Taliban blamed as two female judges shot dead in Afghanistan

Islamabad: Gunmen shot dead two female Afghan judges working for the Supreme Court in an ambush in the country's capital on Sunday, officials said, an attack that the top US envoy in Kabul blamed on the Taliban.

Violence has surged across Afghanistan in recent months despite ongoing peace talks between the Taliban and government – especially in Kabul, where a new trend of targeted killings aimed at high-profile figures has sown fear in the restive city.

An Afghan man sweeps blood after gunmen fired on a car in northern Kabul on Sunday, killing two women judges who worked for Afghanistan’s high court.Credit:AP

The spate of almost daily unclaimed killings is thought to be largely the work of the Taliban, in what is feared to be in part a chilling new campaign to silence liberal voices ahead of any power-sharing negotiations.

Many of the attacks appear aimed at removing advocates of a liberal society at odds with the conservative religious creed espoused by the militants. The killings are feared to be a concerted effort to cow ideological opponents ahead of any talks to find a political settlement.

"The Taliban have two major problems: one is the media and the second is a vibrant civil society," said a Kabul journalist who has to change his route into work every day to avoid detection. "Therefore, the Taliban want to tackle them."

The Taliban officially deny involvement in the attacks, which have included street shootings and the placement of magnetic "sticky" bombs on victims' cars.

A damaged vehicle in a sticky bomb attack that killed a policeman is removed from the site in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Saturday. Credit:AP

Yet some commanders admitted that they considered prominent liberals a target.

"All those killed were standing with the occupation," said one junior commander called Mujahid Rahaman. "Afghan journalists and civil society are evil. They are dancing for the occupation of Afghanistan, misguiding Afghans and spreading secularism. They must stop urgently," he said. The killings are thought to include a tangle of copycat attacks, personal disputes and assaults by other groups, officials and diplomats believe, but most are directed by the Taliban.

Saad Mohseni, whose prominent Moby media group has lost 11 journalists in the past five years, said the current campaign was an escalation of a long-standing Taliban tactic.

He said: "They intimidate people, their critics, and they get rid of more moderate voices. It also gives people the sense that the state cannot protect you whereas we can, and it builds pressure on the government to make concessions when it comes to peace talks."

The killings bear grim echoes of earlier phases in the country's four-decade war when intellectuals and liberals were also snuffed out by conservatives wanting to control society.

Appeals to the Taliban to impose a ceasefire as part of stumbling peace talks with the Afghan government have so far been rejected.

The Telegraph, London

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