Unveiling the Lone Female Cop in Kandahar

Rights workers say the situation in Pashtun-dominated Kandahar is especially hard to gauge as it is one of the most conservative cities, even by Afghan standards. In a region where everyday life is still governed by pashtunwali, an ancient, austere code of conduct that calls for strict public separation of the sexes, women are rarely seen — let alone heard — in public.

The Veil as a Crime-Fighting Asset

It's the sort of socio-cultural situation in which Kakar, as the only policewoman in the city, performs a crucial role.

"Malalai is a dynamo," says Sultan. "The way I see her is as a mediator of sorts. She's able to talk to the women, who are often in a very bad emotional state. She takes statements from women, questions witnesses and at times acts as an unofficial defense attorney — she's like a women's advocate in the police system."

As a female law enforcement official in an ultraconservative city, Kakar is a priceless asset to the police force, not just in matters concerning women's issues. Often, during the most dangerous raids on insurgents' homes, Kakar is the first person to venture into buildings since the women in households insist there are no men on the premises and policemen cannot enter their homes. Many a time, she has singularly searched homes for hidden arms as well as anti-government elements hiding in buildings.

And while her flowing chaudari may hamper her speed on the potholed roads around Kandahar, she insists her veil is an asset.

"I'm not forced to wear the chaudari," she explains. "My husband or the police force does not require it. I want to wear it because it gives me advantages. In Kandahar, it is culturally frowned on women to go out without the chaudari — people will bad-mouth my husband. I wear it to protect my family and myself."

To Pakistan and Back

The daughter of a police officer, Malalai says she began training to be a police officer at the age of 15 after school. Her career was cut short during the Taliban era, when the family was forced to flee to Pakistan overnight when she heard reports that Taliban officials were heading to her home to arrest her for the crime of being a former policewoman.

Those were the "difficult years" as a refugee, she says, when the struggle to make ends meet physically and mentally drained her. But when the Taliban was ousted in 2001, she immediately returned home and submitted her resumé to get back to the job she loved.

But life isn't easy for Kandahar's only female supercop. One policewoman is woefully inadequate for a city the size of Kandahar, and Kakar says she is on call 24/7, often after putting in a 15-hour workday. Resources such as vehicles to maneuver the potholed streets, equipment such as cell phones, finger-printing technology, even writing paper, are scarce.

To Pakistan and Back

And for her long hours and the dangerous nature of the job, the pay isn't all that great — when and if she receives it.

Like many Afghan government employees, Kakar's monthly salary arrives in fits and starts and right now, she says she has not been paid for the past four months.

More than a year after the international community pledged $4.5 billion in reconstruction assistance, the Afghan economy has been crippled by lack of funds, mismanaged projects and an inefficient economic infrastructure.

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