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Taliban killing squads step up attacks on women, journalists, judges, rights activists

IS claims assassination of women

A series of assassinations have struck Afghanistan, mainly targeting prominent women, journalists, rights activists and judges.

The wave of targeted killings has stoked fear in Afghanistan and heightened anxiety about what the future holds in the war-scarred country.

On Tuesday three female employees of a TV news channel were shot dead in the city of Jalalabad. The women were killed in two separate but coordinated attacks as they made their way home from work. A fourth was critically hurt.

The brother of one of the victims Haron Rahimi , a student of Harvard Business School tweeted , ‘My little sister was killed in Jalalabad. I cannot handle pain and it’s really hard, while I am abroad. How can you folks trust the Taliban to negotiate ? How can we trust this peace process?”

Zalmai Latifi, head of local broadcaster Enikas TV told the Afghan media that the three women were recent high school graduates aged between 18 and 20 who worked in the station's dubbing department.

Enikas TV station says of 10 women it employed, four have now been killed  including a presenter, Malalai Maiwand, who was shot dead in December along with her driver while travelling in Jalalabad. IS claimed it was behind the attack.

Provincial police chief Juma Gul Hemat said that the suspected lead attacker had been arrested and that he was connected to the insurgent Taliban.

Though the Taliban has denied any role in the incidents, the Islamic State (IS) extremist group has claimed responsibility for the attacks.

One journalist based in Ghazani, a stronghold of Taliban told Indianarrative.com that the situation is very bad. “Talibans are keeping an eye on everyone. They have asked parents not to send their daughters to school. I can’t send any What’s App message to any one regarding the situation here.”

Tuesday's shootings are part of a wave of killings, with rights activists, judges and journalists among targets in recent months amid the ongoing peace talks between the Afghan government and Taliban negotiators in Qatar.

Afghanistan is considered one of the most dangerous countries in the world for media workers, according to the United Nations. At least 65 media professionals and human rights activists have been killed in a series of targeted killings across Afghanistan, from 2018 through the first month of this year, the UN reported in February.

"The targeted killing of journalists could cause a state of fear in the journalistic community, and this could lead to self-censorship, abandonment of media activities, and even leaving the country," Mujib Khalwatgar, head of Afghan media advocacy group Nai, said on Tuesday.

In the past, responsibility for such killings was often claimed by some armed groups. The recent targeted killings, however, have been carried out anonymously or claimed by the IS which has links with the Taliban. Both the government of Afghanistan and NATO have unequivocally blamed the Taliban for these incidents, while the Taliban have so far denied such allegations.

The timing and nature of these killings have led most Afghans and international stakeholders to believe that the Taliban are, directly or indirectly, behind this wave of violence, for at least two reasons: to strengthen their negotiating position in the Doha, Qatar talks and to remove the vanguards of freedom of expression, a vital stratum of Afghan society that is resisting the Taliban’s return, while sowing fear and terrorising the public.

Meanwhile, Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani has said: “One thing needs to be clear: Afghan society is not willing to go back, and we are not a type of society that the Taliban-type approach of the past can be imposed on us. That was the peace of the graveyard.”

While the US special envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad is visiting Kabul to continue discussions with the leaders of the Afghan government and the Taliban over the failing peace talks. However, as long as the critical support to the Taliban from Pakistan’s military continues no meaningful peace and security can come to Afghanistan.