by Imran H. Khan

Naseem2Pakistan has been blessed with many amazing women whose stories have been largely untold. Shahla Haeri wrote about some of them involved in the social sphere in her book “No Shame for the Sun“. OPEN’s chapters have also held conferences and forums highlighting the role of Pakistani American women in the US. In the recent years three Pakistani women have defied all odds and achieved remarkable success in achieving some of the highest goals typically associated with men. These achievements are specially significant taking into account their economic and geographic origins.

Maria Toor: Pakistani Woman Squash champion from South Waziristan

Maria is the Pakistan Woman Squash champion and Seventy Second in the World. What is remarkable is that she comes from WANA South Waziristan, the home of Pakistani Taleban. Her parents are from a poor background and she did not even pick up a squash racket till the age of twelve. Her meteoric rise in squash is amazing as she has achieved this with little to no resources. In listening to her in the attached video you can get a sense of her passion for the game and the hurdles she had to overcome in order to get there. The other thing that struck me was her confidence in achieving pretty much what she put her mind to, including appearing in a Hollywood movie. With little to no education she has still found the time to learn English and appears comfortable in front of the camera.

Saira Amin: First female Sword of Honor Winner and Fighter Pilot from Peshawer

SairaAminSaira not only graduated from one of the most rigorous air force academies in 2006, but also won the most coveted Sword of Honor. To achieve this you need to be the most outstanding cadet in all of the three areas of flying, academics and general military training. She belonged to only the second group of females to be inducted into the PAF. She had to outclass all her male colleagues in physically grueling training that included para jumping.

She has established that in a extremely male dominated domain of jet fighter pilots of one of the most demanding of air forces, a female can not only participate but even dominate.

The video below shows female fighter pilots converting into flying fighters of PAF.

Naseem Akhter: Fastest Woman in South Asia from Korangi.

Naseem Akhter caught the fancy of all of Pakistan when she beat Pramila Priyadarshan, the Sri Lankan favorite to win the gold medal in South Asian games in 2010. She hails from a poor family from Korangi area of Karachi. Her dedication to achieve her goal was captured in her statement that she gave after the event.

“I had forgotten the world for six months and trained really very, very hard under my coach Maqsood Ahmed to achieve this. It is a great moment for me to have brought glory to the country in my event.”

To grasp the real significance of her story you have to watch the video below and see and hear the pride of her family.

What really struck me in the photo below is that she was wearing loose clothes and yet was only a second and half behind the fastest woman on the planet, Florence Griffith-Joyner. I can only wonder that with some training and more streamlined clothes what she can possibly achieve.


The theme that runs common in all the three stories is that none of these ladies let any excuse come between them and their goals. They managed the challenges with a supportive family structure. They exhibit all the same qualities that are needed to be a successful entrepreneur. They had to raise money, market their talents, fight the naysayers and excel in what they did with single minded focus.

To all these women, “Afreen” .

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33 Responses to “Three Heroines of Pakistan”

  1. Usman on February 28th, 2010 9:20 am

    Most impressive. I actually didn’t know about the cadet who won the sword of honour!!! That is just amazing.

    I was in Pak when Naseem Akhter won and came back to a huge reception. It was really nice to see the amount of media attention and the pride in the parents’ eyes.

  2. jamil akhtar on March 2nd, 2010 8:21 am

    It proves that no field of activity is the exclusive domain of the men and talent is not the monopoly of either sex. Well done the young heroines of Pakistan.

  3. habib ullah khan on March 4th, 2010 8:56 pm

    U girls r the true heroes of Pakistan, keep it up and try to train and motivate other girls too to do the same.
    U deserve to be reckoned with all the support both financially and morally. Pakistan Zindabad. Please try to bring more
    laurel in the future too and motivate other girls too to follow your lines.
    Pakistan paindabad. hk

  4. Janice J Burns on March 6th, 2010 3:01 pm

    I cheer on these hard working, determined and talented women. Reach out and tell others about the possibilites out there for girls. All good wishes for future achievements for Pakistani women. Jani

