KANDAHAR, Afghanistan – A teacher for more than three decades and an advocate for women’s rights, Safia Ama Jan ran an underground school for girls during Taliban rule. On Monday, two men on a motorbike gunned her down as she left for work – identifying their target despite her full burqa.
The assassination underscored the increasingly brazen attacks by militants on government officials and schools in Afghanistan. President Hamid Karzai, visiting Washington, condemned the killing as an act of radicalism.
Ama Jan, a provincial director for the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, was slain outside her home in the southern city of Kandahar, said Tawfiq ul-Ulhakim Parant, senior adviser to the women’s ministry in Kabul.
“The enemy of Afghanistan killed her, but they should know it will not derail women from the path we are on. We will continue on our way,” said Fariba Ahmedi, a parliament member from Kandahar who joined hundreds of men and women, including the provincial governor, at Ama Jan’s funeral at a packed Shiite Muslim mosque.
Mullah Sadullah, a regional Taliban commander, claimed responsibility for the killing in a telephone call to the Associated Press. It was impossible to verify the claim, and the two attackers fled after the shooting.
Ama Jan was known as an active proponent of women’s rights in this former Taliban stronghold. Despite her activism, she always wore a burqa, and was shot dead while wearing the traditional Islamic garment, said her son, Naqibullah.
Her death comes at a time of rising violence at the hands of Taliban militants. This month a suicide bomber assassinated a provincial governor – a close associate of Karzai – and last week militants killed 19 construction workers riding on a bus in Kandahar province.
Attacks on schools are also increasing. Militants last year burned down or attacked 146 schools and already this year have attacked 158 schools, said Zuhoor Afghan, the top adviser to Afghanistan’s education minister.
The school attacks appear motivated partly by Taliban opposition to education for girls – claiming it is against Islam – but also as a strategy to undermine the reach of Karzai’s U.S.-backed government. The government has tried, with mixed success, to promote women’s rights enshrined under Afghanistan’s post-Taliban constitution.
“The enemies of Afghanistan must understand that we have millions of people like (Ama Jan) who will continue to serve this great nation,” Karzai said in a statement.
Ama Jan, who was said to be in her 60s, ran vocational schools for women. Her son said she taught girls at an underground school she ran out of their home during the Taliban’s ultraconservative rule from 1996-2001.
Naqibullah, who goes by only one name, said his mother had not received any threats on her life, as far as he knew, but that he and his father tried to get her to quit her work because of the deteriorating security situation.
“She said, ‘It’s my country, I won’t quit my job. I want to do this work for our women, for our country. I want women to be able to work just like men,’ ” Naqibullah recalled.