Canwest News Service, September 28, 2008

Afghan woman police director gunned down by Taliban

Just this June, the Kandahar detective confirmed that her taboo-shattering career had spawned numerous death threats.

Tom Blackwell

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - As Afghanistan's most senior and most famous female police officer, based in the country's ultra-conservative south, Lieut.-Col. Malalai Kakar knew she was a marked woman.

Malalai Kakar
Malalai Kakar was shot dead by Taliban militants in Kandahar (Photo: CBC)

Just this June, the Kandahar detective confirmed that her taboo-shattering career had spawned numerous death threats.

On Sunday, two days after taking part in a Canadian event to mark the end of Islam's holiest month, insurgents grimly confirmed her fears, shooting Kakar dead as she left her house.

The officer's son, who doubled as her driver, was seriously wounded in the ambush, carried out by two men on a motorcycle.

The murder came as the country struggles against worsening insurgent violence, and works to reverse years of female oppression under the former Taliban regime.

"We note the Taliban claim of responsibility for this. It is repugnant," Adrian Edwards, the chief United Nations spokesman in Afghanistan, told Canwest News Service by e-mail.

"Malalai was popular, respected, and courageous . . . Her murder is without a doubt a great blow to Afghanistan and Afghanistan's women, especially."

Two days ago, Kakar cheerfully helped Canadian soldiers and federal officials hand out food to needy families at an event to mark the end of Ramadan.

The trail-blazing policewoman, who had been profiled repeatedly in the international media, was struck by a single bullet to the head, said Zalmai Ayobi, spokesman for the provincial governor. "Immediately, she died."

Although Ayobi said police had not determined who carried out the killing, the Taliban later claimed responsibility.

"We killed Malalai Kakar," Yousuf Ahmadi, the insurgents' self-described spokesman told AFP wire service. "She was our target, and we successfully eliminated our target."

Ayobi said mother and son were attacked despite driving in a non-descript Toyota Corolla, rather than Kakar's more conspicuous police truck.

President Hamid Karzai condemned the attack as an "act of cowardice"

In a brief statement Ron Hoffman, Canada's ambassador to Afghanistan, expressed his sympathies for friends and family of the officer.

"She was a beacon of hope for women in democratic and free Afghanistan," he said.

Kakar had been a police officer before the Taliban took over in 1995 -once killing three would-be assassins -but was forced from her job by the regime's edict against women working outside the home.

She returned to the force after the Islamists were toppled in 2001, and became one of its most senior officers, heading a unit that specializes in spousal abuse and other crimes against women, which are often overlooked in southern, Pashtun culture.

Two years ago, in another jab at tradition here, she stopped wearing a burka on the job.

In her wake, more than 20 women have joined the Kandahar police, said Ayobi.

But over the last year, she and her relatives, as well as other female officers, had received more and more threats by letter and cellphone, one telling her son to convince his mother to quit, or she would be killed.

The shooting left her son in a coma, Ayobi said

Afghan police have arguably born the brunt of insurgent violence, with 750 killed just in the last six months. Bibi Hoor, 26, based in the western city of Herat, was the first female officer to be killed, also by men on motorcycles, in June.

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