  5. Syed Ata-ur Rahman on March 7th, 2010 8:14 am

    Yes, they are our true heroes or heroines as is in their case. I did not know Saira achieved the distinctions of being awarded the sword of honour. This is a brilliant achievement and no words can express my satisfaction on this great event. No less brilliant are the two other girls and they make each of us Pakistanis proud.
    As one of the previous Air Officer Commanding of PAF Academy Risalpur who greatly advocated young and brilliant girls joining the PAF it is a dream come true. Pakistan Air Force Zindabad, Pakistan Paindabad.
    AVM Syed Ata-ur Rahman (Retd)

  6. Afzal R on March 7th, 2010 8:43 am

    I was suitably impressed by these outstanding females. It is heart-warming to see these young ladies swim against the tide to achieve great heights in a man’s world.
    May they be a shining example to others who fear to tread.
    As my wife used to say “no nation can progress by keeping 50% of its population under wraps”.
    More power to them.

  7. Tillat Khalid on March 7th, 2010 8:19 pm

    I was sent the story of the three Pakistani women in an email – and as always – wondered whether I had the time to read another forward. Luckily, I did, and am sitting here with tears of pride in my eyes. As a Pakistani who lives a long way from home, news from Pakistan is usually depressing, dire and worrying in the extreme. Stories like this one are like a bright light in the midst of all the darkness. May these young women go on to further victories, and may Pakistanis have the grace to recognise them as truly heroic daughters.

    Zarene Malik Reply:

    I was actually at a women’s only dinner for Cherie Blair some three years ago in Islamabad. During her speech she said the followoing: “I would be hard pressed to match this crowd in the UK. A woman governor of the State Bank, a woman Surgeon General, four women fighter pilots, senior police women, airline pilots”
    Our women are second to none. It is the culture that restricts them. These women have indeed broken that glass ceiling. Their courage is admirable and may many many women follow these role models.

  8. kashif imran on March 8th, 2010 1:06 pm

    good looking promotion of pakistani girls .

    kashif imran

  9. Bushra on March 8th, 2010 2:36 pm

    I am a proud Pakistani myself, all these wonderful achievements by these trail blazers makes me take deeper pride in my country. Pakistani are by far one of the most intelligent and talented people I have come across, given a chance they can reach the sky.

  10. Faizulla Khan on March 8th, 2010 3:39 pm

    Afreen! Pakistan Zindabad.

  11. CAPT.SHAYAN HAQQEE (PIAC) on March 8th, 2010 7:55 pm

    Mashaallah! we should all be proud of our Pakistani women.

  12. khalid on March 9th, 2010 2:52 pm


    Just Excellent.

  13. Tariq on March 10th, 2010 12:00 pm

    I am proud of these individuals, may Allaha
    give them strength to become number one in the World. Ameen

  14. Shahid Malik on March 10th, 2010 8:09 pm

    Our Lal/Masjid freedom fighters would never do this type of activity.Because they are good Muslim-ah
    Under our Sharia/Hadood ordinance in Pakistan it is UN-Islamic for a women to be in the company of so many unmarried men while in training. Also such running by a women is not allowed by our Ulemah and is a violation of hijab. A woman’s place is in the home, mashallah to take care of her family and protectors.
    The pilot with the fake Hijab should have her face covered. She is making fun of our Hijab by wearing such tight pants and pretending to be Muslim-ah.

    I guess she is doing this to protect herself from the oversexed fellow male pilots. But why make fun of the Hijab. Only the eyes should show.
    Inshallah it is not long before we will have complete Sharia law in Pakistan and peace with our brothers in Afghanistan. Pakistan will take over the role of Islam’s defender with Islamabad as its capital with support from all Sharia-loving countries where a woman’s role is defined as stay at home and take care of the family.

    Imran Reply:

    My instinct was not to allow this tongue in cheek comment to be published. But I did it to make the point that what separates Pakistan from most muslim countries is that we allow people to practice their religion as they see fit. This is manifested by women wearing different kinds of coverings and coexist. Hijab has been made a divisive issue in both muslim and non muslim countries.
    What is tragic and very “NON PAKISTANI” is the intolerant version of misguided Islam that has made inroads that does not allow for toleration and coexistance.
    Shahla Hairi who wrote the book that I referenced made this comment that she wished there was this kind of coexistance in Iran as there is in Pakistan.

