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Taliban Violence: Murder, Mutilation and Terror

Notes: What follows are excerpts from books, documents and articles that provide contemporary and historical background for understanding today's War in Afghanistan.

A key source is "Taliban," by Ahmed Rashid,a 320-page book that is incredibly rich and informative, which includes Rashid's eyewitness accounts as well as his research. It should be noted that many areas covered in "Taliban," such as discussions with US and Argentine gas companies to build a pipeline across Afghanistan, the heroin trade and relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia are not cited here and what is cited only scratches the surface of Rashid's in-depth presentation. "Taliban" was published in 2001 and in 2009 by Yale University Press.

The Torture, Mutilation and Murder of Afghan President Najibullah, Who Was Dragged
Out of His Sanctuary in the United Nations Compound in Kabul.

Ahmed Rashid "Taliban" (2000) p. 49

The Taliban's first and bloodiest act was to hang former President Najibullah, then aged 50, who had ruled Afghanistan from 1986 to 1992. Najibullah had been staying in a UN diplomatic compound in central Kabul since 1992, when a UN peace plan to set up an interim government fell apart. Just before the Mujaheddin were to capture Kabul, Najibullah was due to be taken out of Kabul by the UN mediator Benon Sevan, but they were stopped at the last moment. All the warring Afghan factions had respected the diplomatic immunity of the UN compound. Najibullah's wife Fatana and three daughters had lived in exile in New Delhi since 1992.

Blunders by the UN were partly responsible for his death. On the day Sarobi fell, Najibullah had sent a message to the UN headquarters in Islamabad asking Norbet Holl to arrange the evacuation of himself and his three companions -- his brother, Shahpur Ahmadzai, his personal secretary and bodyguard. But there were no UN officials in Kabul to take responsibility for Najibullah. Only Masud offered him a lift out of the city. On the afternoon of 26 September 1996, Masud sent one of his senior Generals to ask Najibullah to leave with the retreating government troops, promising him safe passage to the north, but Najibullah refused. A proud and stubborn man, he probably feared that if he fled with the Tajiks, he would be forever damned in the eyes of his fellow Pashtuns."

There were only three frightened Afghan guards employed by the UN on duty inside the compound and they fled as they heard the guns of the Taliban on the outskirts of the city. Najibullah sent a last wireless message to the UN in Islamabad in the early evening, again asking for help. But by then it was too late. A special Taliban unit of five men designated for the task and believed to be led by Mullah Abdul Razaq, the Governor of Herat and now commander of the forces designated to capture Kabul, came for Najibullah at about 1.00 a.m., even before the Taliban had entered central Kabul. Razaq later admitted that he had ordered Najibullah's murder.

The Taliban walked up to Najibullah's room, beat him and his brother senseless and then bundled them into a pick-up and drove them to the darkened Presidential Palace. There they castrated Najibullah, dragged his body behind a jeep for several rounds of the Palace and then shot him dead. His brother was similarly tortured and then throttled to death. The Taliban hanged the two dead men from a concrete traffic control post just outside the Palace, only a few blocks from the UN compound.

At dawn curious Kabulis came to view the two bloated, beaten bodies as they hung from steel wire nooses around their necks. Unlit cigarettes were stuck between their fingers and Afghani notes stuffed into their pockets -- to convey the Taliban message of debauchery and corruption. Najibullah's two other companions had escaped from the compound, but they were later caught trying to flee the city and were also tortured and hanged.

Najibullah's execution was the first symbolic, brutal act by the Taliban in Kabul. It was a premeditated, targeted killing designed to terrorize the population. Mullah Rabbani, the newly appointed head of the Kabul Shura proclaimed that Najibullah was a communist and a murderer and that he had been sentenced to death by the Taliban. That was true, but the mutilation of Najibullah's body was beyond the pale of any Islamic injunction, while the lack of a fair trial and the public display of the bodies revolted many Kabulis. People were further repulsed when the Taliban banned an Islamic funeral for Najibullah, even though funeral prayers were said for him the next day in Quetta and Peshawar where he was remembered by Pakistan's Pashtun nationalists. Eventually the bodies were taken down and handed over to the ICRC, who drove them to Garden, Najibullah's birthplace in Paktia province where he was buried by his Ahmadzai tribesmen.

