WAR ON TERROR: FRONTLINE WOMEN: THE LIPSTICK WARRIORS; in Afghanistan the Taliban Would Torture Umera for Wearing Make-Up . . Now She Is Ready to Fight Them and Bring Human Rights to Her Land

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Byline: WAYNE FRANCIS and MIKE MOORE in Peshawar

SHE wears lipstick and the nails of her fingers poised on the trigger of an AK-47 rifle are painted in silver varnish.

Back home in Afghanistan, Umera would have been brutally punished for such "decadent" vanity.

The 23-year-old refugee said: "They'd have pulled out my nails. All cosmetics are banned over there."

It is to free her homeland from such barbarism that Umera has now joined a growing army of women prepared to take up arms to help topple the hated Taliban regime.

As US military strikes neared, she vowed: "If there is a war I want to fight. It is my time. My people are peaceful, but if we have to fight to liberate our country then so be it."

Umera fled her home in Afghanistan's Baghlan province two years ago after the Taliban turned the clock back to the dark ages by denying women basic freedoms.

Behind her, she left relations and neighbours tortured and killed for their support of the opposition Northern Alliance.

After living in an overcrowded refugee camp, she married and is mum to five-month-old Samiullah.

Now she is taking weapons training as she waits for what she hopes will be a US-inspired uprising.

Sitting in her cacha - little more than a mud hut - outside the border town of Peshawar, Umera remembered the stifling and fearful life under the Taliban.

Lowering her traditional veil to speak to us, she told how she would be groomed at a secret beauty parlour in her home town.

She would then wear the make-up beneath her shroud under the eyes of the Taliban's religious police. If caught, she faced a flogging or ripped- out nails.

Umera said: "Wearing make-up was our way of being defiant. It was only a small gesture, but it kept our spirits alive."

Like hundreds, even thousands, of Afghan women Umera is inspired by the courageous underground women's movement RAWA, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan.

Formed by left-wing women with feminist ideas, RAWA strives to beat the repression which has made Afghanistan a pariah state.

Senior members of the heroic 2,000-strong organisation regularly receive death threats.

As a result, its leadership is forced to live on the move, always one step ahead of the Taliban and Pakistan's secret police. The Mirror met two of the group's senior activists after delicate negotiations over the phone.

Photographer Mike Moore and I were told to go to an Afghan hotel in a trading quarter of Peshawar.

As dusk fell, we were approached by a young man who smiled but refused to give his name.

He led us to where two young women - Sahar Saba, 23, and her companion, Najia, 17 - were sitting in wicker chairs in an atrium at the rear of the building. After offering us tea they gave us their names. But they insisted that their faces should not be photographed.

For 50 minutes, they talked of the cruelty and suffering women have to endure in the medieval society that is today's Afghanistan.

Education for girls aged eight and over is banned. A girl of seven was whipped for wearing white shoes.

Women, who are forbidden to work, are forced to beg on the streets or turn to prostitution to provide food for their children.

They cannot show their faces in public and if convicted of adultery can be executed. …