RISALPUR, March 30: Pakistan Air Force on Thursday welcomed the first four women pilots into its cadre with ceremonial pomp and aerial acrobatics at a grand parade watched by the Vice-Chief of Army Staff.

Saba Khan, Nadia Gul, Mariam Khalil and Saira Batool were among 36 aviation cadets who received their wings after three and a half years of intensive training, breaking into an all-male bastion of Pakistan’s armed forces.

“I want to fly fighter jets and prove that girls can equally serve our country in the best possible manner as men are doing,” Flying Officer Gul, 22, said after graduating from the air force’s elite training academy in Risalpur.

Vice-Chief of Army Staff Gen Ahsan Saleem Hyat said the four had “shown the spirit and courage to rise above the ordinary and break new ground for others to emulate.”

“If Pakistan is to rise to the height that it deserves ... both men and women of our beloved land must find equal space and opportunity,” he said.

Carrying rifles and dressed in the same blue uniform as their male colleagues — except for a kameez over their navy blue trousers, and one wearing a headscarf — they paraded before family members and diplomats, and took the military oath.

Two other women — along with nine male cadets — dropped out of the same training course because of air sickness and slow progress. They now work in ground branches of the air force.

The four women are the first women pilots in the 58-year-history of the Pakistan air force. They trained in MFI-17 Super Mushfhak and T-37 jets, and depending on their abilities and the needs of the air force could go on to fly fighter jets.

Three more women are due to get their wings in October, but the air force will see how they perform before deciding whether to induct more women trainees, said Air Cmdr Abid Khwaja, chief of the flight training college.

About 5 percent of Pakistan’s air force officers are women, mostly serving in areas like engineering, medicine, air traffic control and administration.—AP

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