​Malala Maiwand was 25. Photo: Enikass/YouTube.

Malala Maiwand was 25. Photo: Enikass/YouTube.

A journalist in Afghanistan was murdered on her way to work on Thursday, the latest victim of a string of targeted killings to take place during government peace talks with the Taliban.

Malala Maiwand, who worked for Afghanistan’s Enikass TV and Radio, was shot dead alongside her driver Mohammad Tahir in Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan by “unidentified armed men.” 

Maiwand, who was 25, was also a women’s rights activist. According to the Reuters news agency her mother, also an activist, was murdered five years ago.

Local security in Nangarhar province told media there that Maiwand was killed in an armed attack without pointing the finger at any group or giving further details.

But there has been a spate of killings in Afghanistan since US-brokered peace negotiations between the Afghan government in Kabul and the Taliban group started in Doha, the Qatari capital, in September to end a 30-year-old internal conflict.

President Donald Trump and the Taliban – following a bumpy process of negotiations – reached a final deal in February, and later Trump rushed the Kabul government onto the negotiating table ahead of the US general election with hopes an agreement could allow the US to withdraw its remaining troops and end a mission launched in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

READ: ‘Why the Taliban Is Meeting the Afghan Government for the First Time

The future of women’s rights is among Afghan civil society’s major concerns during the intra-Afghan peace talks. The rise of violence against journalists coinciding with the ongoing negotiations signals worrying days ahead if the sides reach an agreement.

Abdul Majeed Khalvatgar, the managing director of Nai, a Kabul-based NGO working on the safety of media, told VICE World News, “Malala and her colleagues were under repeated threats in the past years, and the security forces and intelligence officers were aware of the threats, but unfortunately, today, we lost another voice of women in Afghanistan.”

Mourners carry the coffin of Malalai Maiwand. Photo: NOORULLAH SHIRZADA / AFP

Mourners carry the coffin of Malalai Maiwand. Photo: NOORULLAH SHIRZADA / AFP

He warned that unless the Afghan government held the perpetrators of these attacks accountable, freedom of expression and media in the country would face “huge setbacks” in the coming years.

In 2012 there were an estimated 2,500 Afghan women working in media, but now the figure is only around 1,500.

“Killing a female journalist leaves a huge gap in areas far from the capital and urban centres in a country like Afghanistan where the traditional values in the society limit women from working outside of their homes, and it is even harder to work as a journalist,” said Khalvatgar.

“Witnessing the rise of violence against journalists at the time of ongoing peace negotiation is weakening our hopes of real peace, and it could take us away from certain values and deprive us of freedom of expression and media in Afghanistan.”

In a grim coincidence, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) published a report marking the International Day for Human Rights on Thursday. It has recorded the deaths of 93 journalists in Afghanistan since the US-led NATO invasion in 2001. Forty-two journalists have died worldwide in 2020, so far.

In a statement, UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay said: “As we observe Human Rights Day, I condemn the killing of journalist Malala Maiwand and support staffer Mohammad Tahir. This attack clearly targeted a journalist who defended women’s rights and freedom of expression. Maiwand’s voice needed to be heard and we need better measures to prevent criminals from suppressing the rights she promoted.”