KANDAHAR - A roadside bomb blamed on the Taliban tore through a police vehicle in southern Afghanistan at the weekend, killing nine people and wounding 15, officials said on Monday.

The bombing took place late Sunday in the Shahjoy district of Zabul province, on the main Kabul-Kandahar road which is a hotspot of the Taliban insurgency.

The attack killed three police including a commander and six civilians, Mohammad Jan Rasoulyar, the Zabul deputy governor, told AFP. Fifteen other people, most of them civilian bystanders, were wounded in the attack.

Jawed Faisal, head of the Kandahar Media Office in the neighbouring province, blamed the attack on the Taliban.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility. But the insurgents have frequently used roadside bombs to target Afghans and international troops since their fall from power following a US-led invasion in 2001.

Afghan forces have formally taken over responsibility for security from US-led NATO troops who are due to leave the country next year. But there are concerns about their ability to withstand the Taliban unaided.

Meanwhile, the fate of Afghanistan’s women hangs in the balance as the 2014 withdrawal of international forces looms, a UN human rights watchdog warned Monday, denouncing a raft of abuses there. “We are worried about Afghanistan because we’re at a decisive moment,” said Nicole Ameline, head of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women.

“If we don’t manage to preserve the rights of women after having devoted so much energy, resources and support in all forms in this country, it will mark a failure by the international community,” she told reporters. Ameline’s comments came after the committee examined Afghanistan’s record under procedures for the regular review of UN member states. During a review session, the Afghan government insisted that women’s rights were “non-negotiable”, she noted.

Ameline said the international community had a duty to keep Afghanistan under scrutiny to ensure women’s rights are protected and extended.

The committee’s report slammed the high level of violence faced by women in Afghanistan, including domestic abuse, rape and stoning, and the practice of making victims set themselves on fire.

It also condemned forced marriages, and the fact that women were sentenced for having tried to flee their homes.

“Afghanistan displays a concentration of forms of violence which for the most part are linked to patriarchal and ancestral systems, and which are exacerbated when they occur in zones which are not necessarily under direct state control,” said Ameline.

The committee also criticised a failure to call perpetrators of violence to account, and the fact that relatives were able to stop victims from filing legal complaints.

It also protested against the low level of representation of women in political life, notably in a peace council set up by President Hamid Karzai to try to foster talks with the country’s Taliban insurgents.

Improving the lot of Afghan women has been a watchword of the international community since the hardline Islamist Taliban was ousted by US-led forces in 2001.