On January 17th, two female judges were ambushed and shot dead by two unknown gunmen on their way to court in Kabul, Afghanistan. Police have stated that the two judges were declared dead at around 8.30 AM and that the driver was wounded, adding that the case is under investigation. This is the most recent tragedy in a series of attacks and assassinations on journalists, judges, civil servants, doctors, and activists in the capital, despite the current peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government. A Taliban spokesman has denied any involvement in this incident.
President Ashraf Ghani has condemned the judges’ murder, blaming the Taliban and other militant groups for the incident. “Terror, horror and crime” are not the answer, the president stressed, while urging the Taliban and other militant groups to declare a ceasefire.
Ross Wilson, the American charge d’affaires in Kabul, has called for a quick investigation into the attack, which he condemned, calling upon the Taliban to “understand that such actions for which it bears responsibility, outrage the world and must cease if peace is to come to Afghanistan.”
Heather Barr, co-director of the women’s rights division in Afghanistan, has criticized Afghanistan’s slow progress regarding women’s rights, noting just how impactful this attack is for the movement. “There are only about 250 female judges,” Barr said, “so this murder of two of them represents the death of almost 1%.” Barr has also criticized the government’s approach to attacks on women. “[T]he Afghan government is doing little to protect them when they are alive and little to investigate when they’re dead,” she said.
This latest attack on civil servants came two days after the U.S. Pentagon stated that the number of American troops in Afghanistan will be reduced to 2,500, following Donald Trump’s promise to bring the remaining troops home by this May. During these talks, the Taliban agreed to counterterrorism measures and confirmed that it will be partaking in a permanent ceasefire negotiation with the Afghan government.
Afghanistan’s vice president, Amrullah Saleh, said that the United States’ fast retreat will inadvertently lead to more violence within the region and leave the government with less support during the peace talks.
The U.S. military has directly accused the Taliban of the recent rash of attacks against government officials, activists, journalists, and more. A spokesperson for the U.S. troops in Afghanistan said, “The Taliban’s campaign of unclaimed attacks and targeted killings of government officials, civil society leaders, and journalists must cease for peace to succeed.”
The Afghanistan spy chief, Ahmad Zia Siraj, claimed that the Taliban has carried out more than 18,000 attacks within the last year. “The Taliban were terrorists,” Vice President Saleh said. “They are terrorists today. They are killing women, activists, civil rights activists.”
2020’s sheer increase of attacks on people of influence, more often than not in broad daylight, begs for action from both the Afghan government and the global community. Officials must better identify and protect individuals in vulnerable positions, and must thoroughly and promptly investigate such attacks when they occur.
With the slow progression of the peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government, several sources on both sides have stated that they are waiting for the new Biden administration to announce its policy on Afghanistan before making any further progress.