Explosions and the rat-tat-tat of automatic weapons ring out as commandos clutching rifles dash across the field.
It could be any military training ground in the world — but the fluttering black niqabs covering the fighters’ faces are out of place, especially in this ultra-conservative corner of northwest Pakistan.
The volatile province of Khyber Pakhtunkwha has been wracked by violence — and the recruitment of elite female commandos is the latest push to combat extremism, even if it flies squarely in the face of local tradition.
The idea of women working outside the home — let alone wielding heavy weapons — may seem like a sacrilege to many in the region, but commando trainee Gul Nisa thinks it is all part of God’s plan.
“It is an obligation of every Muslim to protect other Muslims,” the 22-year-old from the restive Tank district told NBC News. “The situation in our country is very bad, that’s why we should all play a role in improving it.”
She and the 34 other women in the program were chosen from local police forces — and when they talk about “protecting” they aren’t messing around.
During their six-month training at the academy located in the isolated district of Nowshera district, the women will learn how to use weapons such as anti-tank and anti-aircraft launchers. They rise at 5 a.m. and train until 11 p.m. — often in temperatures as high as 122 degrees Fahrenheit all while nearly fully covered.
The harsh regimen suits Gul.