International Women of Courage awardee, Second Lieutenant Malalai Bahaduri, recently met with USIP staff, members of civil society and the U.S./Afghan Women’s Council to speak about how she became a successful police officer in Afghanistan and the new challenges she expects to face with the 2014 withdrawal of the coalition forces.

20130321-AfghanFemalePoliceLieutenant-NF.jpg

Afghan police Second Lieutenant Malalai Bahaduri survived a lot to arrive in Washington recently as one of nine recipients of the Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage Award this year: Life under Soviet occupation, secret studies for her and other girls under the Taliban regime, and later death threats and ‘night letters’ from the local Taliban, drug lords, and smugglers.

And her story of perseverance isn’t over yet. In a March 8 roundtable at the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP), Bahaduri met with Kathleen Kuehnast, USIP’s director of the Center for Gender & Peacebuilding, USIP staff and Army Fellows, civil society members and members of the U.S./Afghan Women’s Council, to discuss her personal and professional life experiences. Bahaduri said the U.S.-led coalition’s withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014 will bring with it many new dangers and uncertainties for her and all Afghan women, especially those women who strive to lead by example.

The International Women of Courage Award recognizes women from around the globe who have shown exceptional courage and leadership in advocating for equality. The award acknowledges the strong opposition, oppression and physical danger often faced by women like Bahaduri, whose given name honors a national folk hero in Afghanistan who helped lead her people to victory in the Second Anglo-Afghan War of the late 1800s.

Other award recipients this year who joined Bahaduri on stage at the State Department ceremony came from Honduras, Nigeria, Russia, and Somalia. Three other honorees -- from China, Vietnam, and Syria -- were unable to attend because they have been detained for their work or are in hiding. The final awardee, an Indian woman known simply as “Nirbhaya,’ or Fearless, was honored posthumously. She died two weeks after her brutal gang rape on a bus in New Delhi, and her case has galvanized a movement to end the abuse of women and girls in India.

In Afghanistan, Bahaduri made the decision to pursue a career in law enforcement in 2002, after the U.S. and its coalition partners toppled the Taliban regime in the wake of the September 11, 2001, terror attacks on New York and the Pentagon. She became the first female  member of the Afghan National Interdiction Unit.

For five years, Bahaduri has participated in counternarcotics operations in all 34 provinces of Afghanistan.  The U.S. State Department cited her hard work and professionalism as one of the keys to her success and to gaining the respect she has won from her male colleagues.

But being a policewoman in Afghanistan remains dangerous work, regardless of efficiency and the respect of co-workers, Bahaduri said. The threats she has received from Taliban leaders, drug lords, and smugglers became all the more real after the assassination of Lieutenant Colonel Malalai Kakar by the Taliban in 2008. At the time, Kakar was the highest-ranking female officer in the Afghanistan police forces. 

Despite the daily risks to herself and her family, Bahaduri continues her work and for the last six years has been an instructor at the Interdiction Unit, where she teaches technical skills, checkpoint procedures, intelligence, and evidence gathering to all-male classes or to her colleagues on the force. She was proud of the fact that she also leads them, and can match them, in weapons and physical-fitness training.

The police lieutenant made a point of noting that a key factor for the success of women and girls, not just in Afghanistan but anywhere, is access to basic and higher education. At the same time, she said, increased education for men can generate increased support of education for women.

Education for both sexes in Afghanistan remains a problem. College especially is out of reach for many young women due to its cost. The continuing drawdown of coalition forces and international support from Afghanistan also raises doubts as to the continued support and availability of education for girls at all levels, Bahaduri said.

Related Publications

How to Revive an Afghan Peace Process

How to Revive an Afghan Peace Process

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

By: USIP Staff

The halt to U.S. peace talks with the Taliban, announced September 7 by President Trump, should be used as a starting point for new negotiations, according to U.S. and Afghan specialists. The United States and Afghans have a chance to shape a new phase of talks to maximize the possibilities for a peace accord that Afghans can accept, the experts said at USIP. Some urged resuming talks as quickly as possible. Others argued for focusing first on unifying non-Taliban Afghans following the planned September 28 elections, and on exploiting war fatigue among the Taliban.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Peace Processes

What are the Prospects for Power-Sharing in the Afghan Peace Process?

What are the Prospects for Power-Sharing in the Afghan Peace Process?

Monday, September 16, 2019

By: Alex Thier

While the negotiations between the U.S. and the Taliban were recently thrown-off course, a peace agreement among Afghans remains an urgent priority. The U.S.-led negotiations over a phased drawdown of U.S. troops in exchange for a Taliban commitment to eschew terrorism and engage in intra-Afghan negotiations took nearly a year. Yet these talks excluded the Afghan government and other political elites and didn’t address the fundamental question of what it will take for Afghans to put a sustainable end to four decades of war: how will power be shared?

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Peace Processes

A Rift Over Afghan Aid Imperils Prospects for Peace

A Rift Over Afghan Aid Imperils Prospects for Peace

Monday, September 16, 2019

By: William Byrd

As the United States has pursued peace talks with the Taliban, international discussions continue on the economic aid that will be vital to stabilizing Afghanistan under any peace deal. Yet the Afghan government has been mostly absent from this dialogue, an exclusion exemplified this week by a meeting of the country’s main donors to strategize on aid—with Afghan officials left out. The government’s marginalization, in large part self-inflicted, is a danger to the stabilization and development of Afghanistan. In the interests of Afghans, stability in the region and U.S. hopes for a sustainable peace, this rift in the dialogue on aid needs to be repaired.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Economics & Environment

Afghan peace talks are damaged, but not yet broken.

Afghan peace talks are damaged, but not yet broken.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

By: USIP Staff; Andrew Wilder

President Trump’s weekend announcement of a halt to U.S. peace talks with Afghanistan’s Taliban—including a previously unannounced U.S. plan for a Camp David meeting to conclude that process—leaves the future of the Afghanistan peace process unclear. USIP’s Andrew Wilder, a longtime Afghanistan analyst, argues that, rather than declaring an end to the peace process, U.S. negotiators could use the setback as a moment to clarify the strategy, and then urgently get the peace process back on track before too much momentum is lost.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Peace Processes

View All Publications