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3 Afghan Journalists Are Shot To Death In A Spate Of Targeted Killings

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Someone shot and killed three Afghan journalists yesterday. All three women worked at a TV station. Assassins have targeted other journalists and human rights activists, so why? NPR's Diaa Hadid is in Islamabad. She's covered Afghanistan for years. Good morning.

DIAA HADID, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What happened?

HADID: Well, this happened in the eastern city of Jalalabad, and these women were shot dead as they left work. Two of the women were killed together, and the third was separately hunted down. One of the women was Shahnaz Rahimi. She was just 21. I managed to find her brother, Haroon Rahimi. He lives in Canada. And he says Shahnaz fought to get an education and to work - she'd been opposed by conservative relatives and even the broader community around her - but that her parents backed her up.

HAROON RAHIMI: They supported her cause because she was the one fighting for a change.

HADID: Now, ISIS says they killed Shahnaz and the other women because they worked for a pro-government outlet, but they were likely also killed because they were women working in public. And that's something widely disapproved of in conservative parts of Afghanistan.

INSKEEP: Has ISIS been responsible for other attacks like this?

HADID: Yeah. In December, they, in fact, killed a female presenter, Malalai Maiwand, who worked at the same station. But most of these killings, nobody has claimed responsibility for them. And that's causing so much fear and anxiety. And it's worth thinking about who's being killed here. These are people who can influence society, people like media workers, human rights activists, even judicial workers and clerics. Just this morning, a religious leader was killed in Kabul.

And this is - you know, I said it spread fear, but what does that mean? It means people are shutting up. They're staying home. They're trying to leave the country. And that means that local communities and even the international community is less likely to know what's happening across Afghanistan.

INSKEEP: The phrase civil society is occurring to me when you talk about the kind of people who are being targeted, people who make it possible to have an open debate about things, to learn what's going on. I'd like to know, though, if this has anything to do with the wider political situation in the country. The United States had been trying to get all troops out.

HADID: Right. So we can say that they do appear to be related because the American withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan is part of a deal with the Taliban. But another part of that deal is that the Taliban has to sit down with the Afghan government to negotiate an end to this war by sharing power. And those assassinations that we're talking about began shortly after those talks began in September.

Now, we're talking about civil society. We're talking about silencing people who might be critical of the negotiations or critical of the Taliban, who, frankly, want to reimpose restrictions on women in particular when they get back into power. It's important to say here that the Taliban deny responsibility, but activists say that doesn't mean they're innocent. It could be local commanders acting with a wink and a nod. It could be their sympathizers. Or it could be local actors with vendettas taking advantage of the chaos.

INSKEEP: Diaa, thanks for the insights. Really appreciate it.

HADID: You're welcome, Steve.

INSKEEP: NPR's Diaa Hadid in Islamabad. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.