KABUL, Afghanistan – Suhaila Siddiq, Afghanistan’s first Lieutenant General, who was also a renowned surgeon and unwittingly became a feminist role model in a largely patriarchal society, died here on Friday in the same hospital where she treated the wounded and tired of her endless war Landes for decades. She was believed to be 81 or 82 years old, although her exact date of birth is unknown.
General Siddiq, who has suffered from Alzheimer’s for several years, died of complications from the coronavirus at the Sardar Mohammad Daud Khan military hospital in Kabul, said one of their doctors, Amanullah Aman. It was her second battle with the virus; She signed it earlier this year.
General Siddiq rose through the ranks of the Afghan army during the Cold War and ran Daud Khan Hospital during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Afghan Civil War, and Taliban rule. She was also one of the few Afghan women ministers who headed the Ministry of Health until 2004 under the interim government led by Hamid Karzai after the US invasion. In that role, she helped organize polio vaccinations across the country after the disease became endemic after years of instability and violence. She returned to her job as a surgeon after leaving her government position.
General Siddiq “was devoted to service in her country,” Karzai said on Twitter on Friday. President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan paid tribute to a memorial service in the hospital on Saturday.
As a surgeon, General Siddiq was known for her skillful hand, and despite her modest stature, she was described by those who knew her to be self-obsessed and not intimidated by those around her, especially men.
In the mid-1980s, at the height of the Soviet-Afghan war, she was promoted to surgeon-general of the Afghan army by the communist-backed government in Kabul after she distinguished herself by tirelessly saving the lives of hundreds of wounded soldiers and civilians by the Doors of the 400-bed Daud Khan Hospital poured in. She became known as “General Suhaila”.
“She was much better than any man I have ever worked with,” said Atiqullah Amarkhel, a retired Afghan general who was promoted to his position within months of General Siddiq. “She wouldn’t go home for days.”
General Siddiq was probably born in Kabul in 1938. She attended high school and then Kabul University as her country tacitly changed under the weight of the Cold War. She studied for several years in Moscow as a scholarship holder and then returned to Afghanistan with her doctorate. In the years before the Soviet invasion of 1979, when she was a lieutenant colonel, she worked as a surgeon at Daud Khan Hospital.
General Siddiq, one of six sisters, was the daughter of a man who was once governor of Kandahar and who supported her education. It traced its ancestry back to the Barakzai dynasty, which ruled Afghanistan for more than 100 years in the 19th and 20th centuries.
General Siddiq never married. Information on survivors was not immediately available.
After the collapse of the communist government in 1992, General Siddiq kept her position in the hospital under the transitional government established at the beginning of the Afghan civil war.
Kabul was soon split as rival factions vied for control. Ahmad Shah Massoud, the then defense minister, personally asked General Siddiq to run the hospital as civilian casualties were to be lamented in the capital after incessant rocket attacks by appointed Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar against his opponents, said Sher Ahmad, a close friend of the family.
“She believed in her job, not in a regime,” said Ahmad.
But in 1996 the Taliban captured Kabul and quickly enforced draconian rule under a harsh interpretation of Islamic law. Women were not allowed to do most jobs and had to cover their faces in public.
Kathy Gannon, a reporter for The Associated Press, was in Kabul when the city fell and the new Taliban administration began sending women home from work, including General Siddiq, and asked Ms. Gannon to write an article about them .
General Siddiq and her sister Shafiqa, a professor at Kabul Polytechnic University, “were smart, funny and not intimidated,” said Ms. Gannon. “But the Taliban also quickly learned that they need them.”
Within months, the Taliban, already trying to keep people with coveted technical skills and higher education, asked General Siddiq to return to her job at the hospital, where she was caring for many of the regime’s wounded fighters. She performed many operations under the flickering light of a lantern, Mr. Ahmad recalled.
“They needed me and asked me to come back,” General Siddiq said in a 2002 interview with The Guardian. “It’s a matter of pride for me. I stayed in my country and served my people. I never fled abroad. “
General Siddiq and her sister were among the few women who walked through Kabul without a face covering or burqa – a bold testimony against the Taliban, who left them unharmed because of their position in the hospital.
At the same time, General Siddiq was teaching medical students whose academic careers had quickly ended under the rule of the Taliban. The government tried at least once to crack down on their doctrine, but General Siddiq pushed back, said Makai Siawash, a close friend who briefly lived with General Siddiq.
“She was ready to be whipped by them, but she did not let the Taliban fighters in,” said Ms. Siawash.
One of her students was Sayeda Amarkhel, the daughter of retired General Amarkhel, who studied with General Siddiq in the hospital after her time at university was broken off under the Taliban.
“She fought the Taliban for us,” said Dr. Amarkhel. “Today I am a gynecologist and I owe it to her.”