February 8, 2023

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The former Afghan MP was shot dead in her home in Kabul

A former parliamentarian in Afghanistan was killed at her home in the capital Kabul, police and her family said – a high-profile killing of one of the few parliamentarians who remained in the country after the collapse of the Western-backed Taliban government took power.

MP Mursal Nabizada was shot dead early Sunday morning along with her bodyguard, Kabul police spokesman Khalid Zadran said. Guests visited her at her home the night she was killed, he added. Her brother sustained injuries.

No one has yet been arrested in connection with the killings, Mr Zadran said, and it is not immediately clear whether the conflict was politically motivated or a family or interpersonal conflict. “A full investigation into the incident is ongoing,” Mr Zadran said tweeted on Monday.

When the Taliban took power in August 2021, parliament was dissolved. Ms Nabizada, who was sworn into parliament in 2019 under the previous government, initially wanted to leave the country along with most of her colleagues who were evacuated by Western governments. But she chose to stay in Afghanistan because she couldn’t find a way to bring her family members, said Shinkai Karokhail, a former member of parliament who served with Ms. Nabizada.

Ms. Nabizada’s death comes at a precarious time for women in Afghanistan. In recent months, the Taliban government has issued a barrage of regulations restricting women’s rights and virtually erasing women from public life. Women are now barred from gyms, public parks, and high schools; they cannot travel any significant distance without a male relative; and they must cover themselves from head to toe in burqas and head coverings in public.

More recently, officials also banned women from attending universities and working in most local and international aid groups – prompting many large organizations to halt their activities and threatening to plunge the country even deeper into a humanitarian crisis.

Ms. Nabizada is originally from Nangarhar province in eastern Afghanistan and was only 26 when she won the election. It was an achievement that typified her generation in Afghanistan, who grew up in an era of greater freedom for women after the United States toppled the first Taliban regime.

Over the next two decades, millions of girls returned to school and opportunities for work and public service expanded. When sworn in, Ms. Nabizada was one of 69 women to serve in the 250-seat parliament.

“She was young, energetic and productive,” said Ms Karokhail, the former MP who now lives in Canada. “It was her first experience in government service and she was always busy working for her constituents.”

Despite her short reign, Ms. Nabizada seemed acutely aware of the flaws and widespread corruption that plagued the previous political system.

In an interview with a local channel, Arezo TV, in August last year, Ms Nabizada blamed the collapse of the previous government on corruption and infighting between a few powerful politicians working for their own benefit over the interests of the Afghan people.

“In the previous government, everyone loved their position of power, nobody wanted to lose their position and salary, and as a result, everyone used their power and authority in a useless way,” she said.

Despite its shortcomings, for many like Ms. Nabizada, the former Afghan government represented an era of expanded hope for a better future – and its collapse was devastating. On the TV show, Ms Nabizada recalled the heartbreak she felt the day the Taliban first invaded the capital and the previous government collapsed.

“It was very painful when I saw our soldiers drop their weapons at their checkpoints and leave,” she said. “At that moment my heart burst.”

She explained that after the initial fear and apprehension she felt when the Taliban returned to power, she now felt more comfortable and had returned to a local charity, where she worked before entering Parliament.

But in a show of audacity and defiance, she added that the Taliban government has its own flaws. She is not immune to the influence of foreign countries – similar to how the previous administration was influenced by the United States, she said. The closure of girls’ schools has also been very painful for her, she added.

“Now women are locked up at home,” she said. “They have responsibilities for their families, they have to work. Women are in a very bad situation, which means they are being buried alive in the grave.”

Her comments were a rare public rebuke by anyone inside Afghanistan of a Taliban government cracking down on dissidents and the media.

Despite this, it was clear that Ms. Nabizada could not break free from the increasing restrictions on women. She appeared on the program wearing a black abaya – or robe-like dress – a dark green scarf and a black face mask that covered all but her green eyes.

During the interview, a waiter brought cake and tea to Ms. Nabizada, after which she quipped, “Now how can I eat the cake and drink the tea? You gave me a mask.”

In response, the interviewer laughed and told her the mask wasn’t his idea. It was commissioned by the Ministry of Vice and Virtue Prevention.

Safiullah Padshah contributed to the coverage.