There was widespread international condemnation of the murder, particularly from the Muslim world. The Taliban had humiliated the UN and the international community and embarrassed their allies, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. The UN finally issued a statement. 'The killing of the former President without any legitimate judicial procedure not only constitutes a grave violation of the immunity UN premises enjoy, but also further jeopardizes all the efforts which are being made to secure a peaceful settlement of the Afghan conflict.' The Taliban were not deterred and they issued death sentences on Dostum, Rabbani and Masud.

Within 24 hours of taking Kabul, the Taliban imposed the strictest Islamic system in place anywhere in the world. All women were banned from work, even though one quarter of Kabul's civil service, the entire elementary educational system and much of the health system were run by women. Girls' schools and colleges were closed down affecting more than 70,000 female students and a strict dress code of head-to-toe veils for women was imposed. There were fears that 25,000 families which were headed by war widows and depended on working and UN handouts would starve. Every day brought fresh pronouncements. 'Thieves will have their hands and feet amputated, adulterers will be stoned to death and those taking liquor will be lashed,' said an announcement on Radio Kabul on 28 September 1996.

TV, videos, satellite dishes, music and all games including chess, football and kite-flying were banned Radio Kabul was renamed Radio Shariat and all music was taken off the air. Taliban soldiers stood on main streets arresting men without beards. Unlike the capture of Herat and other cities, a large international press and TV corps were in Kabul and for the first time they reported extensively on the Taliban's restrictions.

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Public Amputation and Execution by Taliban in Kabul in 2000
as described in "The Forever War," by Dexter Filkins pp 13-16.

THEY LED THE MAN to a spot at the middle of the field. A soccer field, grass, with mainly dirt around the center where the players spent most of the game. There was a special section for the handicapped on the far side, a section for women. The orphans were walking up and down the bleachers on my side selling candy and cigarettes. A couple of older men carried whips. They wore grenade launchers on their backs.

The people are coming, a voice was saying into the loud-

speaker, and the voice was right, the people were streaming inand taking their seats. Not with any great enthusiasm, as far asI could tell; they were kind of shuffling in. I probably had more enthusiasm than anybody. I had a special seat; they'd put me in the grass at the edge of the field. In America, I would have been on the sidelines, at the fifty yard line with the coaches. Come sit with us, they'd said; you are our honored guest.

A white Toyota Hi-Lux drove onto the field and four men wearing green hoods climbed out of the back. There was a fifth man, a prisoner, no hood, sitting in the bed of the truck. The hooded men laid their man in the grass just off midfield, flat on his back, and crouched around him. It was hard to see. The man on his back was docile; there was no struggle at all. The voice on the loudspeaker said he was a pickpocket.

"Nothing that is being done here is against God's law," the voice said.

The green hoods appeared busy, and one of them stood up.

He held the man's severed right hand in the air, displaying it for the crowd. He was holding it up by its middle finger, mov- ing in a semicircle so everyone could see. The handicapped and the women. Then he pulled his hood back, revealing his face, and he took a breath. He tossed the hand into the grass and gave a little shrug.

I couldn't tell if the pickpocket had been given any sort of anesthesia. He wasn't screaming. His eyes were open very wide, and as the men with the hoods lifted him back into the bed of the Hi-Lux, he stared at the stump of his hand. I took notes the whole time.

I looked back at the crowd, and it was remarkably calm,

unfeeling almost, which wasn't really surprising, after all they'd been through. A small drama with the orphans was unfolding in the stands; they were getting crazy and one of the guards was beating them with his whip.

