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The mysterious assassination of Yousef Rashid causes a cold in Kabul

“It was not just a crime,” Naim Asgari said. “They were waiting on the high-speed battery down the block from his house. They shot his driver, then opened the other door and shot Mr Rashid 10 or 12 times. Then they were gone. Nobody knows who planned this terror, nobody knows why. “

He shook his head. “I’m still in shock,” he said. “We are all. We never thought this could happen. Why would anyone want to kill him? ”

The unsolicited assassination of Yusuf Rashid, 45, executive director of the Free and Fair Elections Forum in Afghanistan on December 23rd, is among at least two dozen targeted killings of Afghan journalists, civic activists, religious scholars and government officials in recent months.

On Saturday, Afghan authorities said they had caught two Taliban members who admitted to killing Rashid and four accomplices after disguising themselves as students. They said the group belonged to a Taliban cell that organized targeted attacks.

“The conscience of the Taliban, if there is one, should tremble and rot from the bloodshed of activists,”

; said First Vice President Amrulah Saleh, a former national intelligence chief who made the announcement.

But rebels, who resumed peace talks with Afghan leaders in Qatar last week, have repeatedly denied any connection to the recent individual killings. Some victims were planted and shot, others detonated by bombs attached to their vehicles.

So far, no other cases have been reported and no official calculation of the fee has been published. Meanwhile, the specter of a silent, invisible threat has created wider fears and speculated about a variety of possible backgrounds and motives, from disloyal security forces to rival Islamic extremists to copy assassins with personal or political vendettas.

Rashid’s murder seems incomprehensible to those who knew him as a quiet, methodical professional or saw him as a role model. It reverberated far beyond the obscure office, where he organized youth observers for polls on national election days, reviewed sheaves of district results, and prepared reports on both fraud and Taliban threats.

In the informal but closely linked network of public interests and defenders of democracy in the Afghan capital, his assassination has cast paralyzing suspicion and fear. Most members are young, educated men and women who grew up during the country’s young post-Taliban democracy experiment and then took various paths to promote and defend it.

“Yusuf Rashid was my friend and my hero. “Since he was killed, all our activities have stopped,” said Khalil Raufi, 30, who heads a consortium of groups called the Civil Society Network and Human Rights Activists. He said many of its members now refuse TV interviews, working mostly from home and meeting only through Zoom.

Raufi and several of his associates, who agreed to meet with a Washington Post reporter at a fortified hotel, said they had no protection and no means to afford colored glass jeeps and armed guards used by powerful politicians and landlords. business. They complained that police and government officials had not done much to reassure the community or provide concrete protection after the targeted killings began.

“Fear stays in my head all the time,” said Mobeen Aimaq, 26, who was shot and wounded two years ago by an unknown assailant while investigating the parliamentary election. “Whenever I’m outside, I always look behind me.”

Since the outbreak of targeted killings began, the Afghan government has come under strong public pressure to respond. It has doubled the number of police patrolling the streets of Kabul and announced this week that it will install security cameras throughout the capital. But until Saturday, none of the individual cases had been declared resolved.

A spokesman for the rebel group in Qatar said in a media statement on WhatsApp on Wednesday that unknown assailants sought to confuse at a crucial moment, “pollute” the Taliban and undermine “the establishment of peace and an Islamic system” in the country.

Some activists and journalists have reportedly fled the country. Raufi said he was invited to a conference in Canada last month and that his worried family begged him not to return.

“I was told to save myself,” he said. “I want to be here. We are trying to save everything our society has gained in the last 20 years. But we all need more protection. “

Although the Taliban – which opposes modern democracy and seeks to impose a strict Islamist law – may be the most likely source of the recent killings, Raufi and other activists say they have also been condemned by conservative Afghans who see them as propagandists. liberal Western ideas, and have made political enemies, criticizing election fraud and corruption in office.

Many have studied at international organizations such as the Asia Foundation, various European foundations, and the US-based National Democratic Institute, where Rashid worked for five years. But they see their role as guards, not bandits, and despite the Taliban’s antagonism to their values, until recently, few had faced serious personal threats. Now danger seems to be lurking everywhere.

Rashid’s former colleagues are particularly confused. In a lengthy conversation at the Electoral Forum office last week, Asgari and two other officials said he had no enemies or guerrilla ties, insisted on impartiality in assessing the election and even tried to play a neutral role in making recommendations to improve peacekeeping. Taliban talks.

“He insisted on a lasting peace, not a hasty one that would bring political benefits to anyone. He always talked about improving the political process. He was honest, Asgari said.

Rashid lived a relatively simple life, his colleagues recalled. He raises five children with his wife in a quiet suburb of Kabul, goes shopping on the weekends and often advises friends who have family or business problems. He travels abroad for meetings, but feels more comfortable at home, although war and violence continue to affect Afghan society, they said.

But colleagues said Rashid’s life became much more public and complicated when he was appointed to head the pre-election forum after the 2014 presidential election. He had to start competing for institutional funding with other groups and often appeared in television news and panels as an election expert. Only his rising profile could have made him a target.

“He has not changed as a person. He still believed in treating others as equals, but he became a leader, ”Raufi said.

For now, public interest activists in Kabul are trying to keep their profile as low as possible. After meeting at the hotel last week, Raufi and his two friends wore black face masks when they went outside. They did not say, for fear of the coronavirus.

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