Opinion: Between idealism and reality | Opinion | DW | 28.12.2016
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Opinion: Between idealism and reality

Afghanistan's female fighter pilot Niloofar Rahmani's request for asylum in the US has caused huge controversy in her country. She has retracted her statement, but DW's Florian Weigand says the damage has been done.

Niloofar Rahmani, Afghanistan's only female fighter pilot, recently said in an interview with a US TV channel that she had been threatened by the Taliban and even by her own family because of her military career. She said that she was requesting asylum in the US due to the worsening security situation in her country.

The 25-year-old Rahmani was portrayed by the media as a female role model for Afghanistan. She represented the image of a modern Afghan woman who defied all odds to become a fighter pilot in a country where women are mostly confined to their homes. She was even invited to the White House and received the US State Department's "Women of Courage Award" from the First Lady.

Weigand Florian Kommentarbild App

DW's Florian Weigand

But her request for asylum shows the dichotomy between reality and idealism. Afghanistan received massive aid from the West after the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001. International donors and development agencies focused on women's empowerment projects to bring Afghan women into the mainstream. But most projects didn't take into account the realities of patriarchal Afghan society.

Now it's unfortunate how this reality has been exposed by someone who was considered a symbol of female empowerment in Afghanistan. By applying for political asylum in the US, Rahmani has highlighted a painful truth: the morale of the Afghan army is dwindling.

It is not the first time that Afghan soldiers who went abroad to receive training refused to return to their country. So far, 45 Afghan marines have disappeared from foreign training programs. In 2014, an Afghan officer who was supposed to attend a NATO summit in Wales applied for an asylum soon after his arrival.

One should feel a little sorry for Rahmani though. If she is counting on public support in the US, she is likely to be disappointed. Her value as an Afghan role model has slumped. If a fighter pilot, a global icon, doesn't want to fight Islamists anymore, it certainly shatters the entire image built around her. And then how can anyone justify the deployment of US troops in Afghanistan? How should American soldiers be treated if they choose to run away from the enemy?

Now Rahmani says it was all a misunderstanding and that she wants to continue to serve her country. The Afghan Defense Ministry has commended her decision to continue to work in the Afghan army, but at the same time Rahmani's lawyer says her client is still applying for asylum.

If Rahmani chooses to return to Afghanistan, she will be in bigger danger now. From the Afghans' point of view, she has humiliated the Afghan military and has brought shame on her family.

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