ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s first female fighter pilot, Marium Mukhtiar, was remembered on her fifth martyrdom anniversary on Tuesday.
24-year-old Mukhtiar, a Pakistan Air Force (PAF) Flying Officer, became the first female pilot to have died on a mission when an air force’s trainer jet crashed near Kundian, Mianwali in 2015.
An FT-7PG flown by Squadron Leader Saqib Abbasi and co-pilot Mukhtiar was on a routine operational training mission when it encountered an in-flight emergency during the final stages of the mission, a PAF statement said at the time.
“Both pilots handled the emergency with professionalism and courage and tried to save the aircraft till the last minute, ensuring [the] safety of property and the civilian population on the ground,” it had said.
The pilots ejected from the aircraft and sustained injuries. They were being treated at a nearby military hospital, where Mukhtiar succumbed to her injuries.
Mukhtiar was born in Karachi on May 18, 1992. Her father, Mukhtiar Ahmed Shaikh, who had retired from Pakistan Army as a colonel, became an inspiration for her to join the armed forces.
She rose to become one of the finest female football players in the country and played for Balochistan United in the National Women’s Football Championship.
Mukhtiar joined the air force in 2014 as a graduate. She was from the force’s 132nd GD Pilot Course, which was attended by six other women.
She was among 21 female fighter pilots in the air force, which only began inducting women in combat roles in 2006, a New York Times report said at the time.
In a 2014 interview with BBC, Mukhtiar talked about the challenges of being a female pilot in a male-dominated environment.
She had said she had joined the air force because she was inspired by the “pomp” and wanted to do “something different.”
She also said her mother had been concerned about her decision to join the force but had supported her throughout.
Pakistan is a highly traditional, patriarchal society where opportunities for women are limited. But in 2006 seven women broke into one of the country’s most exclusive male clubs to graduate as fighter pilots – perhaps the most prestigious job in the powerful military and for six decades closed to them.
It is unclear how many women have joined the air force as fighter pilots since then. A New York Times report in June put the figure at 21.
Mukhtiar was honoured with post-humous Tamgha-e-Basalat on March 23, 2016, by the government of Pakistan.