KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A female Afghan parliamentarian was freed by the Taliban on Saturday in exchange for several militants, a provincial lawmaker said. The Taliban said the freed prisoners were "four innocent women and two children."
Taliban militants often use kidnap victims as bargaining chips to gain the freedom of their fellow insurgents, and the Afghan government is generally unwilling to discuss details of what such negotiations involve. Fariba Ahmadi Kakar's abduction a month ago was also one of a string of attacks on prominent women in Afghanistan, where women's rights remain under attack more than a decade after the U.S. ousted the Taliban government.
Kakar was kidnapped in Ghazni province while driving from Kabul to her constituency in the southern province of Kandahar. She is one of 69 female deputies in the 249-seat lower house of parliament.
Zholina Faizi, secretary of the Ghazni provincial council, told The Associated Press that Kakar was released Saturday at 5 p.m. and is doing fine. Faizi said Afghan intelligence officials told her that seven male insurgents and one woman were freed in exchange for Kakar.
The Taliban, however, said in a statement that four women and two children imprisoned by the government were freed. The statement said the women and children were being held merely because they were related to members of the Islamist militia, whose fighters "felt compelled to take action to help the persecuted and oppressed female relatives of its mujahedeen."
Faizi could not confirm the Taliban's claims. And other Afghan officials, including Ghazni province Gov. Mousa Khan Akbarzadeh, declined to comment on whether anyone was freed for Kakar's sake.
"Yes, she's been released by the effort and mediation of tribal elders and clerics in Ghazni," Akbarzadeh said. "Her health is fine, and she is now with her family. I hope this kind of bad news never repeats itself in the history of Afghanistan."
Abdul Rahim Ayubi, a member of parliament from Kandahar, said Kakar was in the southern province with her family but expected to go to Kabul in a couple of days. "It's good news for all of us," he said.
As U.S.-led forces withdraw from Afghanistan, with a full exit planned by the end of 2014, concerns have risen about the future of women in this conservative Muslim nation. Although women have made great strides since the fall of the Taliban government in 2001, they still face many restrictions in their daily lives, and the ongoing security problems haven't helped.
Earlier in the week, militants shot dead an Indian woman who lived in Afghanistan's east and who had written a memoir about life under the former Taliban government that was turned into a Bollywood movie.
The Taliban, meanwhile, seem to have increased their sway, even in areas where they once had a limited presence, such as the north.
1st Lt. AnnMarie Annicelli, a NATO spokeswoman, confirmed that a NATO airstrike had killed four militants on Friday afternoon in Wardoj district of northern Badakhshan province. She could not identify the dead but added: "We take all of our operations seriously."
Also Saturday, Afghan security forces shot dead one demonstrator outside the Iranian consulate in the western city of Herat, said Abdul Hamid Hamidi, a senior police official.
He said a crowd of several hundred was rallying over frustrations with the consulate's visa process. Security forces opened fire, killing one person and wounding three. It was unclear what prompted the firing.
According to footage from the scene, some outside windows of the compound were broken and the ground was littered with rocks apparently thrown by protesters.
In Tehran, Iran's Foreign Ministry said it had summoned the Afghan ambassador over the attack. A report Saturday by the semi-official ISNA news agency quoted Marzieh Afkham, a ministry spokeswoman, calling the attack "unacceptable."
Associated Press writers Nahal Toosi and Nasser Karimi in Tehran, Iran, contributed to this report.