"Get back," he was saying, drawing the whip over his head. The orphans cowered.

I thought that was it, but as it turned out the amputation was just a warm-up. Another Toyota Hi-Lux, this one maroon, rumbled onto midfield carrying a group of long-haired men with guns. The long hair coming out of their white tur- bans. They had a blindfolded man with them. The Taliban were known for a lot of things and the Hi-Lux was one, jacked up and fast and menacing; they had conquered most of the country with them. You saw a Hi-Lux and you could be sure that something bad was going to happen.

"The people are coming!" the voice said again into the speaker, louder now and more excited. "The people are coming to see, with their own eyes, what sharia means."

The men with guns led the blindfolded man from the truck and walked him to midfield and sat him down in the dirt. His head and body were wrapped in a dull gray blanket, all of a piece. Seated there in the dirt at midfield at the Kabul sports stadium, he didn't look much like a man at all, more like a sack of flour. In that outfit, it was difficult even to tell which way he was facing. His name was Atiqullah, one of the Talibs said.

The man who had pulled his hood back was standing at midfield, facing the crowd. The voice on the loudspeaker introduced him as Mulvi Abdur Rahman Muzami, a judge. He was pacing back and forth, his green surgical smock still intact. The crowd was quiet.

Atiqullah had been convicted of killing another man in an irrigation dispute, the Talibs said. An argument over water. He'd beaten his victim to death with an ax, or so they said. He was eighteen.

"The Koran says the killer must be killed in order to create peace in society," the loudspeaker said, echoing inside the stadium. "If punishment is not meted out, such crimes will become common. Anarchy and chaos will return."

By this time a group had gathered behind me. It was the family of the murderer and the family of the victim. The two groups behind me were toing-and-froing as in a rugby game. One family spoke, leaning forward, then the other. The families were close enough to touch. Sharia law allows for the possibility of mercy: Atiqullah's execution could be halted if the family of the victim so willed it.

Judge Muzami hovered a few feet away, watching.

"Please spare my son," Atiqullah's father, Abdul Modin, said. He was weeping. "Please spare my son."

"I am not ready to do that," the victim's father, Ahmad Noor, said, not weeping. "I am not ready to forgive him. He killed my son. He cut his throat. I do not forgive him."

The families were wearing olive clothes that looked like old blankets and their faces were lined and dry. Everyone was crying. Everyone looked the same. I forgot who was who.

"Even if you gave me all the gold in the world," Noor said, "I would not accept it."

Then he turned to a young man next to him. My son willdo it, he said.

The mood tightened. I looked back and saw the Taliban guards whipping some children who had tried to sneak into the stadium. Atiqullah was still sitting on the field, possibly oblivious. The voice crackled over the loudspeaker.

"0 ye who believe!" the voice in the loudspeaker called.

Revenge is prescribed for you in the matter of the murdered; the freeman for the freeman, and the slave for the slave, and the female for the female.

"People are entitled to revenge."

One of the green hoods handed a Kalashnikov to the murder victim's brother. The crowd fell silent.

Just then a jumbo jet appeared in the sky above, rumbling, forcing a pause in the ceremony. The brother stood holding his Kalashnikov. I looked up. I wondered how a jet airliner could happen by such a place, over a city such as this, wondered where it might be going. I considered for a second the momentary collision of the centuries.

The jumbo jet flew away and the echo died and the brother crouched and took aim, leveling his Kalashnikov at Atiqullah's head.

"In revenge there is life," the loudspeaker said.

The brother fired. Atiqullah lingered motionless for a sec- ond then collapsed in a heap under the gray blanket. I felt what I believed was a vibration from the stands. The brother stood over Atiqullah, aimed his AK-47 and fired again. The body lay still under the blanket.

"In revenge there is life," the loudspeaker said.

The brother walked around Atiqullah, as if he were looking for signs of life. Seeing one, apparently, he crouched and fired again.

