Kabul, Nov 24: Afghan lawmaker Shukria Barakzai says the suicide bomber who plowed into her motorcade a week ago wanted to silence a voice on women's rights with a deafening blast.
Barakzai is lucky to be alive after her attacker rammed a car full of explosives into her armored vehicle, killing three civilians and putting her in the hospital with minor injuries. Human rights groups fear that the cause to which she is committed -- bringing women into public life in the deeply conservative country -- is also in peril.
With US and NATO combat troops set to withdraw by the end of the year and many international organizations also scaling back operations, they fear that the Afghan government will be under less pressure to uphold women's rights, providing a new opening for conservatives to roll back gains made since the 2001 US-led invasion that toppled the Taliban.
"I was the target of this attack simply because I am a defender of women's rights, a defender of human rights, and I value democracy and freedom of speech," Barakzai said from her hospital bed. No one claimed responsibility for the attack, which bore the hallmarks of the Haqqani network, a Taliban affiliate based in Pakistan that sends suicide bombers against prominent targets.
Attacks in the capital Kabul have escalated since President Ashraf Ghani took office in September. Insurgent groups oppose the bilateral security agreement he signed with Washington, ratified by Parliament yesterday, as well as his support for women's rights and peace talks with the Taliban.
As Ghani prepares to meet international donors in London next month, he is under pressure from rights advocates as well as allies like Barakzai to stick to his commitments and ensure women have a central role in any peace talks. But he is under equal or greater pressure from insurgents and conservatives in the Afghan government to abandon those commitments as the price for peace.
Jorrit Kamminga, a policy adviser for the charity Oxfam, says peace is not possible unless women are involved in the process. "The exclusion of women will lead to an imperfect and unsustainable peace," he said in an interview to coincide with the release today of a report titled "Behind Closed Doors." "We don't need to promote women's rights, it is already in the constitution," he said.
"What we need to do is urge the government to respect the constitution and carry it through to peace talks, connect those two elements, and make sure that women's rights are connected to those peace efforts."