A leading female Afghan politician was shot dead on Sunday after leaving a provincial council meeting in Kandahar, Afghanistan, which her colleagues had begged her not to attend.
Sitara Achakzai was attacked by two gunmen as she arrived at her home in a rickshaw — a vehicle colleagues said she deliberately chose to use to avoid attracting attention.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the murder. The two gunmen were apparently waiting for Achakzai, a 52-year-old women’s rights activist who had lived for many years in Germany when the Taliban were in power in Afghanistan.
Officials said she returned in 2004 to her home in Kandahar, which is also the birthplace and spiritual home of the Taliban.
One of Achakzai’s friends, speaking anonymously, said colleagues had begged her not to attend the meeting, which takes place twice a week.
“She knew the danger she was in. Just a couple of days ago she was joking about the fact that she had a 300,000 rupee price on her head,” she said. “Like other women she would always travel in a rickshaw rather than a big armored Humvee because it’s less conspicuous, but it also made her easier prey.”
Achakzai’s life was in danger because she was not only a women’s rights activist but also as a local politician. Taliban militants target anyone associated with the government of Afghanistan and last month launched an audacious assault with four suicide bombers on the provincial council building in Kandahar city, killing 17 people.
There have been many other attacks on women in the province, including the assassination in 2006 of Safia Amajan, the head of the province’s women’s affairs department.
Malalai Kakar, a top policewoman in the city, was killed last September, and schoolgirls have had acid thrown in their faces as punishment for attending school.
Achakzai had put herself at the forefront of the women’s rights struggle in Kandahar, and last year organized a “prayer for peace” demonstration in one of the city’s biggest mosques on International Women’s Day.
About 1,500 women attended the event, although this year the women were banned from entering the building and instead held a meeting at the city’s human rights commission.
Ahmed Wali Karzai, head of the Kandahar Provincial Council and brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, said he had seen Achakzai earlier in the day before she was murdered, and had granted her leave from her duties so she could visit a sick relative in Canada.
“I had just said goodbye and joked that it was a good time to leave because our offices have been totally destroyed and need to be rebuilt,” he said.
Karzai said that Achakzai had for the past two years held the post of secretary in the provincial council, which, until her death, had four female members of the 15-strong body. She was married to an academic who taught at Kandahar University.
Wenny Kusama, country director of the UN Development Fund for Women, said the murder of Achakzai was an attack “on all freedom.”