19 Afghan women officers undergo special training at OTA Chennai

Zuhra (second from left) with her translator (right to Zuhra) and her colleagues.

Chennai: The sun was beating down as usual in Chennai and sweat trickled down twenty-year-old Zuhra Nabizada’s face. Ignoring the heat, she held her breath and pulled the trigger of a 5.5 calibre Insas Light Machine gun. The bullets found their target almost a 100 feet away.

The venue was Officers Training Academy (OTA) in Chennai today and the protagonists of this article are 19 young women officers, including Zuhra Nabizada, from the Afghan Defence forces, here for four weeks of military training. Colonel Ashish Mishra, the officer-in-charge of the activities, said it was for the second year in a row that the OTA is playing host to women cadets from Afghanistan.

One of the major differences this year was that most of the officers were relatively young, falling within the service bracket of two to three years. They mostly spoke only their native languages – Dari and Pashto – and two special officers from the Indian Army’s Education Corps were present to help with the translation. Colonel Mishra assured that they were the best of the best among the young crop selected by Afghanistan to get trained in India.

Second Lieutenant from Afghan Army, Zuhra Nabizada, was identified as one of the best among the lot. The trainee pilot is a graduate of the Afghan Air Force University and is one among the very few women in the Afghan Air Force. It was her first time in Chennai and her second stint in India. The young cadet came to Dehradun in 2014 representing the Afghanistan National Taekwondo team.

Speaking to News Today, Zuhra said, “From a very young age I wanted to take to the skies. I am the fifth daughter in my family and I have always dreamed of becoming a fighter pilot.”

On her experience in OTA, Zuhra said, “Our training began on 26 November. It includes weapons, tactical and physical training apart from the usual army drills. We will handle machine guns, rifles, hand grenades and also undergo technology training, communications and human resource training.”

When asked about the most challenging part of her training, she replied laughing that it was the Chennai heat. Coming from Afghanistan, where temperatures hover around 10-15 degree Celsius, it was quite understandable. Zuhra said, “Learning jungle warfare, urban warfare, negotiating hostiles in an urban city environment amidst buildings were among the things that I had a keen interest in.”

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We are all looking to make maximum use of the short duration of the stay here and learn as much as we can. We want to share what we learn here with all the women cadets of Afghanistan. I want to see more women in the Afghan army,” she added.

OTA, Chennai, is the only place in India where women cadets are trained. Col Ashish Mishra said the training of Afghan women cadets reinforces OTA’s emergence as a centre of excellence for training Army officers not just in India but also the world.

A Harsha Vardhan