The police officer, Malalai Kakar, who was in her mid-forties with six children, was an iconic figure among women’s groups in Afghanistan and abroad. Often profiled in the Afghan and foreign news media, she was one of the leading totems for the wider freedoms gained by women when the Taliban, with their repressive policies toward women, were ousted from power by an American-led coalition in 2001.
The attack was the latest in a wave of attacks on women across Afghanistan for which the Taliban have claimed responsibility. After scattering in the wake of the 2001 offensive, the Islamic militants have regrouped over the past two years, mounting a new offensive across wide areas of eastern and southern Afghanistan. Attacks on women, girls’ schools and organizations working for women’s advancement have become increasingly common.
“We killed Malalai Kakar,” a Taliban spokesman, Yousuf Ahmadi, told the Agence France-Presse news agency in a telephone call. “She was our target, and we successfully eliminated our target.”
Ms. Kakar, with the rank of captain, was head of Kandahar’s department of crimes against women, heading about 10 female officers, and spent her working life tackling theft, domestic violence and murders. She joined the police in the city in 1982, following in the footsteps of her father and brothers, but was forced out after the Taliban captured Kandahar in the mid-1990s and banned all women from working.
She was the first female police officer in the country to return to work after the Taliban were ousted.
Her killing prompted a wave of tributes. President Hamid Karzai, on a trip to the United States, issued a statement calling the attack “an act of cowardice” committed by “enemies of peace and welfare and reconstruction of Afghanistan.” The Interior Ministry in Kabul, responsible for the country’s 80,000-strong police, about 700 of them women, called Ms. Kakar “a brave hero among women and loyal to her profession,” and said she had been “cowardly martyred.”
The police commander in Kandahar, Matiullah Qati, said Ms. Kakar had continued working despite repeated death threats. “She took a big risk by continuing to work in the current serious situation, and her death will undoubtedly have a negative impact on other women who may have wanted to join the police but now may not dare to,” he said.
The European Union’s mission in Kabul said it was “appalled by the brutal targeting” of the police officer, and added: “Any murder of a police officer is to be condemned, but the killing of a female officer whose service was not only to her country, but to Afghan women, to whom Ms. Kakar served as an example, is particularly abhorrent.”