Taleban militants kidnap female Afghan MP: officials

GHAZNI (AFP) - Taleban militants have kidnapped a female Afghan member of Parliament, officials said on Wednesday, in the latest example of prominent women being targeted in the country.

Fariba Ahmadi Kakar and her three children were taken at gunpoint on Saturday in the central province of Ghazni on the main highway from Kandahar city to Kabul.

"The security forces released her children, two girls, one boy, in an operation on Monday. But she has been kept in another location, we are still searching for her," said Mohammad Ali Ahmadi, deputy governor of Ghazni.

"The town elders are also involved in talks with the kidnappers to secure her release," he added, giving no further details about the identity of the kidnap gang.

A parliamentary spokesman said it was the first time an Afghan MP - male or female - had been abducted in 10 years.

Several other officials in Ghazni and Kandahar confirmed the kidnapping, and dismissed interior ministry reports that Kakar was on a trip to Turkey.

Ms Kakar's family earlier denied she had been taken hostage, with some relatives saying she was in hospital.

Mr Haji Zaman, a Ghazni elder involved in the negotiations, said local Taleban were involved in the kidnapping.

"They want both money and the release of their four comrades from Afghan prisons," he said.

Ms Kakar, who was returning to Kabul after the Eid al-Fitr holidays when she was captured, was elected in 2005 as an independent member of the lower house after previously working as a teacher.

Hostages in Afghanistan are often taken by local criminal gangs, and can be sold on to insurgent groups who then demand cash ransoms or prisoner exchanges for their release.

Women who take on public roles in Afghanistan are constantly under threat, with many conservative Muslims against women working outside the home and building independent careers.

Female senator Rooh Gul survived an attack last week in which her daughter was killed, while gunmen shot dead one of the country's most high-profile female police officers last month.

Lieutenant Islam Bibi, a well-known face of female advancement, was killed by unknown assailants when she was being driven to work by her son in the southern province of Helmand.

The Geneva-based Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), which represents Parliaments across the world, called for Ms Kakar's immediate safe release.

"The violent targeting of prominent, trail-blazing women in Afghanistan, including parliamentarians, is totally unacceptable," IPU president Abdelwahad Radi said.

"Their work to ensure millions of Afghan women have the same rights to basics such as good health, education and careers and not suffer violence and abuse as a daily reality, must not be impeded."

Afghanistan's lower house of parliament has 28 women among its 102 lawmakers and the 249-seat upper house has 69 women members, according to IPU figures.

Women's rights are a key focus of international efforts in Afghanistan, with foreign diplomats often pointing to more female school children and greater freedom for women as signs of progress.

But donor nations have also raised fears that such advances are at risk as 87,000 NATO troops withdraw next year and Islamist groups lobby for more influence.