KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AFP) – Unknown gunmen shot and seriously injured the top female police officer in Afghanistan's restive Helmand province on Sunday, just months after her high-profile predecessor was killed, officials said.
Nigar, who like many Afghans uses only one name, was expected to survive the morning attack which came after Islam Bibi was murdered in July in a killing that focused attention on the threat to Afghan women who take on public roles.
Nigar was shot by gunmen on a motorbike in Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand, a hotbed of the Islamist insurgency that was launched against the US-backed Kabul government after the fall of the Taliban in 2001.
"She was walking on the street near the police headquarters," provincial government spokesman Omar Zawak told AFP. "She is critically injured and has been admitted to the emergency unit at the hospital."
Zawak said Nigar had worked for seven years in the Helmand police crime branch and reached the rank of investigator, based at Lashkar Gah airport.
Lieutenant Bibi, who was also shot in Lashkar Gah, was seen as an example of how opportunities for women have improved in Afghanistan since the repressive Taliban regime was ousted.
But she admitted receiving regular death threats from people who disapproved of her career -- including from her own brother.
A week ago the Taliban released an Afghan female lawmaker held hostage for a month.
Fariba Ahmadi Kakar, one of the 69 female Afghan MPs in the lower house of parliament, was taken at gunpoint by insurgents on the main highway from Kabul to Kandahar city.
Women's rights are a key focus of international efforts in Afghanistan, with foreign diplomats often pointing to more female school children and greater freedom for women as signs of progress.
But donor nations have also raised fears that such advances are at risk as 87,000 NATO troops withdraw next year and Islamist groups lobby for more influence.