Kabul: Firoza, a woman commonly known as Hajani, is an Afghan Local Police (ALP) commander in Sistani, a small town on the outskirts of Marjah, a district once considered a Taliban stronghold in southern Helmand province, has been fighting against Taliban for years.
People of her locality call her Hajani to show her respect but like many Afghans she goes by one name.
In Pashtun society, people call elderly women Hajani, a word for women who have performed Hajj (pilgrimage) to Makkah and Madina.
She didn’t know exactly about her age because the people of her locality didn’t have record of their age. She thinks she is about 55 years old.
Firoza is of medium build and often wears a black shawl. She has piercing eyes and a steely voice, and slings an automatic assault rifle over a shoulder before striding off, walking ahead of a group of male colleagues.
“Almost four years back, I joined the ranks of the Afghan Local Police (ALP) – an ill-equipped anti-militant force that hardly withstand insurgents’ onslaught. I was forced to take up arms against the Taliban because they used to torch homes, schools, health centres and extort money and food from locals,” she told News Lens Pakistan.
Firoza’s two sons who were serving in the ALP were killed in a Taliban attack in 2012. “Since then, I pledged to myself to carry forward the noble cause of my sons. I will stand firm to defend my area and people,” she said.
She lost 25 of her people in the fight against rebels. “I’ve been serving in the ALP for the last four years without getting any remuneration or other perks. I’ve a number of fighters under my command,” she added.
Afghanistan is widely regarded as a dangerous country specifically for women but still the country has 1,531 women in the Afghan National Police (ANP). It noted that the ALP force was established back in 2010, which is village-focused and has defence purposes only.
She said that she direly needed weapons, vehicles and other kinds of assistance to fight back militants. “I’ve my sister-in-laws and nieces and nephews armed. I’m leading an unbelievably tough life and I’ve even armed my 12 year old grandson. I taught him how to fight.”
How female could get education at a time when Taliban don’t allow male to get educated. She wanted women to get themselves equipped with modern education to serve their nation and country.
The saga of terrorism continued to plague Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan where women and children suffered the most, security experts say.
“Hajani has been playing a decisive and matchless role against growing insurgency and the woman is widely appreciated here in Afghanistan,” Painda Hikmat, an Afghanistan based freelance journalist told News Lens Pakistan.
She is the only known example among women fighting openly on the ground in a very dangerous part of the country, Hikmat added.
An official at the Ministry of Interior (MoI) requesting for anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to media said there is no recorded example of harassment of women working in the security forces.
She has informers among Taliban’s ranks and the militants have their men among the villagers, she said, adding when militants plan to storm her village her men convey her message in advance about the looming onslaught.
“We then take positions in our trenches. My men had about a dozen time offered stout resistance to attacks by rebels. Taliban never succeeded to enter Sistani and we have inflicted heavy casualties on them almost in every engagement,” she recalled.
She led several expeditions against Taliban and the militants know her well and send her threatening messages to quit her struggle against them.
She said Taliban would even torch her body if they captured her. She was fighting with her head in her hands, she, said, adding that she would never surrender to them. “I only have two options: I’ll either die fighting them or will give peace to my people,” she pledged.
Her men spend their times in trenches, turn by turn at night. The aim of her entire family, she said was to fight “these buggers and her last grandson or granddaughter would carry on this noble cause.”
She lamented she had no reinforcements or assistance from the government because the government itself was in trouble from militants.
She said that the people of her village were happy with her role and the villagers spend peaceful nights because “I spend sleepless nights guarding them.
Most of her near and dear ones have been asking her to shun fight against Taliban. “I could not sleep well in the night. I sleep with my loaded gun,” she added.
She said that now there were rumors of Daesh (ISIS) to replace Taliban. She said that she neither accept Taliban nor Daesh. They are two sides of the same coin, she, said, pledging to carry on fighting against both.
“I really regret the departure of NATO/ISAF forces. The withdrawal of foreign forces created a big security vacuum,” she recalled.
She said though she never fought alongside foreign forces but their presence was a source of strength and security for them.
They have helped trained Afghan forces well. She recalled she fought alongside Afghan forces against the Taliban. Together they pushed back the Taliban several times and made them on the run.
“I demand Afghan government to better equip and arm us so we can fight back militants efficiently. I am patrolling from morning to evening to keep rebels at bay from my village,” she said.
At the end, she demanded the Afghan government to release two of her sons who are in detention for the last four years.
Firoza’s sons were blamed to be directly involved in the killing of their brother-in-law but they have not been sentenced by any court till date.
However, she vehemently denied her two sons involved in the killings.
Hikmat said that Firoza was really a source of encouragement and strength for all Afghans. “The government should support people like Firoza to ensure peace in remote areas, which are under militants’ sway,” he added.
“I neither have money nor enough influence to get my detained sons released but I demand President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani to look into their case on compassionate grounds and set them free,” she added.
The Small War Journal and Institute for the Study of War report that in 2010, during a military Operation ‘Moshtarak’ led by US forces in Marjah district in which 15,000- security forces backed by air power captured the Marjah district where they formed the ALP to sustain peace and stability in the area.
It estimated the total population of the dusty Sistani locality ranging from 50,000 to 80,000 people.
Recently, Interior Minister Noor-ul-Haq Ulumi traveled to the province and awarded Firoza a medal for bravery.
However, when contacted, the Ministry of Interior’s spokesman didn’t return call despite repeated attempts.
Fida Mohammad, 38, is an immediate subordinate and has all praise for his boss who he said was a “constant source of consolation and morale booster for them.”