Death threats force Afghanistan's first female Air Force pilot to quit

Niloofar Rahmani, Afghanistan's first female Air Force pilot, says she's being forced to quit because of threats against her and her family. And not just from the Taliban, but from some of her own relatives.
In a picture taken on April 26, 2015, Afghanistan's first female pilot Niloofar Rahmani, 23, sits in a fixed-wing Afghan Air Force aviator aircraft in Kabul. Afghanistan's first female pilot since the ouster of the Taliban is defying death threats and archaic gender stereotypes to infiltrate an almost entirely male preserve. (SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images)
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Niloofar Rahmani always dreamed of flying a plane. At 21-years-old, she became Afghanistan's first female Air Force pilot. She was celebrated inside her country and around the world. But now her dream is in jeopardy after threats from the Taliban -- and from her own extended family.     

"I started doing this job because of...serving my country...but, unfortunately, now my situation and my family's situation is, if I want to stay and if I don't quit, these people will kill some members of my family," Rahmani tells As It Happens guest host Peter Armstrong.

Rahmani expected a backlash, but lately the threats have become extreme -- and too close to home. She explains that her relatives "think I brought shame for the family, because they think I'm not a Muslim anymore."

To have her own family turn on her has been difficult. "Sometimes I was thinking if there was only the Taliban or people in this society it would be a little easier...but, unfortunately, extended family, you can't get rid of them...they know everything."

Captain Niloofar Rahmani, of the Afghan Air Force, is recognized for her exceptional courage and leadership in advocating for human rights, womens equality, and social progress at the 2015 International Women of Courage Award at the Department of State in Washington, D.C., USA on March 6, 2015. (Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

But family is also one of the reasons Rahmani decided to become a pilot.

"[My father] really wanted to be a pilot, but...he was from a poor family and no one supported him...when I grew up I decided to complete his dream."

In addition to fulfilling her father's dream, she hoped to change people's attitudes about women in her country.

Despite the severity of the threats, the Afghan Air Force has been little help.

"They just told me, "This was your decision. We never forced you to come,'" she says. "This was the very painful thing...if I had their support, maybe I would fight with all these people."

But even the lack of support has not deterred Rahmani. She is planning on temporarily relocating to the United States to begin military training. She hopes this will take the pressure off her family, but that other Afghan women will not be discouraged by her decision to leave.

"They should all stick together because, by one person, they will not get change," she says. "I just hope they will have an easy life...not the way I am dealing with it right now."