Spectators rushed onto the field just like the end of a college football game. The two men, killer and avenger, were carried away in separate Hi-Luxes, one maroon, one white. The brother stood up in the bed of the white truck as it rumbled away, surrounded by his fellows. He held his arms in the air and was smiling.

I had to move fast to talk to people before they went home. Most everyone said they approved, but no one seemed to have any enthusiasm.

"In America, you have television and movies -- he cinema," one of the Afghans told me. "Here, there is only this." I left the stadium and walked in a line of people through the streets.

- - - - - - - - -

Human Rights Watch Report: The "Ten-Dollar Talib" and Women's Rights, July 2010

Life Today for Women and Girls in Taliban-Controlled Areas

The accounts of women interviewed by Human Rights Watch show that their freedoms are reduced as the insurgency gains strength in their areas. These women all told Human Rights Watch that they had been happy to see the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001. Most had since taken up their former employment or new jobs, including as teachers, health workers, and civil servants. While many said they already faced considerable pressure and restrictions because Afghanistan is a conservative society, the restrictions increase dramatically when insurgent groups gain more power.32

The forces of the Taliban and Hezb-i-Islami (Gulbuddin) target women in a wide range of professions and at all levels, including low-level civil servants.33 They have issued threats and carried out attacks on women who are provincial councilors, police officers, teachers, health workers, social workers and lawyers.34 Men in jobs associated with the government are also attacked, but women in public life face additional threats -- not only because they are more visible (as a smaller group), but also because they are women working outside the home, being seen in public, and mixing with men. Girls above primary school age are also subject to a disproportionately higher level of threat than boys.

Attacks and Threats Against Women Working Outside the Home

At present no organization has specifically researched and reported on attacks on women in conflict areas by anti-government elements. The following cases offer anecdotal evidence of the nature of threats, restrictions, and violence that women suffer living in areas where militant factions have gained some control.35

On April 13, 2010 a female aid worker, Hossai, age 22, was shot in Kandahar as she left the offices of her employer, a for-profit US development organization, DAI. She died the next day from her wounds.36 In the weeks preceding her death someone saying he was with the Taliban had been calling her, warning her to leave her job. Hossai told relatives that she did not think the threats were real.37

Night Letters

A common means of intimidation and control of local communities by insurgents is the use of night letters -- threatening letters usually hand-delivered or posted to a door or mosque by insurgent groups, often at night. Nadia N., who worked for an international NGO in a southern province, received the following night letter soon after the killing of Hossai:

We would warn you today on behalf of the Servants of Islam to stop working with infidels. We always know when you are working. If you continue, you will be considered an enemy of Islam and will be killed. In the same way that yesterday we have killed Hossai, whose name was on our list, your name and other women's names are also our list.38

Nadia N. told Human Rights Watch that she believed that she was targeted because she was working "outside the home." She informed the local security services, but said she expected no protection. She resigned from her job, and has moved to another province. 39

Many women, like Nadia N., above, told us of "night letters" they'd received -- written threats that are sometimes addressed to communities, sometimes to individuals. Often letters refer to the gender of the recipient.40 Fatima K. received this letter in February 2010:

We Taliban warn you to stop working otherwise we will take your life away. We will kill you in such a harsh way that no woman has so far been killed in that manner. This will be a good lesson for those women like you who are working. The money you receive is haram [prohibited under Islam] and coming from the infidels. The choice is now with you. 41

The following translation is of a night letter sent to a large number of homes in Kapisa province in late 200942:

To all those girls who live in Kohistan 1 district of Kapisa province and to those girls in particular who make telephone call to radio stations and introduce themselves and request songs. Hereafter, they are seriously warned that they should not call any local or international radios. If anyone does it again, particularly girls, they will face serious consequences: they will either be beheaded or acid will be thrown in their faces. From: The Islamic Brotherhood Group.43

Asma A., who was a teacher at a girls' school in a southern province, was sent a night letter with a Taliban insignia in October 2009 that forced her to leave her job. This is an excerpt:

We warn you to leave your job as a teacher as soon as possible otherwise we will cut the heads off your children and we shall set fire to your daughter.44

Jamila W. was threatened in August 2009, when she was working with the local electoral commission, in a southern province. The letter she received was also signed with a Taliban insignia.