    S.A Reply:


    Thanks for the article, and also for clarifying about Islam and its beauty to some misguided posters. I hope these heroines become hope for others in our country, Inshallah!

    john carapiet Reply:

    Tongue in cheek or not, the views expressed by the gentleman are frighteningly close to the views of so many die hard Pakistani males. These, at times well meaning fellows simply cannot accept the simple fact of advancing civilisation, that you cannot live tomorrow’s life with yesterday’s rules. Yesterday our women were owned by their men. Today they fly supersonic aircraft.

    Where do we start our explanation to the bearded, humourless Neanderthals who would march us back in time.

    Let us be clear, it has nothing to do with religion. It is now and has always been, about men controlling women. This saddens me and more significantly makes me despise my gender.

    Go, women of Pakistan…!!! You breathe life into this old(Ozzie) Pakistani heart.

    imran Reply:

    Even though I am not at all for burqa I think it should be woman’s choice at the end.

    Rozina’s opinion is somewhat similar to mine on this issue.

    Naushaba Reply:

    You are so threatened, it’s laughable. All you can do is worry about their clothes.

    Asha Reply:

    Shahid Malik, you have a very twisted and frightening dream for Pakistan – fortunately it is just a dream, and there are enough sensible and progressive people in this country who care enough to make sure it remains so!

    A Hassan Reply:

    Shahid Malik, you sound like an illiterate, ignorant idiot!!!

  15. Fauzia M. Khan on March 11th, 2010 3:37 am

    This is a beautiful article. I am very impressed by these young women of Pakistan. I wish Pakistani American kids can have some of this drive!

  16. Fauzia M. Khan on March 11th, 2010 3:47 am
  17. Shereen on March 14th, 2010 4:43 pm

    Close your eyes and imagine what these girls could achieve with the training and facilities available to the women in USA and Europe……..these are amazing women, and the good news is that there are thousands like them, just waiting to be given the opportunity and be discovered. Pakistan Zindabad

  18. inam on March 14th, 2010 7:54 pm

    Maria Toor coming from all the places Waziristan being so negatively projected these days, is fascinating fresh invigorating breath of air.

    Women fighter pilots are very novel for Pakistan. Then the projection is excellent.

    Nasim Mirza brings a cheer to the otherwise pathetic current performance lately of our sportsmen. This achievement that too by a female in our macho society and from a poor family.

  19. viqar mahmood on March 15th, 2010 10:25 am

    Thanks for highlighting achievements by these extremely talented and extraordinary ladies. They surely are a ray of sunshine in an otherwise depressing environment.
    There are many other such success stories in Pakistan–in business, in social services, in politics, in civil and military services etc. that must be highlighted and brought to everyone’s notice in and outside Pakistan. Many a times,even simple achievements of people around you, tend to invigorate and give a hope to a despondent community.

  20. Salman on March 15th, 2010 10:49 am

    We , men, have to change are social fabric and mentality towards our women. They are 51% of our society and certainly better section. Women like these which make us proud will InshAllah bring up a generation of true , honest and dedicated Pakistanis. Certainly our women and our handicapped are bringing laurels to our country. We should replace our present politicians especially men, with the women and the handicapped.

  21. Nuzhat on March 16th, 2010 11:23 pm

    It is good to see that all those who have commented on this article are enlightened people who value women’s contribution to Pakistan and that the only ridiculous voice is a lone voice.

  22. irfan aziz (miami flroida) on March 22nd, 2010 12:56 am

    weldone.. we all are proud of. you make us proud where ever we are.
    Pakistan Zindabad

  23. abdul malik on March 29th, 2010 2:44 pm

    Zindabad, God Bless them for their resolve and; courage to excel on all fronts.

  24. SOHAIL CHOUDHRI from Melbourne on April 4th, 2010 4:48 am

    Excellent Work
    We are proud of you Girls
    doing a great job in Keeping the PAK Flag Up

  25. Banki on October 5th, 2010 6:27 pm

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