KABUL, Afghanistan — The acting head of women’s affairs in Laghman province in eastern Afghanistan was shot to death in broad daylight Monday as she was traveling to work.
It was the second time in less than six months that the person holding that post has been assassinated. In the latest attack, two assailants on a motorcycle gunned down Najia Sediqi, the acting head, as she was getting into a rickshaw in Mehtar Lam, the provincial capital, according to Ahmad Gul Baidar, the head of administrative affairs for the women’s department.
In July, Sediqi’s predecessor, Hanifa Safi, was killed when an improvised bomb exploded under her car — an attack attributed to the Taliban but never fully investigated. Before that attack, Safi had been threatened because she had protected a young girl who married someone she loved rather than an older man to whom she had been promised.
Provincial women’s affairs departments are the local divisions of the Afghan Ministry of Women’s Affairs in Kabul. Those who head the local departments are very visible in their communities.
Many families, especially in the traditional Pashtun heartland in the south and east of the country, are distrustful of empowering women, and the department heads face community censure, threats and, as in the case of Sediqi and Safi, even assassination.
Zufenon Safi, who represents Laghman in Parliament, believes that both killings were carried out by the Taliban, who have gathered strength in the province. Elders and other local people say security has deteriorated in the area, whose control was turned over to the Afghan government by coalition forces last summer.
“Targeting important government officials is part of the Taliban strategy to undermine the government’s and the foreign forces’ efforts in the country,” Safi said, referring to the international coalition.
She said the Taliban singles out women in government posts because they know that killing them will garner more publicity.
“There is only one reason behind killing women: to prevent women from working in the government,” Safi added. “We should expect more similar assassinations in the upcoming weeks and months because they have threatened every female civil servant, including members of the provincial council and teachers.”
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