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 survived, escaping 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.
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.
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.