The South Asia Channel

U.S. and Afghanistan close to finalizing Bilateral Security Agreement

Bonus read: "Al Qaeda's boss asserts himself," Peter Bergen and Jennifer Rowland (CNN).

Final phase

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told congressional lawmakers on Wednesday that negotiations between Afghanistan and the United States on a Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) have entered a final phase (Pajhwok).  While the U.S. has not confirmed how many troops will remain in Afghanistan post-withdrawal, sources familiar with the talks say the two countries have established several working groups to discuss issues like air-space management, bases, telecommunications, and transit routes. 

A U.N. report on children and armed conflict released Wednesday revealed that 1,304 Afghan children were killed in conflict-related violence in 2012, and the number is likely to rise in 2013 (Pajhwok, VOA).  The deaths were caused by actions of all parties currently involved in the conflict.  UNICEF, the author of the report, also stated that there were 414 conflict-related child casualties between January 1 and April 30 this year, a 27 percent increase from the same period last year.

Georgian Defense Minister Irakli Alasania announced Wednesday that the country has closed two of its bases in Afghanistan following multiple militant attacks on its facilities that killed 10 Georgian soldiers over the past four weeks (Post, RFEFL). Alasania said Georgia will not be reducing its troop contingent in the immediate future, but did not elaborate on where they would be housed.  Separately, Italian Defense Minister Mario Mauro confirmed that Italian troops will continue to be a part of the coalition until 2014 (Pajhwok).  

Six policemen, four of whom were members of the Afghan Local Police, were killed at their checkpoint in Helmand province on Thursday, though it is unclear who is responsible for the incident (AP, Pajhwok).  Omar Zwak, the governor's spokesman, said he believed the killings were part of "an internal conspiracy" as two other policemen are missing, but the Taliban also claimed responsibility for the attack.

Not included 

Twelve assembly ministers in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province were sworn in on Thursday, none of them women (Dawn, ET). The ceremony at the Governor's Palace comes just days after Dawn reported the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf government in the province was considering a merger between the Social Welfare and Women Development and Zakat and Ushr Ministries, a move that would likely give the ministerial position to its coalition partner, Jamaat-i-Islami (Dawn).  While no official decision has been announced concerning the merger, many women in the province believe it will deny them a crucial voice in the new government.

U.S. Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday that the U.S. is gradually rebuilding its relationship with Pakistan following years of increased tensions (ET).  Recognizing that failure to achieve stability in Afghanistan would have implications for Pakistan and the greater region, Dempsey said the recent signing of a tripartite border document would standardize cross-border operations and continue a steady level of engagement with the new government.

Top gun

Ayesha Farooq, a 26-year-old Pakistani woman from Punjab province, made history this week when she became the first female fighter pilot in Pakistan's Air Force (Reuters).  Farooq is one of 19 female pilots who have joined the service in the last decade, five of whom are also training to become fighter pilots.

-- Jennifer Rowland and Bailey Cahall  

Alex Wong/Getty Images

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