KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — A top policewoman in southern Afghanistan died early today after being shot by unknown attackers, months after her predecessor was also slain. Her death, one of the latest in a string of attacks on prominent Afghan women, could make it even harder to recruit female officers in a deeply conservative nation where just 1 percent of the police are women.
Sub-Inspector Negar, who like many Afghans goes by one name, was buying grass for her lambs outside her home on Sunday when two gunmen drove up on a motorbike and fired at her, said Omar Zawak, a spokesman for the governor of Helmand province. She suffered a bullet wound to the neck, and the attackers got away.
Doctors tried to save her. But police spokesman Fareed Ahmad Obaidi said she died at 1 a.m. today. Her body, wrapped in a worn green blanket, was placed on a stretcher and taken to a dusty desert cemetery in a police ambulance. Negar’s funeral was attended by colleagues and family members, many vowing revenge on the attackers.
“They have given us warning that one of us will be killed every three months and we will be killed one by one,” fellow policewoman Malalai, who also goes by one name, told The Associated Press.
She did not say who was behind the killing, but the Taliban are believed to be behind many of the recent assaults on Afghan women. The insurgents have not claimed responsibility for the attack on Negar, and a Taliban spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment. Negar was the top policewoman in Helmand province, and worked in its criminal investigation department in Lashkar Gah city. She had taken over the duties of Islam Bibi, a well-known police officer who was shot dead in July by unknown gunmen. Bibi had told reporters her own relatives had threatened her for holding the job.
Officials have given different ages for Negar, including 35 and 38, and varying accounts of her work history. But her son-in-law, Faizullah Khan, told the AP today that she was 41 and had two children, a son and a daughter, and that she’d worked for the police in the early 1990s before the Taliban Islamist movement took over the country and banned women from working.
“She was like a mother to me, and I learned so many things from her,” a grieving Khan said.
Her son, police officer Hamid Khan, vowed to find her killers.
“I will serve my elders and people, my sisters and my brothers till the last drop of blood in my body. They should not believe that it is the end,” he said of the killers.
Negar’s family has had several police officers, including her son, and a brother and her relatives had not objected to her work, the son-in-law said. However, she’d been getting phone threats from people claiming to be with the Taliban, who have been waging an insurgency since being topped by U.S.-led forces in 2001. Earlier this month, a female parliamentarian held captive for about four weeks was freed by the Taliban in exchange for several detained militants, a provincial lawmaker told The Associated Press. The Taliban said the freed prisoners were “four innocent women and two children.”
In August, insurgents ambushed the convoy of a female Afghan senator, seriously wounding her in the attack and killing her 8-year-old daughter and a bodyguard.
Female police officers seem to be a favorite target of insurgents, and several have been threatened or killed in the past few years. Lt. Col. Malalai Kakar, who worked in southern Kandahar province and was perhaps the best-known female police officer in the country, was shot dead by the Taliban in 2008.
According to a report released earlier this month by the international aid agency Oxfam, efforts to recruit more women into Afghanistan’s police force have been met with limited success. In 2005, the national police force employed just 180 women out of 53,400 personnel, the report said. By July 2013, that had risen to 1,551 policewomen out of 157,000.
The female officers, especially in the deeply conservative southern provinces, face numerous challenges, including disapproval from their own families. Many also face sexual harassment and assault by male colleagues, according to the Oxfam report. And some in the job are given menial tasks such as serving tea, the report said.
Despite the challenges, recruiting more women to serve as police could have major benefits for the Afghan population, especially women and girls who feel uncomfortable or even afraid reporting crimes to male police, Oxfam said.