26-year-old Ayesha Farooq is Pakistan's first female fighter jet pilot. In an interview with DW, she tells how difficult it was to achieve this milestone in a male-dominated profession.
DW: What inspired you to choose a profession, which is generally considered a male domain?
Ayesha Farooq: As a kid, I loved the military uniform. That was one of my initial inspirations. Years later, that inspiration became a reality when I got the opportunity to join the air force.
Was it difficult to realize the dream?
It was not easy for me. I think the first step is always the most difficult one. I found opposition at home. Then I had to work harder because of my gender. For example, when I joined the air force, I had to prove to my male colleagues that I also knew about ammunition and aircrafts. When you are the only female in a male-dominated profession, all eyes are on you.
Everybody thinks you wouldn't be able to do it. But I knew what struggle meant. My father passed away when I was only three years old. My mother raised us in a very competitive environment. But it does not mean that I was discouraged by my colleagues and seniors at the air force. They encouraged me on every step of the way. Pakistan's Air Force is a great institution. It never made me feel that I was inferior because I was a woman. Everything was decided on merit.
How rigorous was the military training?
It was very hard. Initially, a couple of people thought I would not be able to do what it took to be a fighter jet pilot. In fact, the opposition of those people made me even more determined. Fighter jet pilots have to go through a lot of hardship. It is not a desk job. We wake up at four in the morning, and sometimes we go to bed around midnight. Then there are night-flying schedules as well. Even when we are off, we do physical exercises and play mind games to keep ourselves alert.
How was the experience of your first solo flight?
It was the most memorable moment of my life. It was indeed a dream come true. It is not easy to describe what I felt at that moment; the feeling that I was flying the jet by myself and that it was under my control.
Are there more Pakistani girls like you who are willing to join the air force?
I receive ten to twelve calls a day from young girls inquiring about the procedure to join the air force. I feel even happier when the girls' parents call me and say that they want their daughters to become a fighter jet pilot.
Interview conducted by Imtiaz Ahmed.