Women in the Cradle of Leadership

Standing among hundreds of Gentleman Cadets (GCs) under the scorching sun and thundering rain, with their bodies at shun, heads held high and eyes on the skyline, taking oath with zeal and patriotism, promising that they would go wherever they are ordered to and won’t hesitate to lay their lives for the motherland, are lady cadets who stand in the parade ground, ready to embark on a new journey that requires them to be mentally and physically strong, vigilant and demands of them to practice their leadership qualities so that they can give their best when the time comes. But all of this isn’t expected out of the blue; they are trained at the most prestigious, Pakistan Military Academy (PMA). Here young women are transformed into Lady Officers (LOs); every step they take induces stamina that helps them to stay calm and composed under pressure. Running with several Kgs on their backs enables them to stay determined to achieve their goals, jumping and running through bridges and crawling through trenches empowers them to cross any hurdle that may come their way, rappelling from great heights gives them confidence to overcome their fears and have faith in their abilities, map reading exercises coach them to find a way in every situation, endurance marches teach them how to conquer all heights that may become a hurdle in their way.
The training regime of PMA is planned to help a cadet transform into an individual who leads and lives an exemplary life. There is a motive behind every activity and reason behind every exercise. Cadets, in their two years training period at PMA, perform multiple exercises that help them to become not only excellent officers but a disciplined individual as well. Though the training period for Lady Cadets (LCs) is shorter but even in this short period, it is made sure that the essence of training is passed on to the LCs in its true sense and every day becomes unforgettable. LCs are trained and treated in same fashion as GCs, despite providing a little relaxation in some aspects. LCs are analyzed under the same criteria as their male comrades and they are expected to meet the high standards set by PMA. They are appreciated for their good performance and punished for breaking the rules, neither are they kept under the shade in rain nor their backpacks weigh less. It is the beauty of PMA that when it comes to training all genders are treated as cadets and the prefix of Lady or Gentleman is eliminated.
It is because of all these aspects that a cadet always remembers and misses his/her time spent at PMA. For me, a walk down memory lane brings all the days spent there back to life but there are few events/exercises that stand out. Qiyadat is such an exercise that a cadet never forgets. As the name indicates, it is an exercise that puts all the abilities and learning of a cadet to test. It provides an opportunity to practice all the tactics that a cadet has only read in books or seen in demonstrations. Living in fields for days, digging trenches, finding ways using maps, building life-size models, planning defense/attack strategies and actually executing them is what makes every second of this exercise thrilling and it enables a cadet to venture into real life situations to survive and fight all the odds, be it scorching days or blood freezing nights, hungry stomach or aching feet, or the enemy itself.
This exercise edifies the cadets that where there is a will, there is a way. It helps them experience life of an officer in the field who always puts his own comfort and desires last and prioritizes safety and security of his country, who, when time demands, thinks about his comrades first. It teaches that less food is sufficient and little sleep is enough to function properly. It trains them to practice their command and have confidence in their leadership qualities. But the most important lesson this exercise teaches is ‘comradeship’ — that if you have each other’s back, conquering the enemy won’t be difficult, that if your buddy is with you, sleepless nights are enjoyable and even a bed of rocks is comfortable. It emphasizes that taking the weak along makes you stronger and teamwork makes every task easy. It helps comprehend that an officer is not an officer because of the uniform that he wears or the ranks he puts on but he is an officer because of his ‘courage, competence, confidence and comradeship’.
Qiyadat not only focuses on survival in tough situations but allows cadets to experience heat of the battleground. Walking besides deafening tanks amidst shower of bullets and running towards the enemy with Takbeer not only shows the heat of juvenile blood running in our veins but also displays our unity, and faith in Allah. It showcases the valour, spirit and grit of the youth of this country. With young women participating and excelling in all these activities, it puts an end to all the stereotypes and taboos associated with gender. Sleeping on bare ground, digging trenches and staying alert, performing guard duties, preparing models, planning war strategies and actually executing them shows that a woman is equally strong. Walking under the shelling from tanks indicates that women can fight the enemy with the same spunk and determination and win at every task they are assigned.
Though the role of women in the battlefield has a long history, e.g., in the Battle of Uhud Rufaida Al-Aslania nursed the wounded and was credited as first nurse of Islam by the Prophet (PBUH) and Umm-e-Sina Al-Islami gave water to the thirsty in the battlefield, but initially services of women in wars were limited to looking after the sick and wounded. Today, women are showing their abilities by providing major support to their male counterparts fighting the enemy. For this, Pakistan Army deserves appreciation, which for last 14-years is inducting LOs in different supporting arms and training them to exhibit their best skills. Training of LOs is planned in such a manner that all the leadership, analytical and tactical skills are polished and enhanced; be it physical training or military exercises, they are put to test to bring out their best. It is the beauty of this training that it brings out the real robustness, courage and vigour out of ladies who in this metamorphosis shed off all the false tags of delicacy, sensitivity and fragility associated with them. In these six months, vigorous and hectic routine, exercises and activities not only increase their endurance but help them maintain their composure under pressure and enable them to stay alert and on their toes whenever need may be. This training strengthens them to carry the weight of responsibilities that come along with the ‘stars’ that will shine on their ,shoulders.
Lessons learnt during different exercises helps them to become role models for all young girls out there who look up to them with pride, honour and aspiration. This training at PMA — the Cradle of Leadership ­­— puts ‘women in Khaki’ besides ‘men in Khaki’ who know how to live with guns, grit and glory. Pakistan Army not only provides a safe, protected and respectable environment for its LOs but also gives them wings to fly high and leave their mark in every field, putting life into the Quaid’s saying: “No struggle can ever succeed without women participating side by side with men. There are two powers in the world; one is the sword and the other is the pen. There is a great competition and rivalry between the two. There is a third power stronger than both, that of the women.” HH

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