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Former Afghan Lawmaker Shot Dead at Her Home in Kabul

A female former legislator in Afghanistan was killed at her home in the capital, Kabul, the police and her family said — a high-profile murder of one of the few women parliamentarians who remained in the country after the Western-backed government collapsed and the Taliban seized power.

The legislator, Mursal Nabizada, was shot dead early Sunday morning along with her bodyguard, according to Kabul police spokesman Khalid Zadran. Guests were visiting her at her house the night that she was killed, he added. Her brother suffered injuries.

No one has yet been arrested in connection with the killings, Mr. Zadran said, and it was not immediately clear whether it was politically motivated, or a family or interpersonal conflict. “A comprehensive investigation of the incident is underway,” Mr. Zadran tweeted on Monday.

When the Taliban took over in August 2021, the Parliament was dissolved. Ms. Nabizada, who was sworn in to Parliament in 2019 under the previous government, initially wanted to leave the country along with most of her colleagues, who were evacuated by Western governments. But she chose to stay in Afghanistan because she was unable to find a way to bring her family members with her, said Shinkai Karokhail, a former member of Parliament who served with Ms. Nabizada.

The death of Ms. Nabizada comes at a precarious moment for women in Afghanistan. In recent months, the Taliban administration has issued a flood of edicts rolling back women’s rights and all but erasing women from public life. Women are now barred from gyms, public parks and high schools; they cannot travel any significant distance without a male relative; and they must cover themselves head to toe in burqas and headpieces in public.

More recently, officials also barred women from attending universities and from working in most local and international aid groups — prompting many major organizations to suspend their operations and threatening to plunge the country deeper into a humanitarian crisis.

Female staff with the World Food Program helping beneficiaries at an aid distribution center in Kabul last year.Credit…Kiana Hayeri for The New York Times

Ms. Nabizada, originally from Nangarhar Province in eastern Afghanistan, was just 26 when she won election. It was a feat illustrative of her generation in Afghanistan, which was raised in an era of greater freedom for women after the United States toppled the Taliban’s first regime.

In the two decades that followed, millions of girls returned to school and opportunities for work and public service expanded. When she was sworn in, Ms. Nabizada was one of 69 women who served in the 250-seat Parliament.

“She was young, energetic and productive,” said Ms. Karokhail, the former parliamentarian, who is now living in Canada. “It was her first experience serving in government and she was always busy working for her constituents.”

The Taliban Takeover in Afghanistan

  • Under Taliban Law: The Taliban’s extremist rule has turned life upside down for Afghans, especially women. A photographer captured the jarring changes.
  • A Devastating Decision: Since the Taliban administration banned women from aid work, many groups have suspended their operations in Afghanistan, depriving the population of critical resources and support.
  • A Team in Exile: ​The Taliban have barred girls and women from playing sports. The Afghan women’s national soccer team is still feeling the effect of the ban, even from the safety of Australia.
  • Inside the Fall of Kabul: ​In the summer of 2021, the Taliban took the Afghan capital with a speed that shocked the world. Our reporter and photographer witnessed it.

Despite her short time in government, Ms. Nabizada seemed to be acutely aware of the shortcomings and endemic corruption plaguing the former political system.

In an interview with a local station, Arezo T.V. in August last year, Ms. Nabizada blamed the collapse of the previous government on corruption and infighting between a few powerful politicians working for their own benefit over the interests of the Afghan people.

“In the previous government, everyone loved their position of power, no one wanted to lose their position and salary and, as a result, everyone used their powers and authority in a useless way,” she said.

Still, despite its flaws, to many like Ms. Nabizada, the former Afghan government represented an era of expanded hope for a better future — and its collapse was devastating.On the television program, Ms. Nabizada recalled the heartbreak she felt the day the Taliban first entered the capital and the previous government collapsed.

“It was very painful when I saw our soldiers abandon their weapons at their checkpoints and leave,” she said. “In that moment my heart was bursting.”

Watching Taliban fighters celebrate the first anniversary, in August of 2022, of their takeover of Kabul.Credit…Kiana Hayeri for The New York Times

She explained that after the initial fear and anxiety that she felt when the Taliban returned to power, she had come to feel more at ease and had returned to work at a local charity where she served before joining parliament.

But in a show of boldness and defiance, she added that the Taliban administration had shortcomings of its own. It was not immune to influence of outside countries — much like the previous government had been influenced by the United States, she said. The closure of girls’ schools was also very painful for her, she added.

“Now women are imprisoned at home,” she said. “They have responsibilities for their families, they must work. Women are in a very bad situation, that is, they are buried alive in the grave.”

Her comments were a rare public rebuke from anyone inside Afghanistan to a Taliban administration that has clamped down on dissent and the media.

Even so, it was clear that Ms. Nabizada was not free herself from the mounting restrictions on women. She appeared on the program wearing a black abaya — or robelike dress — a dark green scarf and a black face mask that covered all but her green eyes.

During the interview, a waiter brought Ms. Nabizada cake and tea, to which she quipped: “How can I eat the cake and drink the tea now? You gave me a mask.”

In response, the interviewer laughed and told her the mask was not his idea. It was mandated by the Ministry of Vice and Prevention of Virtue.

Safiullah Padshah contributed reporting.

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