Female Afghan Police Commander Is Shot

September 15, 2013

Female Afghan Police Commander Is Shot


KABUL, Afghanistan — An outspoken female police commander in southern Helmand Province was shot and wounded by two gunmen on Sunday, the third such attack on a female officer since July, the authorities said.

The commander, identified as Second Lt. Nigara, was shot in the neck and was in critical condition at a hospital in Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital. The regional medical director, Enayatullah Ghafari, said initial indications were that she had been paralyzed.

Lieutenant Nigara, who goes by only one name, had just walked out of her home when two gunmen on a motorcycle shot her from behind. No one has claimed responsibility, but the authorities blamed drug traffickers or Taliban insurgents.

In the two previous attacks, the policewomen were killed. All three episodes involved unknown gunmen who attacked during daylight hours in the provincial capital. There are 30 female officers still in the province.

“The policewomen were active and discovered drugs and foiled terrorists’ plots, and that’s why they are on the top of their targeting lists,” said Ahmad Zwak, a spokesman for the provincial governor.

In an interview this month, Lieutenant Nigara said she was undeterred by the deaths of her two colleagues. She told of living with constant death threats and in near poverty after her brother, also a police officer, was shot and paralyzed. She had been caring for him and his four children, in addition to doing her job.

“I’m living in a ramshackle house, and whenever I come back there from duty, I smile to my husband that I am alive,” she said.

She added: “I love this job, and I see my countrymen in trouble and the country in a critical situation, and I feel women’s role is important in policing.”

Lieutenant Nigara originally joined the force during the Communist era in the early 1990s, and she returned after the fall of the Taliban.

She recounted how in 2006 she stopped a would-be suicide bomber, who was wearing an explosive vest, by throwing her arms around him in a bearhug. She apprehended insurgents and drug smugglers several times, even though they were disguised in burqas. And she said she once climbed onto a rooftop to capture an insurgent sniper.

“I am receiving threats on a daily basis,” she said. “The smugglers and terrorists are threatening me, saying I should give up, but I tell them that I am an Afghan woman, and I won’t leave the job as long as there is blood in my veins.”

Mr. Zwak, the provincial spokesman, said the latest attack would not deter the other female officers. “We have a lot of courageous women in the police, and they won’t give up,” he said.

But a police official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the subject, worried that the shooting of Lieutenant Nigara would serve as a deterrent. “She was the one encouraging female staff to continue working,” he said. “The policewomen were all terrified when the two policewomen were killed.”

In July, Third Lt. Islam Bibi, who was in charge of the female recruiting department for the Helmand police and was a seven-year veteran of the force, was fatally shot in the back while on a motorcycle with a male relative. She left a husband and seven children. Also in July, Sgt. Shah Bibi, a six-year veteran of the force whose husband, also a police officer, was killed earlier, was shot while shopping in the bazaar. She left four children.

“These recent assassinations really have had a negative impact on how the policewomen feel,” Lieutenant Nigara said in the interview earlier this month. “I am giving them courage and boosting their morale.”

She added: “They are really courageous women. None quit their jobs, and I am sure none will, even if things become even worse.”

Alissa J. Rubin contributed reporting from Paris.