..... [Y]ou work with election office together with the enemies of religion and infidels. You should leave your job otherwise we will cut your head off your body. You will have no right to complain then.45

She told Human Rights Watch that she ignored the letter, but several days later her father was murdered. Since then she has been terrified. She resigned from her job, and has moved house.

Freshta S., a teacher in a southeastern province, was forced to leave her job because of Taliban threats. She told Human Rights Watch:

The security situation deteriorated in the last three years..... In my village the Taliban distributed 'night letters' and warned that women cannot go out and work. If they go to work then they will be killed. This scared me and my family and since then I have spent all my days at home.46

Similarly, Madiha M. was working as a teacher in an eastern province. More than a year ago she was forced by both night letters and community pressure to give up her job.

I received a lot of threats. I got night letters to my house. And the community where I was living, they also did not want me to work. They also threatened us saying I should not go out and should not teach. So finally I left my job.47

Rahela Z., who was working as a civil servant in a southern province, received the following letter in mid 2009:

You are working with government and organizations. You are warned by Taliban to stop working with them otherwise the Taliban's court shall make a decision about you, which would have severe consequences for you and your family. You will lose your life.48

Loss of Employment

Many of those who were forced by Taliban threats to give up their jobs said they found it hard to make ends meet. Hooriyah H. from an eastern province said,

I was working with the [name of government program withheld] one-and-ahalf years ago. But after the threats that the Taliban were giving to the people and me, I stopped working. They were distributing night letters and giving warnings to the community elders saying that women are not allowed to go out, questioning how the elders could allow women to work. I have to feed my children. My husband also does not have work. We are in a very difficult situation [financially].49

Talking about how challenging it is to work in her central province, Hiba H., a government employee, said, "It is a very unstable province with many districts under the control of the Taliban and they have their own rules and regulations. So it is very difficult to work in those areas." In 2009 Hiba received many complaints from women in the region about the Taliban distributing night letters warning them against leaving their houses. "The last case I heard was a couple of months ago where they have pasted these warnings on walls in different places," she said.

Mursal A., who used to work in a southeastern province, told Human Rights Watch that she had to give up a job she'd loved. She said the threats are compounded by impunity:

I had to give up my job three years ago due to the threats of the antigovernment forces. I was receiving threatening phone calls and night letters. They threatened that if I did not leave my job I would be killed..... . In my provinces there are many security problems for women. Here women get killed but no one is held accountable.50

Latifiyah L. from a central province, said that after the fall of the Taliban in 2001 she "felt like she was released from a dark prison."51 She trained in medicine and was keen to improve women's health in her village. "Unfortunately, my dream did not come true because of the security problems for women," she said. When many from her village in a central province began to receive night letters from the Taliban, she restricted her work movements. She said, The Taliban again became powerful, which frightens me. The Taliban are distributing night letters threatening girls and women not to work out of homes. I don't know what the Taliban will do to women if they become more powerful. When I travel to the provincial capital, I try to go with my brother or father..... I also make sure that I don't carry documents with myself that can prove that I am a social worker. If the Taliban find such documents they will definitely kill me.52

One of the reasons why working women are targeted appears to be the strict Taliban ideology that demands gender segregation and controls on women's movement that were such a feature of the Taliban era.

Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, one of the founding members of the Taliban and the Taliban's former ambassador to Pakistan, was detained by the United States at Guantanamo after the Taliban's fall, and is now resident in Kabul. In an interview with told Human Rights Watch in February 2010 he said that he still thinks it is inappropriate for men and women to mix. When asked about what changes he might anticipate for women's current freedoms were the Taliban to regain some political influence, he said:

Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef: [W]e should also think of the negative aspects of this freedom. Look at their corruption -- the integrity of women is at risk now. In some NGOs -- just go and see how they are treated and see how they are used. Go to the hotels where the women are employed and their rights are violated, and in private sectors where women are employed and they are misused. Go to Bagram and see how the American forces use the women there. This is corruption -- so this aspect should also be considered -- as well as the rights of women.

Interviewer: Moral corruption?

Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef: Moral corruption.

Interviewer: Because they are working together with men?

Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef: Yes. It is against Islam. If you put a young adult man and woman in one room for some time, of course there will be some interactions, which is against Islam. This is like a virus here and it will spread.53

Attacks on Girls' Education

Girls' education has been subject to proportionally more violence than boys' education. This includes threats and attacks on female teachers and students, and targeted attacks on girls' schools, resulting in major disruption and denial of girls' right to education.54

In February 2010 a girls' school in a northern province received the following night letter:

You were already informed by us to close the school and not mislead the pure and innocent girls under this non-Muslim government; however you did not pay attention and you are continuing to keep the school open. We want to remind you that we are going to implement what we are saying, and we do not want to discuss this. This is the last warning to close the school immediately and put a lock on its door. We should not see you in the province too. If you remain in the province, remember that you along with your family will be eliminated. Just wait for your death. It will be a good thing to accept our order. It depends on you.55

At the time of writing, the school remains open.

Since March 2009, night letters have been distributed in numerous villages in Kunduz province, ordering female teachers and girls to stop attending school. Unidentified armed men delivered the letters to girls' schools and local mosques. Most bore the Taliban insignia and were signed by the Taliban shadow governor. Although there are variations in orders from Taliban to different schools in the area, the common restriction is that girls should stop attending school past puberty (around fourth grade).56 The requirement that girls can only be taught by female teachers causes additional problems in rural areas where there are chronic shortages of women teachers.

Prior to the wave of threats and letters, there were physical attacks on schools in the province. In 2008 and 2009 there were three arson attacks, one rocket attack, and an improvised explosive device (IED) planted at one school. 57

In April 2010 more than one hundred girls and women teachers fell ill in Kunduz province, in northern Afghanistan. At the time of writing, forensic tests have not determined a possible cause of poisoning.58 Abdul Moqim Halim, head of the Kunduz Education Department, told Human Rights Watch that the incident was an attack by "enemies of the people," a phrase used by the Afghan government to refer to insurgent groups. Kunduz parliamentarian Fatima Aziz said:

The enemy is attempting through this kind of action to keep the young generation-particularly the girls-in the darkness, and deprive them from education. I hope families will not be threatened by this and continue to let their daughters go to schools.59

There have been similar attacks reported in other parts of the country. On May 4, 2010, 17 girls fell ill at Durkhani High School, in Kabul, and were taken to hospital. A spokesman for the Ministry of Education, Asef Nang, told reporters that "there are destructive elements who don't want girls to continue their education."60 In April and May 2009, 90 girls fell ill at three schools in Kapisa province, including vomiting, dizziness and loss of consciousness.61 There was no claim of responsibility by the Taliban or Hezb-i-Islami (Gulbuddin). It is not known what might have caused the symptoms.62

In November 2008 Taliban members threw acid in the faces of a group of five girls on their way to a school in Kandahar, leaving two girls badly disfigured.63

A number of the women interviewed by Human Rights Watch living in Taliban-controlled areas also reported restrictions on their daughters' education. Freshta S. said in January 2010 that she was forced to take her girls out of school in her eastern province:

I cannot send my daughters to school because the girls' schools are banned by the Taliban. We have received several threatening messages from the Taliban through public announcements in the mosques and night letters from the address of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan against girls' education. For a mother like me, it is a real misery that my daughters cannot go to school and we are not able to do anything.64

