Afghan women’s rights trailblazer survives gun attack

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KABUL (AFP) – Trailblazing Afghan women s rights campaigner Fawzia Koofi, a member of the negotiating team that will hold peace talks with the Taliban, has been wounded in a gun attack near Kabul, officials said Saturday.

Gunmen opened fire on Koofi, 45, and her sister on Friday when they were returning from a meeting in the province of Parwan near the capital, interior ministry spokesman Tariq Arian said.

Koofi, a former member of parliament and strong critic of the Taliban, was shot in her right hand, he said, adding that she was in a stable condition. The Taliban denied they were involved in the attack on Koofi. The attack drew strong condemnation from Afghanistan s President Ashraf Ghani — who described it as a “cowardly attack”, according to his spokesman Sediq Seddiqi.

Abdullah Abdullah, who heads the national reconciliation council, called on Afghan authorities to bring “the perpetrators of the attack to justice”. The chief of Afghanistan s Independent Human Rights Commission, Shaharzad Akbar, also condemned the “horrific attack”. “Worrying pattern of targeted attacks that can negatively impact confidence in peace process,” she wrote on Twitter.

In recent months, there have been gun attacks against human rights activists and prosecutors in Kabul. Koofi survived a previous assassination attempt in 2010, when gunmen fired at her as she was returning to the capital after an International Women s Day event.

She was among the few women in a pan-Afghan delegation that held several rounds of unofficial dialogue with the Taliban in 2019. That dialogue came alongside separate negotiations between the Islamist militants and the United States in Qatar which finally led to the signing of an agreement between the two in February this year.

At the time, Koofi told AFP how she had received threats previously from militants just for wearing nail polish.

Pride and stress

Koofi is now one of four women negotiators in the Afghan team that will hold direct talks with the Taliban in the coming days. “I think this time we are going for serious talks,” she told AFP this week. “There is a sense of pride… but in the meantime, it s a lot of stress. “You have to really make sure that you are perfect in many ways.”

Koofi, a widow and mother of two daughters, was the first girl in her family to attend school. Her education was interrupted when she was forced out of medical college in 1996 as the Taliban stormed to power.

It was only after the US-led invasion in 2001 that she rose to prominence as a politician and in 2005, became the first woman to serve as the deputy speaker of Afghanistan s parliament.

The talks with the Taliban are expected within days, aimed at ending the conflict that has ravaged Afghanistan for almost two decades.

Afghan authorities are currently releasing from jails some 400 Taliban militants, fulfilling a key demand from the insurgent group for any talks. But the release has raised widespread international concern as some of those militants are accused of killing scores of people including foreigners in deadly attacks.

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