In the lead
NATO forces transferred the control of 95 remaining districts to Afghan security forces in a ceremony on Tuesday, completing a transition process that began in 2011 (AFP, BBC, Pajhwok). Afghan President Hamid Karzai said that beginning Wednesday, for the first time since 2001, Afghan forces will lead all security activities across the country. As the New York Times points out, Afghan security personnel have already taken the lead across three-quarters of the country but after Tuesday, these forces must operate without American air support, medical evacuation helicopters, or partnered combat units (NYT). The 100,000 coalition troops remaining in the country will serve as mentors and trainers to the growing Afghan forces, providing help in only the most dire of circumstances.
Shortly before the official handover on Tuesday, three Afghan civilians were killed and 30 others were wounded in Kabul when a roadside bomb ripped through the convoy of Hazara leader Mohammad Mohaqqiq (AP, NYT, Pajhwok). The blast occurred moments after Mohaqqiq’s convoy, which was heading to the transition ceremony, passed the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission office on the outskirts of the city, suggesting he was the intended target of the attack.
After months of stalled peace negotiations, sources close to the Taliban confirmed that they are opening a political bureau in Doha, Qatar, possibly as early as Tuesday, to discuss a way forward with the Karzai government (BBC). Former jihadi leaders and prominent politicians met with President Karzai on Monday to assess the progress of the government-initiated peace process and agreed the office’s opening would help them begin answering Afghan demands for security and stability (Pajhwok). President Karzai announced Tuesday that the country’s High Peace Council would travel to Doha to begin the negotiations, before moving them back to Afghanistan (Reuters).
U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-Tennessee), the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, announced Monday that he was putting a hold on a portion of U.S. aid to Afghanistan until the White House offered "sufficient assurances" that the alleged "ghost money" received by President Hamid Karzai from the CIA was not fueling government corruption (NYT, Pajhwok). The $75 million being withheld was intended to help Afghanistan organize its national elections, including next April’s presidential vote.
Education for all
In the wake of Saturday’s attack in Quetta that killed 14 female students, Malala Yousufzai became the first signatory of a new U.N. petition to ensure 57 million out-of-school children worldwide are given the chance of an education (Dawn, ET). In a statement about the petition, Yousufzai, who was shot by Taliban militants in October 2012 for her public stance on female education, said: "Obtaining education is every man and woman’s birthright and no one is allowed to take away this right from them." The petition, which was launched by the U.N. Special Envoy for Education, is part of an effort to establish universal primary education by December 2015.
Dr. Shireen Mazari, a Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf (PTI) party leader, raised the issue of U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan during Tuesday’s session of the National Assembly and asked lawmakers what they would do if the campaign was not ended (Dawn). Mazari said the attacks could not just be met with protests and stressed that the government may have to adopt stronger measures. In response to Dr. Mazari’s question, Sartaj Aziz, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s advisor on foreign affairs, said Pakistan has already conveyed its serious concerns about the campaign to the U.S. and that it will continue to raise the issue in all forums, including an upcoming meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (ET).
Responding to the weekend’s violent attacks across Quetta, Balochistan’s Acting Inspector-General of Prisons, Shujah Kasi, put prison authorities at all of the major and sensitive facilities on high alert Monday (ET). Kasi said officials at prisons in Gaddani, Khuzdar, Machh, Naushki, and Quetta have been instructed to remain within the prisons at all time and not to leave without prior permission. Kasi also claimed the move was an attempt to prevent an incident like last year’s jailbreak in Bannu, when hundreds of militants stormed the jail from several directions and several high-profile terrorists escaped.
Six months after the U.S. State Department shuttered the Office of Guantanamo Closure, Secretary of State John Kerry effectively reopened it Monday when he named Clifford Sloan as the department’s new special envoy for closing the U.S. detention facility in Cuba (Pajhwok, Post). Sloan, a lawyer with extensive government experience, will be responsible for transferring the remaining detainees who have been cleared for release to their home or third countries, and managing a multitude of diplomatic issues that surround presidential directives to close the facility. There are currently 166 detainees at the prison complex, 86 of whom have been approved for transfer.
– Bailey Cahall