By Tom Kingsbury | Political Editor
In the early hours of January 17, in Afghanistan’s capital Kabul, two female judges working for the Afghan supreme court were shot to death on their way to work.
The judges, so far unnamed, were killed by gunmen riding a motorcycle. Their driver was also wounded in the attack.
The assassination is the latest of a series of recent killings in Afghanistan, and though no group has taken responsibility the Taliban is suspected of carrying out at least some of these killings.
What is the situation in Afghanistan at the moment?
The killings are occurring as the Afghan government and representatives of the Taliban carry out peace talks, which have been ongoing for some time now.
The peace talks look to settle the conflict that has been raging in Afghanistan for decades. In February 2020, a peace agreement was reached that stated that the US and Nato allies would remove all troops from Afghanistan within 14 months, providing the Taliban stopped attacks.
The US now has just 2,500 troops left in the country, from a peak of 80,000.
US President Joe Biden will be charged with the decision of what to do now regarding the US’ involvement in Afghanistan.
Given the suspicion by several officials of the Taliban’s involvement in recent targeted killings, Biden may choose to slow or halt troop withdrawal.
Afghanistan’s Vice President Amrullah Saleh told the BBC:
“I am telling them [the US] as a friend and as an ally that trusting the Taliban without putting in a verification mechanism is going to be a fatal mistake.”
“The Taliban were terrorists. They are terrorists today. They are killing women, activists, civil rights activists.”
A series of assassinations
On December 15, 2020, Mahboobullah Mohebi, the Deputy Governor of Kabul, was killed when a “sticky bomb” attached to his car exploded.
In the same month, the head of the Ghazni Journalists’ Union Rahmatullah Nekzad was shot to death.
So too was journalist and activist Malala Maiwand, along with her driver, on December 10.
In November of last year former television presenter Yama Sia was killed along with two others by a bomb attached to his car in Kabul. Officials blamed the Taliban-linked Haqqani network for the killing.
Reporter Aliyas Dayee and his brother were killed by an explosive device attached to his car in November 2020. He had reportedly been receiving threats from the Taliban for years prior to the killing, though as with the other assassinations no group has claimed responsibility for the attack.
Bismillah Aimaq, the editor-in-chief of a local radio station, was shot dead in the province of Ghor in late 2020.
One of Afghanistan’s first female directors, Saba Sahar, was shot in Kabul in August of last year, though she survived the attack.
The number of journalists targetted in these attacks is notable, but the choice of target is not unique – the killing of Jamal Kashoggi in 2018 was another high-profile example of the killing of a journalist.
What have officials said about the killings?
The US’s deputy ambassador Ross Wilson condemned the killings of the two judges, linking the shooting to the Taliban.
(2/2) The Taliban should understand that such actions for which it bears responsibility outrage the world and must cease if peace is to come to Afghanistan.
— Chargé d’Affaires Ross Wilson (@USAmbKabul) January 17, 2021
The United Nations’ human rights group has expressed its concern at the “truly alarming trend” of killings of human rights defenders in Afghanistan.
A spokesman for US forces in Afghanistan, Colonel Sonny Leggett, directly called on the Taliban to cease killings:
The Taliban's campaign of unclaimed attacks & targeted killings of government officials, civil society leaders & journalists must also cease for peace to succeed. 2/2
— USFOR-A Spokesman Col Sonny Leggett (@USFOR_A) January 4, 2021
twitter Follow @gairrhyddpol for all of the latest updates from the world of politics.