Gunmen shoot and kill top Afghan policewoman

The attack is the latest in a series of killings of high-profile women by insurgents opposed to women's rights

Relatives and policewomen in the back of an ambulance as they transport the body of a senior female police officer, Negar, for burial in Helmand province Sept. 16, 2013.
Abdul Malik/Reuters

A top policewoman in southern Afghanistan has died after being shot by unknown attackers, months after her predecessor was slain under similar circumstances. Her death is the latest of a string of attacks on prominent Afghan women.

Sub-inspector Negar, who like many Afghans goes by one name, was outside her home buying grass for her lambs Sunday when two gunmen drove up on a motorbike and shot her in the neck, said Omar Zawak, a spokesman for the governor of the southern province of Helmand.

Doctors tried to save her, but she died early Monday, police spokesman Fareed Ahmad Obaidi said. Zawak also confirmed her death.

Kandahar government spokesman Javid Faisal told Al Jazeera that Negar believed that what she was doing was important for all women in Helmand.

"She was considered the most effective female police commander in the province, and she believed her duty was the most crucial and most important for women in Helmand province," Faisal said.

He also said that insurgents and extremists are against women's rights and women's independence in the country.

Another policewoman, Malalai, who also goes by one name, told The Associated Press that extremists "have given us warning that one of us will be killed every three months and we will be killed one by one." 

Malalai 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.

Officials have given different ages for Negar, including 35 and 38, and varying accounts of her work history. Her son-in-law, Faizullah Khan, told AP that she was 41 and had two children, a son and a daughter, and that she worked for the police in the early 1990s before the Taliban took over the country and barred women from working.

"She was like a mother to me, and I learned so many things from her," Khan said. 

Negar worked in Helmand's criminal-investigation department in the city of Lashkar Gah. She took 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.

Women under attack

Several female police officers and prominent women have been threatened or killed in the past few years.

In August an armed group ambushed the convoy of a female Afghan senator, seriously wounding her in the attack and killing her 8-year-old daughter and a bodyguard.

Earlier this month, a female parliamentarian who was held captive for about four weeks was freed by the Taliban in exchange for several detained fighters, a provincial politician told AP. The Taliban said the freed prisoners were "four innocent women and two children."

In 2008, Lt. Col. Malalai Kakar, who worked in the neighboring province of Kandahar and was a well-known female police officer in the country, was shot dead by the Taliban.

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 face numerous challenges, including disapproval from their families. Many also face sexual harassment and assault by male colleagues and are given menial tasks like serving tea, according to the Oxfam report. 

Al Jazeera and The Associated Press

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