternarcotics and counterterrorism units, as well as medics and crime-scene investigators," she says, seated at a large desk surrounded by international advisers.

Shafiqa is particularly pleased with the Family Response Unit, which investigates men who abuse their wives and children, and a complaint procedure for women on the force who claim to have been harassed by male co-workers.

"Since Afghanistan is a religious country, most of the men don't want their women to join the police force," she says. "That is why we are focusing our efforts on changing their attitudes so they will let their daughters, mothers and sisters join the police force."

Fawzia Koofi, a member of parliament, agrees: "I know it is not culturally accepted by the people, but our society needs them to make a contribution to improving security."