Fawzia Koofi's shooting reminds us who the Taliban really are

FILE - In this Feb. 5, 2019, file photo, Afghan politician Fawzia Koofi speaks to media before the "intra-Afghan" talks in Moscow, Russia. Koofi survived an assassination attempt, Afghan officials said Saturday, Aug. 15, 2020. A spokesman for the Interior Ministry said that Koofi was attacked late Friday afternoon near the capital of Kabul returning from a visit to the northern province of Parwan. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)

The militant group has denied any involvement in the attack, but it has hardly condemned it either

On Friday evening, a group of gunmen isolated a vehicle at a market by the narrow motorway snaking from the Afghan capital of Kabul to Parwan, a neighbouring province, and opened fire on the women inside. One of the women was Fawzia Koofi, one of only four female members of the 21-person team appointed by the Afghan government to negotiate with the Taliban. Ms Koofi survivedescaping with a bullet wound in her arm. But on the same day, 300 kilometres up the motorway in Kunduz province, a policewoman was dragged out of her house and shot dead in front of her family.

A passage from Ms Koofi’s memoirs describes how, as a newborn, she spent the first day of her life outside and alone; her parents had abandoned her to die because she was born into a family with too many daughters. Fortunately for Afghanistan, they changed their mind. Forty-five years later, Ms Koofi bears the distinction of having served two terms as a Member of Parliament, during which she was instrumental in the passage of a 2009 law to eliminate violence against women – a mission that Friday’s attacks demonstrate is far from accomplished.

epa08602640 A handout photo made available by the National Security Council (NSC) of Afghanistan shows Taliban prisoners preparing to leave from a government prison in Kabul, Afghanistan, 13 August 2020 (issued 14 August 2020). Afghanistan's National Security Council announced that at least 80 Taliban prisoners out of 400 have been released from jail. The prisoners' release is a pre-condition for the intra-Afghan talks.  EPA/AFGHANISTAN NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL HANDOUT -- BEST QUALITY AVAILABLE -- HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES

They also show  how difficult the peace negotiations undertaken by Ms Koofi's colleagues and the Taliban will be. Those negotiations are meant to begin this week, though there had already been talk of delaying them before the attempt on Ms Koofi's life. Although the Taliban has denied any involvement in that attack (its involvement in the killing of the policewoman in Kunduz is unclear), Afghan and international observers will pay close attention to the militant group's handling of the aftermath.

The Taliban's denials have not yet been followed by any strenuous condemnation of the gunmen, any vows to help the government identify and arrest them nor any sympathy extended to Ms Koofi and other women targeted by such violence. Since February, when the Taliban reached an agreement with the US to reduce violence across the country, it has hidden behind aggression from ISIS and other extremist outfits by allowing violence to escalate in areas it controls while denying responsibility. It also does not help that Taliban militants have attempted to kill Ms Koofi several times in the past.

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Taliban militants have attempted to kill Ms Koofi several times in the past

But the Taliban now claim  to want to move towards peace, and seek a permanent stake in Afghan governance. To do so meaningfully, it will have to show that  they understand what governance within the modern framework of universal human rights looks like. Women, as Ms Koofi frequently points out, comprise 55 per cent of Afghanistan's population. The ultimate success of any peace talks will depend upon both sides not only recognising that fact, but embracing it.

Afghanistan is a very different place today from the one it was on the day that Ms Koofi's parents  tried to abandon her in the sun. The country's daughters outnumber its sons, but that must be seen as an asset. As the peace process moves forward, anyone who believes otherwise will be a liability.