NANGARHAR, Afghanistan (Reuters) - A regional head of women’s affairs was targeted and killed by a car bomb in Afghanistan’s east on Friday, officials said, the latest act of brazen violence against women in the country.
Hanifa Safi was killed when driving through the capital of Laghman province, Mehtar Lam, when a bomb attached to her car exploded, said the provincial governor’s spokesman Sarhadi Zwak.
“It killed her and left her husband, who was with her in the car, in a coma,” Zwak told Reuters, adding that the attack about 150 km (93 miles) east of Kabul also wounded 10 civilians.
Zwak declined to say whether or not he believed the Taliban were behind the attack, instead saying “enemies of Afghanistan” planted the bomb.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
Safi is the second provincial head of women’s affairs to be assassinated since the posts were created around 10 years ago in each of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, reporting to the Ministry of Women’s Affairs in Kabul.
She joins Safia Ama Jan, who headed the department in southern Kandahar province, and was gunned down in 2006 by members of the Taliban.
Friday’s killing came days after Reuters obtained a video of a 22-year-old woman, named Najiba, being publicly executed for alleged adultery about an hour’s drive from Kabul, sparking international outcry.
The Taliban denied involvement in that attack, although officials in Kabul directly blamed the group for the shooting, a death whose similarity to punishment meted out during their 1996-2001 reign chilled many ordinary Afghans.
A manhunt has been launched for the alleged Taliban members involved in her killing in Parwan province, which took place late last month.
Both killings come at a time of increased violence against women in Afghanistan, which activists blame on what they say is waning interest in women’s rights on the part of President Hamid Karzai’s government.
Afghan women have won back basic rights in education, voting and employment since the Taliban were ousted from power in 2001, but fears are mounting at home and abroad that such freedoms could be traded away as Kabul seeks peace talks with the group.
There are also concerns on the ground and at rights groups that Afghan women are being left out of the equation as most foreign troops plan to leave by 2014 and donor fatigue and general war weariness take their toll on the impoverished country.
Reporting by Rafiq Sherzad; Writing by Amie Ferris-Rotman; Editing by Daniel Magnowski