‘I’m not afraid to fight’: the Afghan colonel who survived the Taliban killers | Afghanistan

IIt was shortly after 7 am when the car carrying Colonel Saba Sahar, one of Afghanistan’s most senior police officers, was attacked by armed insurgents. In the backseat, Sahar’s four-year-old daughter started screaming as the bullets shattered the windshield and hit the upholstery. As Sahar pushed his son under the seat in front of him, he saw three men carrying AK-47 assault rifles, firing as they approached the car.

In front of the car, his bodyguard and the driver were hit and were seriously injured and unconscious. Looking down, Sahar saw blood running down his clothes. “It took me another moment to realize that I had also been shot,” she says. She knew she only had a few minutes to try to save her daughter. “They were five or six meters away and were approaching the car, still shooting. They would have killed my son, ”she says. Bleeding heavily with five shots to the stomach, Sahar stepped forward, took the weapon from his fallen bodyguard and began to respond to the fire.

Meanwhile, a few blocks away, Sahar’s husband, Emal Zaki, was preparing his older children for school when he heard the shooting. Wondering if she could see what was happening on the road ahead, he dialed his wife’s number while helping his children tie their school shoes.

“When she answered the phone, she was still shooting at the insurgents,” he says. Through the sound of bullets, Sahar shouted that she was injured and told him to ask for help. By the time he reached her car a few minutes later, the snipers had fled. He found his wife holding the gun in one hand and his daughter in the other. “I have never seen so much blood in my life,” he says.

Sahar and family
Sahar and family. She saved her four-year-old daughter from armed men who attacked them. Photography: Farzana Wahidy / The Guardian

Dragging their bodyguards and driver into the family car, they sped through the streets to the hospital. “My wife was conscious until she was sure that our daughter was fine and then she passed out,” says Zaki.

Sahar knows that she is lucky to be alive.

In September, just a few weeks after the attack, the United States embassy in Kabul warned that Afghan women in public functions were at increased risk of being targeted by extremist groups, especially women working for the government and the armed forces.

This year, eight police officers were the target of similar attacks. Six died.

In July, 23-year-old Fatima Faizi, a police officer in the anti-narcotics squad, was kidnapped by armed insurgents. His mutilated body was found on the streets weeks later. A few weeks before the attack on Sahar, another police officer was killed in Kunduz province by armed men who dragged her out of her home and murdered her in front of her neighbors.

Speaking of his hospital bed, Sahar says he was not surprised that he had become a target. Also famous as an actress and documentary filmmaker, in recent years she has become one of the most prominent women in the Afghan police force, responsible for coordinating special units to combat terrorism, drug trafficking and criminal networks.

“I am a very visible woman in public life and I have dedicated my life to working for women’s rights and encouraging other women to join the security forces,” she says. “Even so, I’m not afraid. Afghanistan has changed, and those who attack us and try to silence us must accept that ”.

Sahar shows a picture of her taken in army uniform with colleagues
Sahar shows a picture of her taken in an army uniform with colleagues. Photography: Farzana Wahidy / The Guardian

Since the fall of the Taliban two decades ago, Afghanistan’s police forces have become the focus of national and international efforts to create more visible public roles for women. However, few of the 4,080 women in Afghanistan’s security services have moved up the ranks. Many continue to work behind the scenes and those on the streets face harassment, abuse and discrimination.

Sahar believes that the recent attacks on women in the security services are part of a broader campaign to silence progressive voices and undermine the precarious peace negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban underway in Qatar.

In early December, the Afghan government and the Taliban agreed to the ground rules for peace negotiations after more than two months of discussions, allowing negotiations to end an almost 20-year civil war to finally begin.

Still, in Afghanistan, there was a wave of bloodshed that resulted in the deaths of journalists, human rights defenders and activists.

According to the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, 533 civilians were killed and 412 others injured in attacks in the first six months of 2020.

In this context, women in the security forces are an obvious target.

“[The armed groups] they want to prevent women from looking for these jobs, ”says Sahar. “Every Afghan must be represented in the security services. In a country where men are so dominant in all aspects of our lives, the more women we have in the police, the more other women will be able to seek justice, protection and support. We must resist. “

She is aware that staying in Afghanistan could mean more attacks on her life.

“Leaving my country didn’t even cross my mind,” she says. “Why would I leave when my fight is here with my people? If I stay, I can help work for peace with the Taliban or I can fight as a soldier from Afghanistan. I do not fear another attack from them, but I pray that they will come to us in peace. I’m not afraid to fight them again. “