Kandahar women's affairs head assassinated

Safia Hama Jan, a leading women’s rights advocate and outspoken critic of the Taliban, was killed in the southern Afghan province of Kandahar on Monday.

Gunmen on a motorcycle opened fire at Hana Jan, provincial director of the Afghan Ministry of Women's Affairs in insurgency-hit Kandahar province, as she was leaving for work early on Monday, Daud Ahmadi, a spokesman for the Kandahar governor confirmed, adding that she had died on the spot.

Local officials have launched an investigation into the incident, blaming the ongoing Taliban insurgency in the area for the attack.

“This is the work of the enemies of peace, democracy and development in the country,” Ahmadi maintained.

The attack follows scores of others carried out by the Taliban who, though toppled by US-led coalition forces in 2001, are now waging an increasingly deadly insurgency in the war-battered nation. Hundreds have died this year alone.

On 10 September, Taliban militants killed the governor of southeastern Paktia province in a suicide bombing.

Commenting on Monday’s attack, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) that oversees development in the post-Taliban country expressed outrage over what it described as a meaningless death.

“UNAMA is appalled at this senseless murder of a woman who was simply working to ensure that all Afghan women play a full and equal part in the future of Afghanistan,” UNAMA spokesman Aleem Siddique said in the Afghan capital, Kabul.

"What we need to see in Afghanistan is peace, development and progress," Siddique stressed. "We share the sentiment of the majority of Afghan people who are appalled at this killing."

Hama Jan was an active supporter of women's rights and a very dedicated woman, said Abdul Quadar Noorzai, regional head of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) in Kandahar.

“Her death will have a serious impact on women’s activities in the south where women are already suffering from various problems due to the deteriorating security and conservative traditions,” Noorzai told IRIN.

Hama Jan had held the position of provincial women's affairs chief since Afghanistan's Ministry of Women's Affairs was established in 2002.

According to local media reports, Hana Jan’s requests for secure official transport and personal bodyguards had not been granted by the government. At the time of the attack she was travelling in a taxi.

Such attacks are hardly new in the restive south, where Taliban militants have threatened the lives of anyone working for the government or foreign troops in the area. Just last week, the Taliban ambushed and killed 19 Afghans employed in reconstruction in the province.