In preparation for next April's presidential and provincial elections, Afghan President Hamid Karzai appointed the five members of the Independent Election Complaints Commission on Monday but promptly faced criticism from opposition politicians who said the posts went to key allies (Pajhwok). Many view the 2014 ballot as a key test of Afghanistan's nascent democracy, especially as coalition combat troops prepare to withdraw at the end of the year, and some are concerned the appointments could undermine the vote. Aimal Faizi, Karzai's spokesman, denied these accusations and said that all of the commissioners were independently "appointed in full accordance with the law and all relevant legal mechanisms" (Reuters). Bonus read: "Of Afghan football and politics," Omar Samad (AfPak).
Karzai faced additional criticism on Tuesday from Navi Pillay, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, who said that Afghanistan's progress on human rights and women's rights was endangered by all of the focus being placed on the politics of next year's election (AFP, Pajhwok, RFE/RL). Speaking at the end of her two-day visit to the country, Pillay added that she had received no assurances from Karzai that "he would reverse his decision to pack the country's human rights commission with political appointees" (NYT). Pillay was particularly concerned about the inclusion of a former Taliban mullah, a politician with the fundamentalist Jamiat-i-Islami party, and a police general on the commission, none of whom were on a proposed member list created by civic and human rights groups.
Sartaj Aziz, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's advisor on foreign affairs, told reporters with Agence France Presse on Monday that Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, an imprisoned senior Taliban commander, "will be released this week, possibly in a day or two" (AFP, Pajhwok). Kabul has long pushed for Baradar's release as the former second-in-command is seen as a potential linchpin in getting the Afghan Taliban back to the negotiating table. Aziz, however, tempered those hopes by adding that Baradar would not be handed over to the Afghan government. Instead, "it is at his discretion, whether he chooses to live [in Pakistan] or anywhere of his own choice." Baradar has not yet expressed where he would like to go once he is released.
Speaking to Turkish Interior Minister Muammer Güler and other senior security officials in Ankara on Tuesday, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said that he would seek help and guidance from Turkey to effectively end terrorism back home (Dawn). He said that Pakistan would learn from Turkish police successes and expressed hope that it would implement a new counterterrorism strategy with Turkish cooperation. For his part, Güler said Turkey would help Pakistan control cyber crimes and tackle the radicalization occurring in the country.
Later on Tuesday, Sharif received the "Medal of Democracy," Turkey's highest civil award, from Recep Tayyip Erdo?an, his Turkish counterpart (ET). It is not entirely clear why Sharif was given the award but he referenced his "humble contribution to furthering our fraternal relations" and a commitment to "exploring new vistas for cooperation between our two countries" in his acceptance speech. The award came during Sharif's three-day visit to Turkey, his first since becoming prime minister in June.
The Pakistani delegation's trip to Turkey began on Monday when representatives from Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, and Tajikistan signed a deal related to the CASA-1000 electricity project (Dawn, RFE/RL). The project, which aims to export electricity from hydropower stations in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to Afghanistan and Pakistan, is designed to foster better ties between the Central and South Asian countries, and provide Afghan and Pakistani citizens with inexpensive and uninterrupted power. Under the terms of the agreement, Afghanistan will receive around 300 megawatts of electricity annually and Pakistan will get nearly 1,000 megawatts.
Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani schoolgirl who was shot in the head by Taliban fighters last October for championing girls' education, was awarded Amnesty International's highest honor on Tuesday, becoming one of the group's 2013 Ambassadors of Conscience (AFP, Pajhwok, RFE/RL). Yousafzai will share the award with American singer and human rights activist Harry Belafonte. The award, which recognizes "individuals who have promoted and enhanced the cause of human rights through their life and by example," will be presented to the pair by U2 frontman Bono.
To protect and score
Fresh off of their victory in the South Asian Football Federation Championship game last week, two members of the Afghan national football team announced on Sunday that they would be joining the Afghan National Police (Pajhwok). At an award ceremony for the team, Hashmatullah Barakzai and Rafi Barakzai revealed their intentions and said they were joining the force voluntarily "due to their innate flair for the job and their desire to serve the people." Acting Interior Minister Mohammad Omar Daudzai added that the men could start as soon as Monday and the other members of the team said they would act as police ambassadors.
-- Bailey Cahall and David Sterman