Page last updated at 16:01 GMT, Wednesday, 28 April 2010 17:01 UK

Afghan elder who spoke out shot dead near Kandahar

Afghan President Hamid Karzai speaks to locals during a shura in Kandahar
Mr Rahman was among those who took Mr Karzai (standing, facing) to task

A prominent Afghan tribal leader who spoke of his fears of assassination by the Taliban has been killed near the southern city of Kandahar.

Unidentified gunmen shot Abdul Rahman in the head as he was walking home.

Mr Rahman had become widely known in Afghanistan after telling President Karzai that those who spoke out against the Taliban risked being killed.

The Taliban are blamed for a spate of killings in Kandahar province ahead of a planned Nato-led assault this summer.

At least 13 community leaders and government officials have been killed in and around the city of Kandahar in less than two months.

Earlier this week the UN moved foreign staff out of the city and told 200 of its local employees to stay at home because of the deteriorating security situation.

Elders' anger

Mr Rahman was shot dead in his home district of Zharai, not far from Kandahar city.

Lyse Doucet
Lyse Doucet,
BBC News
The tribal shura attended by Abdul Rahman and hundreds of other tribal leaders from across Kandahar had been an extraordinary gathering in the basement of the governor's compound.

One after another, tribal elders rose from the crowd to complain loudly and frankly to President Karzai about the situation in Kandahar - they expressed concern about everything from corruption in the police and government to arbitrary arrests and tribal rivalries.

The president urged them to speak their minds. But a number of elders angrily and boldly spoke of security threats - from the Taliban and the government too. Abdul Rahman was one of those voices.

Some government officials who were also at that jirga tried to downplay the elders' anger. But their anger was real - as are the threats they bravely highlighted.

He was among elders who took President Karzai to task at an angry meeting of 1,500 tribesmen in the city at the start of April.

On a rare visit to the area, the birthplace of the Taliban, the president was sharply criticised on issues of security, corruption, bribery and nepotism.

He was also told few dared join the army for fear of being killed by the militants.

Mr Rahman was one of a number of elders who said they feared being killed by the Taliban if they spoke out against them.

The BBC's Lyse Doucet - one of the few foreign journalists at the shura in Kandahar - said the elders made it clear they thought Mr Karzai's government was as much a problem as the militants, who have grown in strength in the region in recent years.

Mr Rahman accused certain officials of destabilising Kandahar and named a number of them at the meeting. He said their activities were making the province insecure.

President Karzai had gone to Kandahar with top US commander Gen McChrystal to try to win support for the anti-Taliban offensive.

The campaign in Kandahar is being led by a major emphasis on politics - unlike the last offensive in neighbouring Helmand province which began with a military push.

The message from the tribesmen was that they are not ready for any major military assault - Mr Karzai assured them it would not start without their support and recognised there was a lot for him to fix first.

Spate of killings

Kandahar has seen a wave of violence in recent weeks.

Mr Karzai was told few dared join the army for fear of being killed by the militants

Officials killed since February include the city's deputy major who was shot dead in a mosque earlier this month.

The Taleban accused the men of being "puppets" for the government.

Kandahar city continues to have strong links with the Taliban and Western military commanders expect an increase in violence in the coming months.

The US military want to secure the city and put it firmly under Afghan government control. The battle is seen as a potential defining moment in the conflict.

Kandahar city is key to the new US military strategy of protecting major population centres.

But the Taleban appear determined to stop that happening in their traditional stronghold.

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