It's tough being a cop in Kabul, but being the top female cop is evan harder

The World
Colonel Jamila Bayaaz (L) in her Kabul office. Because as a woman her job is extra dangerous, Bayaaz has been assigned four bodyguards and an armored car. She's been a cop for more than 30 years.

Colonel Jamila Bayaaz, left, stands in her Kabul office. Because, as a woman, her job is extra dangerous, Bayaaz has been assigned four bodyguards and an armored car. She's been a cop for more than 30 years.

Mohammad Ismail/Reuters

There's a new sheriff in town. Kabul, that is.

And she's not phased by the potential dangers of the job.

Though her husband and kids are fairly terrified.

Colonel Jamila Bayaaz will now head up security for one of Kabul's busiest shopping districts.

"I'm not scared," she said in a recent interview. "I'm Muslim and I believe in God. I'm not afraid of enemy."

Tough talk, but not just bluster. Bayaaz has survived more than 30 years on the police force, through a decade-long Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Then civil war. Then the Taliban.  

She stayed home during the Taliban's five-year reign, raising her five children. Now the Taliban have pledged to kill people like Bayaaz.

And they've been fairly successful.

In the southern Helmand province last year, the Taliban killed the most senior female police officer, as well as her successor.

So Bayaaz has been given four bodyguards, twice as many as usual. She's also got an armored car. But Bayaaz said the message her appointment sends is more important than her personal safety.

"I understand the situation. But by assigning me to this post, I hope it will provide a good example. After my appointment, a woman came up to me and hugged me. She gave me her application [for employment with the police] and said, 'I saw you on the TV and decided I really want to join the police.' Now I am optimistic that the Ministry of interior will reach to it its target of 10,000 new policewomen," Bayaaz said.

Bayaaz will focus on reforming the police, fighting corruption and building trust with Kabul residents. But she said the real importance of increasing the number of women officers is more than symbolic.

Afghanistan can't move forward without addressing some pretty significant issues specific to women.

"I think this is a great initiative to get women to join the police," she said. "We [as women] have many problems, so the women who have problems can more easily file their complaints with women officers.

"It's a good sign, obviously, but I can't say the current overall trend now is toward progress," said Heather Barr, a senior Afghanistan reseracher for Human Rights Watch. "To some extent, it's a government effort to combat some bad publicity that they've been getting on women's rights, and unfortunately they've really earned that bad publicity."

The Karzai government better drum up more support soon.

More than 10,000 women are needed to carry out searches at polling stations for presidential elections this April. But there are only 1,700 policewomen nationwide.

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