Female cop searches for guns and drugs at Kabul's main checkpoint

Kabul, February 2013. Each day, 3rd Sergeant Nadia Gul Alam, stands guard in the freezing cold at Kabul’s East Gate Checkpoint. A bus with women and children arrives. Nadia checks them thoroughly – this time, she finds nothing suspicious – no guns or bags with opium. Her job is dangerous at the checkpoint close to the highway to Wardak province, about 1,5 hours away from Kabul city. Nadia is one of the very few policewomen serving at this Ring of Steel checkpoint. Much more women like her are needed.

Nadia works at the Arghandi checkpoint, one of Kabul’s key main gates as everyday cars and passengers are entering Kabul form Wardak, Ghazni, Kandahar, Helmand, and Herat provinces. It is also route for insurgents crossing the border from Pakistan and heading for Kabul. As one car after another attempts passage through Arghandi, Nadia searches women (but also men) trying to enter Kabul.

She enters physically a bus which arrives at the checkpoint, shows her Police ID, pulls up the burqas and pats them thoroughly for concealed guns or contrabands. Kindly she ask to open their bags, Nadia goes through clothes, apple, sweets, toys and documents. Sometimes she is successful: “From the time that I started working at police check points a year ago I have arrested several women carrying hashish," Nadia says with pride.

In Afghanistan, this 21-year-old is a rarity - one of about only 1,500 female police officers in a country with a police force of more than 150,000, not much more than one percent of the force. Even more unique she is in her own unit, the Ring of Steel Bataillon, responsible to secure the city of Kabul: she is one of 16 females in the overall force of 890. But while Nadia's male counterparts can easily pull male passengers from their vehicles and pat them down, women are off limits to them.

Whilst she is taking great pride in her work, the brave woman admits that from time to time, she is also afraid: “There is this constant fear that there might be a terrorist in the car who blows himself off.” Her fear is certainly justified: in the past, To avoid checkpoint searches by male officers, armed male terrorists often cloak themselves in head-to-toe burqas that typically are worn by women.

This is one reason why more females are needed at the checkpoints, says Colonel Nezamuddin Ghori, the Ring of Steel Commander. He acknowledges that most of his female colleagues are working in the headquarters, but he would like to recruit more women for the checkpoints:  “We need more policewomen, especially for searching females because the men are not allowed to search females. With more women, we could increase the security of the city.” This feeling is also shared by the Ministry of Interior who wants 5,000 police women on the job by 2014. They are essential not only at checkpoints but also to search female quarters of civilian compounds where insurgents often hide or to interview women in cases of domestic violence.

For Nadia taking over a dangerous profession like this is almost a patriotic act: "It is very important for the females to work as policewomen, to serve her country and to bring peace into her country." To get respect and acceptance for her career ambitions, the single woman faced resistance from her family but she had one great supporter, says Nadia: “Luckily, my father who is now a retired general was always on my side and approved my choice.”  This is what counts for Nadia: “I am glad that he is happy but I most of all I love my job.”