Mausoleum of Pakistani national leader now guarded by female cadets

Eight female cadets from the Pakistan army's elite training academy on Monday became the first female honor guards at the mausoleum of Pakistan's founder.

State-run television showed the female contingent, clad in khaki cadet slacks, some wielding swords and others holding guns, marching to military tunes with their male colleagues in a ceremony at the mausoleum of Quaid-e-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah, "the father of the nation," in the southern city of Karachi.

In November, for the first time in the history of Pakistan, the Pakistan Military Academy Kakul, in the country's northwest, opened its doors to women. In March, women also broke into the all-male air force when it inducted four women pilots.

Forty-one females joined the army academy to undergo a rigorous six months of military training along with men before being inducted as officers in various branches of the army.

President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who attended ceremonies in Karachi marking the 130th birthday of Jinnah, has been promoting the role of women in Pakistan's male-dominated society.

Musharraf, who laid flowers at the mausoleum, praised the female cadets, who are to graduate next April, reports AP.

"I am really impressed by the girls," Musharraf said. "This is the future of Pakistan."

Previously, women had only served in the army's medical corps without being trained at the academy. But the 41 female cadets at PMA will join the army as non-combat officers in the communication, engineering, legal and education branches.

In Pakistan, abuses and violence against women are common. Female literacy is only 35 percent, compared with 62 percent for men.

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