KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) — Gunmen shot the top female police officer in a troubled southern Afghan province Sunday, leaving her facing possible paralysis just months after her predecessor was killed, government and hospital authorities said. It was the latest in a series of attacks on prominent women in Afghanistan, where just 1 percent of the police force is female.
The officer, identified only as Negar, was buying grass for her lambs outside her home when two gunmen drove up on a motorbike and fired at her, said Omar Zawak, a spokesman for the governor of Helmand province.
The 38-year-old suffered a bullet wound to the neck, and the medical team treating her is trying to keep her from being paralyzed as a result of the injury, said one of the doctors who operated on her. He gave him name only as Shahwali for security reasons.
Negar's bodyguards fired back at the gunmen, but the attackers escaped.
Negar serves as a sub-inspector in the police criminal investigation department in Helmand province. She had taken over the duties of Islam Bibi, a well-known police officer who was shot dead in July by unknown gunmen as she headed to work. Bibi had told reporters she had even been threatened by male members of her own family for her job.
Zawak said Negar had given recent interviews to media outlets saying that Afghan policewomen would not quit in the face of the dangers they faced.
Several prominent Afghan women have been attacked or kidnapped in recent months.
Earlier this month, a female parliamentarian held captive for about four weeks was freed by the Taliban in exchange for several detained militants, a provincial lawmaker told The Associated Press. The Taliban said the freed prisoners were "four innocent women and two children."
In August, insurgents ambushed the convoy of a female Afghan senator, seriously wounding her in the attack and killing her 8-year-old daughter and a bodyguard.
Female police officers seem to be a favorite target of insurgents, and several have been threatened or killed in the past few years. Lt. Col. Malalai Kakar, who worked in southern Kandahar province and was perhaps the best-known female police officer in the country, was shot dead by the Taliban in 2008.
According to a report released earlier this month by the international aid agency Oxfam, efforts to recruit more women into Afghanistan's police force have been met with limited success. In 2005, the national police force employed just 180 women out of 53,400 personnel, the report said. By July 2013, that had risen to 1,551 policewomen out of 157,000.
The female officers, especially in the deeply conservative southern provinces, face numerous challenges, including disapproval from their own families. Many also face sexual harassment and assault by male colleagues, according to the Oxfam report. And some in the job are given menial tasks such as serving tea, the report said.
Despite the challenges, recruiting more women to serve as police could have major benefits for the Afghan population, especially women and girls who feel uncomfortable or even afraid reporting crimes to male police, Oxfam said.
Shah reported from Kabul, Afghanistan. Associated Press writer Nahal Toosi in Kabul contributed to this report.