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Training to be Pakistan’s first female bomb disposal officer


NOWSHERA: Decked out in her hefty gear, Rafia Qaseem Baig is carrying more than just a bombproof vest on her young, ambitious shoulders. At 29, she is on her way to becoming Pakistan’s first bomb disposal officer.

She was the only woman among 31 police officials selected for an elementary course, the Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD), in Nowshera — a programme centred on handling and defusing explosives.

During the two-week course, the trainees will learn all about explosives and the mechanism behind defusing them.

“I am extremely happy to be part of the training,” she told DawnNews, adding that her eyes were on a long-term goal — to serve the country by saving precious lives.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Bomb Disposal Unit (BDU) has defused over 6,000 bombs since 2009. The bomb disposal officers have an extremely tricky job on their hands. A minor error can be fatal.

Zahid, a bomb disposal officer, recalled a nightmarish experience of Oct 25: “As I was defusing a bomb by placing a stick close to it, someone from the crowd pressed the button to trigger the explosives.” Luckily, Zahid escaped unhurt.

A constable of KP police, Rafia has not one, but two Masters degrees — in economics and international relations. Currently, she is enrolled in a Bachelors of Law programme.

“There are plenty of jobs out there, but this one requires a special kind of courage,” she said, stressing that her faith in Allah is central to her career choice.

“Women are playing a role in every field, including air force, army, police and administration. Then why not in the Bomb Disposal Unit,” she wondered. But she is realistic enough to admit that “it’s a challenging job”.

Embedded in Rafia’s pursuit to be a BDU officer is a message to militants.

“I am not only representing women or the police force. I am representing the Pakistani nation,” she proudly said. Rafia is happy to have opened up a new door for Pakistani women to serve the country.

“I never imagined that I was going to end up making history on such a scale,” she said.

Filled with pride, SP Niaz, the principal of the school, feels that Rafia’s presence at the academy is going to encourage the police force to perform to the best of its abilities.

“Defusing a bomb is not a difficult job, but it needs courage,” he said.

“We are looking next at getting a whole batch of women trainees at the bomb disposal academy,” added the SP.

Rafia, too, gave out a message to her female colleagues: “Come and be a part of the Bomb Disposal Unit.”

Rafia’s instructor, inspector Shafiq, has only positive things to say about his first female student. “She is talented, bold and hard-working,” he remarked, adding that her ability to learn new skills was sharp and her passion for the job commendable.

Rafia was inducted into the police force seven years ago as a constable — a time when terrorism was at its peak in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The people in KP and the tribal areas often find themselves caught in the crossfire between militants and the security forces. Bombs targeting civilians have been a regular feature in this conflict.

Bomb disposal units have played a vital role in nullifying terror attacks in the province. On Sept 23, a three-kilogram bomb was defused at Peshawar’s crowded Bacha Khan square.