The South Asia Channel

No U.S. troops in Afghanistan post-2014 without security agreement, official says

No U.S. troops in Afghanistan post-2014 without security agreement, official says

The Rack: "Afghanistan after 2014: Why zero is not an option" (Economist) 

Signature needed

Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told U.S. senators on Thursday that there would be no American troops in Afghanistan post-2014 without a signed Bilateral Security Agreement (Pajhwok).  Speaking to members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Dempsey said that while any U.S. presence in the country after combat troops withdraw at the end of next year is dependent on the signing the agreement, he’s confident it will be formalized in time.  Afghan President Hamid Karzai suspended negotiations over the agreement after the Taliban opened a political office in Qatar.

During the hearing, Dempsey also said that a faster pullout of U.S. troops or leaving no troops behind – the so-called "zero option" – would "likely compromise the sustainability of the ANSF [Afghan National Security Force].  It would also impact our ability to retrograde all our personnel and equipment" (Pajhwok).  Dempsey told the senators that he recommended keeping the Afghan security force level at 352,000 troops and that this "surge" should continue until at least 2016 to counter a possible Taliban resurgence. 

The. U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) announced a five-year $200 million assistance program for Afghan women on Thursday, the largest investment program to date by the U.S. aid organization (Post, Reuters).  According to USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah, the program, known as "Promote," is intended to empower women and will fund scholarships, help women aged 18 to 30 gain relevant job skills, invest in women-owned businesses, and provide training to women interested in policymaking and elective office.  Shah added that Australia, Britain, Japan, and the European Union have also expressed an interest in funding the program, which could bring the total funds to $416 million. 

Not approved

A new report issued by the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project on Thursday found that the Obama administration’s use of drones faces broad global opposition (Dawn, ET).  According to the report, in 31 of the 39 countries surveyed, at least half of the population opposes the drone campaign, and in 12 of those 31, opposition is as high as 80 percent.  The only countries surveyed where a majority supports the strikes are Israel (64%), the U.S. itself (61%), and interestingly, Kenya (56%).  Among other things, the report also notes that approval of the program differs sharply along gender lines, and that double-digit gender gaps were found in Australia, Canada, South Korea, Uganda, and the U.S., as well as six of the eight European Union nations polled. 

Khawaja Asif, Pakistan’s Minister for Water and Power, announced an ambitious plan on Thursday to fix the country’s ailing energy sector in just three years (Reuters).  Asif plans to reduce Pakistan’s dependence on oil imports, build new power plants, and boost investment in the aging energy grid.  His first step, however, is to pay off $5 billion worth of unpaid bills that have clogged the system and caused blackouts lasting more than half a day in many parts of the country.

Just days after the Election Commission of Pakistan said it would hold the presidential election on August 6, the Pakistani government has requested a delay due to the end of Ramadan (ET).  The Ministry of Law asked for the reschedule since many parliamentarians would be abroad during that time, celebrating the end of the holy month.  If the commission cannot extend the election, the ministry also requested it move the election day up.

Bitter rivals

Police arrested Mohammad Rafiq on Thursday, a cook accused of using insecticides to poison and murder 22 members of a powerful landowning clan in a murder-for-hire plot between cousins (AFP).  According to police, Arsal Khan Khichi paid Rafiq $500 to poison the food at his cousin Jahanzeb Khan Khichi’s house, after he lost to him in a provincial election.  While a murder case has also been registered against Khichi, he remains at large and his father has been taken into custody instead.

— Bailey Cahall