At just 24, Fatima Natasha Khalil, a young leader and employee of Afghanistan’s human rights commission, had her life brutally cut short following a series of explosions targeting civilians.
An incredibly bright and intelligent leader who spoke six languages, Fatima is remembered by friends as a deeply confident yet sensitive spirit. Following increased violence in Afghanistan during the late 1990s, the Khalil family fled to Pakistan, where Fatima was born. Despite experiencing many challenges in life as a refugee in Pakistan, she excelled and flourished in academics. When her family returned to Kabul following the U.S. intervention in Afghanistan, she earned a scholarship and graduated high school from a competitive Turkish international school. Her academic excellence continued, developing a strong foundation in religious studies and earning a degree from the American University of Central Asia with two majors.
The killing of Ms. Khalil is yet another reminder that the civil society, particularly women, are being specifically targeted by insurgent groups in Afghanistan. The latest spike in attacks against civilians happens at a time that the Taliban are engaged in the so-called peace negotiations with the United States. The Taliban has increased its attacks as a leverage point to prove its power in the destruction of lives and the country. The recent attacks have particularly targeted vulnerable populations, such as women and children.
In the years following the Taliban’s loss of dominance, a new generation of Afghans have lived with an increased sense of liberation and opportunities not previously experienced because of the strict, dogmatic rules of the Taliban. It is this generation of activists, scholars, and women in public roles, like Fatima Natasha Khalil, that is being targeted and killed by insurgent groups.
The February peace talks between the Taliban and the United States have increasingly signaled the departure of American military presence in the region, stirring concerns that local governments will be unable to maintain stability, allowing the Taliban to re-dominate strategically. The Taliban and other such insurgents cannot tolerate women like Ms. Khalil who are bright, progressive, outspoken, and defenders of women and human rights.
Although Afghan women have been at the forefront of peace-making developments in the country, the power-sharing negotiations in February did not include any female voices and made no mention that the civil liberties of women and children would be protected and guaranteed. The upcoming intra-Afghan negotiations between local governments and the Taliban will involve the participation of women and will address the necessary preservation and protection of women and minority rights under the Afghan constitution.
Sources: The New York Times, 06/29/20; Reuters 6/30/20