The brutal killing of a young woman in Kabul last week has become a rallying point for women’s rights activists in Afghanistan, renewing calls for Afghan authorities to better ensure women’s protection from violence throughout the country.
On Thursday, a mob of men beat a 27-year-old religious scholar named Farkhunda, who like many Afghans had only one name. They attacked her in front of the mosque where she worked and threw her body off a roof. They then ran over her body with a car, set it on fire, and threw it into the Kabul River near the Shah Doshamshera mosque.
Only later was it discovered that the offense Farkhunda had allegedly committed – burning a Quran – was fabricated.
“The accusation against her is completely invalid,” Noorulhaq Ulumi, Afghanistan’s interior minister, told the Afghan Parliament on Monday. “Farkhunda was a religious girl. She was not involved. She was innocent.”
Although the attack – which was captured by cellphone cameras and distributed across social media – was shocking, activists have called it emblematic of women’s treatment in Afghan society. In criticizing the police for not doing enough to intervene, many have voiced their support for a continued American presence in the country.
Hundreds of demonstrators marched in the Afghan capital on Monday and demanded that the government prosecute all those responsible for Farkhunda’s death. For Farkhunda's family, the public response, while exhausting, has been welcome, as it has forced an accurate accounting of what really happened, the Guardian reports.
“If there was no attention from the media, my family’s life would be in danger,” Malikzadah said on Monday.
Kabul's police chief, Abdul Rahman Rahimi, said 18 people had been arrested and all had confessed to their involvement in the attack, according to The Associated Press. Thirteen policemen have been suspected following reports that they stood by and did nothing to stop it.
Fakhunda was buried amid widespread public outcry on Sunday. The Washington Post reports that several black-clad Afghan women carried her coffin to an open-air prayer ground and then to her grave, defying the tradition of men-only pallbearers.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who arrived in Washington on Sunday for his first state visit, has condemned the killing and ordered an investigation.
“There’s no place for mob justice in Afghanistan,” he told National Public Radio in an interview that aired Monday.
In emphasizing his commitment to improving the status of Afghan women, Mr. Ghani said that “the mark for success for us would be that a woman can not only walk in the streets of every major city, but can go from one province to another without any hindrance.”
But Ghani appeared to suggest that preventing such attacks remained a difficult task. He pointed out that 90 percent of Afghan police were focused on fighting terrorists, diverting them from “their key duty, which is enforcement of the law.”
Bolstering Afghanistan’s overstretched security forces has emerged as one of Ghani’s chief priorities since he took office in September. He is expected to push hard to keep the current 10,000 American troops in his country through 2016 – the year President Obama insists the longest war in US history will come to an end – when the two leaders meet in the Oval Office on Tuesday.
The New York Times reports that Ghani is also seeking long-term commitments of money and support from the US. The US has spent millions of dollars in Afghanistan on promoting the rule of law, justice, and women’s rights since the Taliban were ousted in 2001.
But the money has been poorly tracked and claims of it leading to improved conditions on the ground often can’t be proven, The Christian Science Monitor reported in December. A report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction found that what gains have been made are likely to be reversed once international funding ends.