An Afghan woman accused of adultery was executed by a purported member of the Taliban as a crowd of about 150 men looked on and cheered in a killing captured in video footage that surfaced at the weekend.
The slaying occurred just an hour's drive from Kabul and is a grim reminder of the hardline group's brutality, under whose rule from 1996 to 2001 women suffered severe privations, including being banned from attending school. It also highlights the expanding presence the Taliban has throughout the country, beyond their traditional strongholds in the south and east.
As international troops start to leave in advance of total withdrawal in 2014, concerns are mounting about whether the fledgling Afghan National Security Forces will keep insurgents at bay.
The video, obtained by Reuters, shows a woman wrapped in a shawl kneeling in the dirt. A turban-clad man approaches and fires on her at close range with an automatic rifle. Another man is heard saying: "Allah warns us not to get close to adultery because it's the wrong way. It is the order of Allah that she be executed."
The woman was involved – either by consent or force – with two Taliban commanders and was killed in order to settle a dispute between them, according Parwan's Provincial Governor Basir Salangi. According to Agence France Presse, the woman was a 22-year-old called Najiba. The fate of the Taliban commanders is not known.
"When I saw this video, I closed my eyes," Mr Salangi told Reuters. "The woman was not guilty; the Taliban are guilty." The footage is thought to have been shot about a week ago. Mr Salangi added that the Taliban have considerable influence in his province.
The footage emerged as international donors arrived in Tokyo yesterday and pledged $16bn (£10bn) in development aid over the next four years. The pledge of development aid is seen as an assurance that Western donors will not abandon Afghanistan after combat troops leave in 2014.
The UK is one of the top four donors – along with the US, Japan and Germany – and has said it will keep annual aid at £178m until 2017. The aid will be used to invest in and strengthen governance, justice, human rights, employment and social development.
Speaking at the Tokyo conference, the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said: "Afghanistan's security cannot only be measured by the absence of war. It has to be measured by whether people have jobs and economic opportunity, whether they believe their government is serving their needs, whether political reconciliation proceeds and succeeds."
The aid money promised in Tokyo meets the financial requirement estimated by the World Bank. It is in addition to the $4.1bn in military assistance pledged by donors at a Nato conference in Chicago in May.
Addressing the conference, the Afghan President Hamid Karzai vowed to stamp out graft, one of the most contentious issues between him and his foreign supporters. "On our part, we will be extremely vigorous in our pursuit of good governance priorities, including the rule of law and the fight against corruption," he said.
Multiple references to women's rights are included in the final Tokyo agreement, including a specific reference to monitoring the implementation of the Elimination of Violence Against Women Law and the National Action Plan for Women. "There were numerous mentions included with respect to women and we welcome that," Oxfam's Louise Hancock, head of policy and advocacy in Afghanistan, said. "However, we would have liked to have seen a section included saying how they are going to achieve that [implementation].
"Afghan women and girls were looking to the international community to protect the progress they have made in the last decade and they have been let down. Some important steps have been taken, notably in a renewed commitment to their constitutional rights and better implementation of laws. But this is still not enough to entrench the fragile gains that have been made so far. There are not enough concrete steps or firm affirmations of how women will play a better role in the transformation phase of their country".
Heather Barr, Afghanistan researcher at Human Rights Watch, said: "The Afghan civil society organisations did a good job of pushing for human rights and the donors said the right things; but there's a long way to go between that and real action."
Donors will meet in Britain in 2014 to monitor how the aid has been dispersed and to make sure it has not been misappropriated.