It was just after 7:00 a.m. When the car carrying one of Afghanistan’s highest-ranking policewomen, Colonel Saba Sahar, came under fire from armed insurgents.
Sahar’s four-year-old daughter started crying in the back seat as bullets smashed the window and dug into the upholstery.
Sahar saw three men holding AK-47 assault rifles and shooting as they approached the car as she placed her baby under the seat in front of her. Her bodyguard and the driver were both hit in the front of the vehicle and were seriously wounded and unconscious.
She saw blood seeping through her clothes as Sahar looked down. “It took me another moment to realize that I had been shot, too,” she says.
She knew that she only had minutes to try to save her daughter. “They were five or six meters away, and they were moving closer to the car, still firing. They would have killed my child,” she says.
After being shot five times in the abdomen, Sahar, who was bleeding profusely, reached out, took the rifle from her slumped bodyguard and began returning fire. Meanwhile, a few streets away, when he heard the gunshots, Sahar’s husband, Emal Zaki, was getting the older children ready for school. Wondering if she could see what was happening on the street ahead, while helping his children tie their school shoes, he dialed his wife’s phone. “When she picked up the phone, she was still shooting at the rioters,” he said. Sahar yelled over the sound of breaking bullets that she was injured and begged him to call for help.
When, a few minutes later, he reached her vehicle, the gunmen had already fled. With the gun in one hand, he found his wife and their daughter in the other. “I’ve never seen so much blood in my life,” he says. The bodyguard and the driver were pulled into the family’s vehicle, and they hurried through the streets to the hospital. Zaki says, “My wife stayed conscious until she was sure our daughter was safe, then she fainted,” Sahar knows that she is blessed to be alive. Just weeks after the attack, in September, the U.S. The Kabul Embassy cautioned that Afghan women in public positions are increasingly at risk of being attacked by militant groups, especially women working for the government and the armed forces. Eight female police officers have already been targeted in similar attacks this year.
The more women are serving in the police department, the more women are likely to seek justice. In July, armed rebels abducted 23-year-old Fatima Faizi, a police officer in the anti-narcotics unit. Her mutilated body was discovered on the streets weeks later. Just weeks before Sahar was attacked, gunmen killed another policewoman in Kunduz province, dragging her out of her home and murdering her in front of her neighbors.
Sahar, also known as an actress and documentary filmmaker, has grown to be one of the most influential women in the Afghan police force in recent years, responsible for leading special units to tackle insurgency, drug trafficking and criminal networks. In public life, I am a very visible woman and have devoted my life to fighting for the rights of women and inspiring other women to join the security forces,” she says. “But I am not afraid even now.
Afghanistan has changed and that has to be acknowledged by those who threaten us and try to silence us. Afghan police forces have been a target of national and international efforts since the collapse of the Taliban two decades ago to give women a more prominent role in public life. But few of the 4,080 women in the Afghan security services have risen through the ranks.
Sahar claims that the recent attacks on women in the security services are part of a larger effort to silence progressive voices and disrupt fragile peace talks in Qatar between the Afghan government and the Taliban. The Afghan government and the Taliban agreed on frameworks for peace talks at the beginning of December, after more than two months of talks, enabling negotiations to finally start