Girls and their families are not only frightened by incidents that take place in their districts, but are affected by attacks in other parts of the country, such as the November 2008 acid attack noted above, and a 2007 attack in which unidentified gunmen killed two schoolgirls and wounded six others in Logar province.65 Fahima R., an eighth grade teacher in Kapisa province told Human Rights Watch, "Every time a girls' school in Kandahar or anywhere in the country is burned, I notice fewer girls in my classroom. I know parents fear that something will happen to their girls on their way to school."66

Elaha M., who herself was threatened with night letters and forced to leave her job as a women shura (village council) member, said, "Only my younger daughters can go to school. If the security becomes worse then I cannot even send them to school."67

Some women, like Suraya S., said that the Taliban are compelling parents to restrict girls' education to madrassas (Islamic schools), rather than government schools.

My daughters are not allowed to go to school. The Taliban said that if girls want to be educated, they should go to madrassas. My daughters are now small but what about their future?68

An interview conducted on behalf of Human Rights Watch with Mullah Abdullah, who described himself as a "spiritual leader of the Taliban in Ghazni province", explained why the Taliban targeted girls schools: "We are opposed to un-Islamic educations for women. We close those schools that teach adultery, nudity and un-Islamic behavior."69

Silencing Women in Politics

What does that sacrifice mean? If it means I have to wear a burqa, and in exchange the whole country is at peace, we have bread, and power?... For women I think it will be more than miserable. I don't think we will really get to the level of having stability and security -- we will just lose. Every women activist who has raised her voice in the last 10 years fears they will kill us. I don't know how otherwise they will treat us, how they will deal with the existence of the women activists in society. -- Women’s Rights activist70

Women who are active in political life -- including parliamentarians and provincial councilors -- face attacks and intimidation. This has profound ramifications not only for the safety of women who continue political work, but for their ability to continue to defend the rights of all Afghan women and girls. It can also deter the next generation of women leaders.

On March 6, 2010, unidentified gunmen attacked parliamentarian Fawzia Kufi, the second time she has escaped an assassination attempt.71 On April 5, 2010, Provincial Councilor Neda Pyani was seriously injured in a drive-by shooting in Pul-e Khumri, Baghlan province.72

The government has barely mustered a response even when very high-profile women are killed, attracting much media attention. It has never brought to justice the killers of several prominent women in public life, including Sitara Achakzai, Malalai Kakar, Zakia Zaki and Safia Amajan.73 The fact that these assassinations go unpunished increases the threat against women and compounds their fear. Although male politicians have also been attacked, every attack on a high-profile woman has a multiplier effect on other women in the same profession or region.74

Beyond physical attacks against women politicians, women face constant verbal abuse and threats from their male counterparts while working. Nuhaa N., an official involved in discussions about the Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW) law, described how male parliamentarians hurled insults at a woman parliamentarian who was defending the law. Nuhaa said,

She was arguing passionately for EVAW law. Some MPs said she was un-Islamic and called her a prostitute. She retorted asking them whether they would call their mothers or sisters prostitutes, to which one of the MPs said, 'They don't work outside the house and are not prostitutes.'75

This pressure threatens to increase if extremely misogynist Taliban and Hezb-i-Islami (Gulbuddin) members are brought into the political mainstream. Many of the women interviewed support reintegration and reconciliation, but also expressed concerns that threats and intimidation would only worsen after reconciliation. Said one activist: "We have concerns, of course. We face too much pressure now. What would they do if they were back to silence us?"76

The government's failure to take attacks and threats against women seriously greatly increases the threat that women face, by creating a permissive culture for those who seek to silence and sideline women.77 Without a strong platform in government and society from which to lobby for their rights, women's advancement in Afghanistan will grind to a halt. Their protection becomes all the more pressing if women are entering an era that will become even more hostile to their rights -- which reintegration and reconciliation may create.

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