On the Murder of Afghanistan's Most Famous Policewoman

Human Rights
"Killing Malalai Kakar was an unmanly thing to do," said a UN official in Kandahar after Afghanistan's most famous policewoman was murdered this week.

Ordinarily in Afghanistan, the shooting of a woman by two armed men on motorbikes would be considered naamardi -- cowardly or, literally, unmanly. But Kakar was no ordinary woman: she was a senior police officer who had shot dead three men about to launch a suicide attack. When the press approached her at the time, she said that kind of thing happened every day in her line of work.

Yesterday, the Taliban claimed responsibility for Kakar's killing, saying she had been a long-term target. In a perverse nod to gender equality, in killing her, they acknowledged that an Afghan woman can be as deadly an enemy as any man.

Unusual as she clearly was, Malalai Kakar was also part of a long-standing tradition of Afghan women who "outman" their men in bravery. These are women who take sides in wars, taking up arms for or against the government. In the past, such women used to be mainly the stuff of legends. They were admired and held up as role models but not feared, since they weren't real.

Early Afghan historical works are full of such women. Reminiscent of the epic German poem the Nibelungenlied, these tales of warriors, horses and fortresses feature young women such as Shah Bori, described as a girl with a taste for male clothing and horse riding. She is said to have liked living the life of a warrior, refusing for a long time to get married. She is also said to have died fighting the troops of King Babur, in the 16th century.

Then there's Nazauna, who, legend has it, single-handedly protected the Zabol fortress with her sword; that was in the 18th century. And in the 19th century, there was the original Malalai, after whom Malalai Kakar was named: Malalai of Maiwand, who turned her headscarf into a banner and led a successful rebellion against the British.

But for a long time, Afghan girls could only read about these women and fantasize about being one of them. In real life, their biggest adventure was walking alone between home and school.

That was in the times of peace; then the communist coup of 1978 and the subsequent wars changed things, and real Afghan women proved themselves every bit as courageous as their legendary role models.

In recent decades, the first girl to make a name for herself by living up to the heroines of the past was a 16-year-old schoolgirl by the name of Nahid. In February 1980, Nahid led a demonstration of schoolgirls and female university students on the streets of Kabul. It was one of the very first public protests testing the loyalty of the communist regime's army and police force. Would the government shoot at unarmed schoolgirls and students? The answer, it turned out, was a firm yes. Soviet helicopters were soon heard hovering over the protesters, and shooting soon followed. Nahid fell immediately, and so did many of her companions.

The people of Kabul were stunned: this was naamardi of serious proportions. Nahid was immediately declared a heroine, a contemporary Malalai of Maiwand. Her death was tragic but also reassuring: Afghanistan was still capable of producing courageous, patriotic women who had no fear of death -- just like those in the country's founding myths.

In 1982, a few years after Nahid's demonstration, Malalai Kakar joined the Afghan police force. At the time, she would have been considered brave and patriotic by some sections of Afghan society; others would have seen her as a traitor, for collaborating with the Soviet-backed government. The same split opinion is probably true today, after her death.

The Taliban killed Kakar because she worked for an Afghan government with the backing of international armed forces. But many other Afghans see Kakar as a patriot who risked her life to ensure the security of her fellow Afghans. This is also what President Karzai said when he "sharply condemned" Kakar's assassination, calling her a woman who toiled for the safety of all Afghans.

Around the time when Kakar first joined the police force, another Afghan woman, called Bibi Ayesha, made the opposite decision. Her son was a mujahid who had been killed by the Soviet-backed army. Bibi Ayesha set off to avenge her son, and rumor has it that she killed her son's murderer with her own bare hands. That was the start of her career as the militia commander who later became known as Commander Kaftar. Her career has since stretched over almost three decades, and she fought against almost everyone: the Soviets, the Taliban and, more recently, the Karzai administration. In June 2008, she was captured and told a press conference: "I had to sell my cows to buy weapons."

The people in her native province, Baghlan, still fear her and want her kept in captivity. In July this year, an anonymous local told the Institute for War and Peace Reporting: "Kaftar has joined hands with the Taliban commander Mullah Khodaidad, who recently fled the Bagram prison." Together with another commander, the source said, the three of them were controlling the local drug routes.

Kaftar is presently still in custody, and denies all charges against her. There is, however, one charge she proudly admits to: that when she fought the Taliban, she had 2,000 men under her command.

Neither Kakar nor Kaftar are feminists in the conventional, or even the unconventional, sense: what they represent is an alternative model of Afghan womanhood that is much older than the Taliban, the mujahideen or the communists. In that sense, we can rest assured that even though Malalai Kakar is dead, the female spirit she represented will live on.

Understand the importance of honest news ?

So do we.

The past year has been the most arduous of our lives. The Covid-19 pandemic continues to be catastrophic not only to our health - mental and physical - but also to the stability of millions of people. For all of us independent news organizations, it’s no exception.

We’ve covered everything thrown at us this past year and will continue to do so with your support. We’ve always understood the importance of calling out corruption, regardless of political affiliation.

We need your support in this difficult time. Every reader contribution, no matter the amount, makes a difference in allowing our newsroom to bring you the stories that matter, at a time when being informed is more important than ever. Invest with us.

Make a one-time contribution to Alternet All Access, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you.

Click to donate by check.

DonateDonate by credit card
Donate by Paypal
{{ post.roar_specific_data.api_data.analytics }}
@2022 - AlterNet Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. - "Poynter" fonts provided by fontsempire.com.