When she wasn’t chasing stories, Elyas Dayee loved tending her flowers, cooking with her wife, and playing with her little daughter, the only surviving triplet, now bereft of her father having stopped coming home and too young to understand why. what.
Last week, the 34-year-old became the latest Afghan man to be killed in a nationwide targeted killing campaign, when a bomb turned his car into a deadly pile of metal and glass as he drove to work in Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province. .
Across the country, journalists, human rights workers, moderate religious scholars and civil society activists have been arrested in their daily lives, often exploited in their cars.
Both the UN and Afghanistan’s independent human rights commission have documented sharp increases in these types of attacks compared to 2019.
The steady pace of killings has cast a shadow of fear across the country, even as the government and the Taliban are destined to negotiate a peace deal, hundreds of miles apart in Qatar.
Many people see a connection between the two, even though the insurgents have not claimed all the attacks.
“Even if we assume that the Taliban are responsible for part of them, the message is clear: ‘Be prepared for our government, be prepared to surrender, we will return,'” said Orzala Ashraf Nemat, director of Kabul. Thinktank based on AREU.
“It is to discourage the united struggle for democratic values, freedom of speech, education, even the enlightening side of religious scholarship. They are trying to make these attacks to create fear because their government is based on fear. “
Dayee’s death on November 12 was typical of the ambiguity surrounding many deaths. A Taliban spokesman, Qari Yusuf Ahmadi, distanced the group from the killing, but a local Taliban source called the car bomb an “achievement” on social media and tweeted threats at other journalists.
A self-made man, who moved from the countryside to the provincial capital in search of an education and a career, Dayee ended up working with the local and international media, ensuring that news from one of the most dangerous corners of Afghanistan they will reach a larger world.
“He is an irreplaceable figure,” said Jawad Dawari, another Helmand journalist, one of many who paid tribute to Dayee’s sense of fun and community.
Like most reporters in Helmand, Dayee was used to threats from the Taliban on the phone, WhatsApp and Twitter, but he shrugged to keep working.
After his murder, others wonder if they could be next, and some have left the province while considering their own safety, turning their family’s personal tragedy into a professional disaster for Helmand’s media.
Murders across the country are having a similar effect elsewhere. Many of the victims, ranging from a young human rights worker to a central bank adviser, were not particularly prominent at the national level, nor were they known for a particularly outspoken anti-Taliban stance.
Their deaths have left a blanket of uncertainty in sectors of Afghan society, and thousands of people wonder if they could be targeted because they work in professions or in conditions, including mixed offices, that the Taliban want to reduce or abolish if they recover. power in Kabul.
“It feels pretty random, in terms of who dies, but not random in terms of the types of people who die. They are targeting what I would call public intellectuals, researchers, activists, journalists, people who work for NGOs, “said Kate Clark, co-director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network.
“They are definitely rivals [to the Taliban], not in terms of power, but in ideas and ways of seeing the world. “
The killings also undermine already fragile confidence in the central government, said Saad Mohseni, director of the Moby Group, Afghanistan’s largest private media company, which has lost several journalists to the Taliban attacks.
“It’s important for the Taliban to try to turn back the clock,” he says, but the bloody social messages also serve a military purpose. “The other aspect is the message that ‘we can attack whoever we want, anywhere.’ Your government cannot protect you. “
The United States says the Taliban pledged to reduce the attacks under the terms of a troop withdrawal signed in February. Although violence across the country has generally increased since then, there has been a drop in large-scale violence in urban areas compared to previous years.
The targeted killings are unlikely to provoke US retaliation or make the news beyond Afghanistan’s borders, but they have a powerful demoralizing effect in Afghan cities, spreading a sense of insecurity.
The fear caused by the deaths has been exacerbated by the lack of investigation of the killings. The family of Yama Siawash, a central bank adviser and former television host, killed five days before Dayee in another car bomb, issued an open letter threatening legal action if the government does not do more to track down those who do. they killed.
“One of the concerns of people at risk is the lack of government investigations into the killings. If you think someone is seriously investigating who did it, under whose orders, then you can say that I trust the system, that it will try to protect me. When that doesn’t happen, it’s difficult, ”Nemat said.
Shaharzad Akbar, the head of Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission, has called on the Taliban to speak out against the killings and for the government to take stronger steps to investigate them.
“We are very concerned about the impact of this trend on civic space and public participation in the peace talks, and we are very concerned that many of these killings are not fully investigated,” he told The Guardian.
“The Taliban in Doha must go beyond denying their participation, they must have a very clear instruction for all their fighters not to attack civilians and the Afghan government must do more to investigate, arrest and hold accountable those behind these targeted killings. “.
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