The supreme leader of the Taliban group Mullah Hebatullah Akhundzada and his two deputies have reportedly visited in the Karachi city of Pakistan during the recent days.
The 209th Shaheen Corps in the North, citing credible sources, reported that Mullah Hebatullah and his two deputies, Sirajuddin Haqqani and Mullah Yaqoob visited the port city of Pakistan.
Sirajuddin Haqqani is the deputy of Mullah Hebatullah as well as the leader of the notorious Haqqani network while Mullah Yaqoob, the son of the former Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, is operating as the military commission chief of the group.
The source further added that the top Taliban leaders have reportedly visited Karachi city on invitation of the Pakistani officials.
The sources also claim that the Taliban leaders have apparently visited the Karachi city to hatch plans for their future attacks as the group has recently launched its spring offensive.
This comes as the Afghan and US officials have long been insisting that the leadership councils of the Taliban and the notorious Haqqani terrorist network are based in Pakistan from where they plan and coordinate deadly attacks in Afghanistan.
However, the Pakistani officials reject the claims and emphasize that the US is attempting to divert attention from its failures in Afghanistan by criticizing Islamabad.
Independent Election Commission (IEC) officials said Saturday that the commission’s goal was to register between five and seven million voters, but that they had printed 18 million stickers to use if the number of voters went up.
In the voter registration process, the election commission pastes the stickers on the original ID cards of voters and on election day voters can only vote if they have the stickers on their ID cards.
While the institutions overseeing the election process say printing 18 million stickers is questionable and provides the context for election fraud, but the election commission says the stickers have been printed as a precaution.
“30,000 registration books have been printed and in every book 600 voters will be registered,” IEC commissioner Sayed Hafizullah Hashemi said.
According to the election commission, 4.6 million voters have registered their names to vote of which 32 percent are women.
The institutions overseeing the election process said the printing of so many stickers was questionable and it would provide the grounds for election fraud.
“This can lead to election fraud. As in the past blank voting papers were sent to the provinces and polling stations, but there the papers were misused for fraud,” Yusuf Rasheed, executive director of Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan said.
In the meantime, three days ago the election commission presented the names of three candidates for the position of IEC head secretariat to the Presidential Palace, but the Presidential Palace has asked the IEC to send names of more applicants.
“The commission has been asked in addition to the three candidates, add more eligible candidates to the list so we can select a competent person to the important position,” the president’s deputy spokesman Shahhussain Murtazavi said.
An institution overseeing the election process says asking for more names by the Presidential Palace is illegal.
“They (Presidential Palace) are trying to appoint their own people in the election commission, especially in the operation section,” Sughra Sadat, a spokesperson for Transparent Election Foundation of Afghanistan said.
“I think based on the law, the president has the right to ask for more candidates or can select from the list,” IEC commissioner Sayed Hafizullah Hashemi said.
Watchdogs also criticized the election commission over the voter database. The database so far has not been activated and according to critics, the information and figures of voters will not be transparent and accurate without having an active voter database.
The election commission however said they have hired staff for the voter database input process and that it will be activated by next week and then they will start entering voter information.
Almost 3.7 million children in Afghanistan are unable to go to school due to ongoing conflict, poverty, and discrimination against girls, the United Nations’ Children's Fund (UNICEF) says.
The figure, part of the Global Initiative On Out Of School Children report released on June 2, represents almost half of all Afghan children aged between 7 and 17.
It marks the first time that the out-of-school rate has increased since 2002, according to the study, which calls for a continued commitment on the part of the Afghan government and civil society groups to address the matter.
“Now is the time for a renewed commitment to provide girls and boys with the relevant learning opportunities they need to progress in life and to play a positive role in society,” UNICEF Afghanistan Representative Adele Khodr said in a statement.
The report indicates that persistent discrimination against girls is a major factor driving down school attendance. Girls account for 60 percent of those being denied an education.
In the provinces of Kandahar, Helmand, Wardak, Paktika, Zabul, and Oruzgan, up to 85 percent of girls are not attending school.
But the study also notes that dropout rates are low, with 85 percent of boys and girls who start at the primary level managing to stay in school to complete all grades. The figures are even higher for those who begin at the secondary-school level.
The report comes as the Western-backed government in Kabul has been struggling to fend off the Taliban and other militant groups since the withdrawal of most NATO troops in 2014.
The Taliban has stepped up its attacks against Afghan security forces as well as government officials across the country since the announcement of its spring offensive in April.
Khodr insisted that getting girls and boys into school is “so much more than sitting in class.” She said it is about providing routine and stability, “which is a wise investment given the insecurity across parts of the country.”
“When children are not in school, they are at an increased danger of abuse, exploitation, and recruitment,” she also said.
US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has faced sharp criticism from angry finance ministers of other G7 nations over America's imposition of new tariffs on steel and aluminum imports.
France's Bruno Le Maire warned a trade war could begin in "a few days".
Meanwhile US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross met Chinese Vice Premier Liu He in Beijing to try to ease trade tensions.
President Trump insisted on Twitter that the US had been "ripped off by other countries for years on trade".
He says the steel tariffs will protect US steelmakers, which he says are vital to national security. Trump has also complained about barriers US firms face in Europe and elsewhere.
"Time to get smart!" he added.
At a heated meeting in the Canadian ski resort, the EU and Canada threatened to retaliate.
But Mnuchin denied that the US had abandoned leadership in the global economy and said he had passed on the other countries' strong feelings to Trump.
There was no joint statement at the end of the meeting, which the BBC's North America correspondent Chris Buckler says is a clear sign of discord.
Our correspondent says acrimonious debate is likely to continue next weekend when the leaders of the G7 countries - including Trump - meet for a summit in Quebec.
Ross is in Beijing seeking deals on agriculture and energy to narrow the yawning US trade deficit with China.
His visit comes days after Washington threatened to impose additional tariffs on $50bn (£37bn) of Chinese goods.
Ross said the talks had been friendly and frank but gave no further details.
Mnuchin said the talks with China were also intended to bring about structural changes to allow US companies to compete fairly.
On Thursday, Ross said tariffs of 25% on steel and 10% on aluminum had come into effect.
They apply to items such as plated steel, slabs, coil, rolls of aluminum and tubes - raw materials that are used extensively across US manufacturing, construction and the oil industry.
Ross said talks with the EU, Canada and Mexico had not made enough progress to warrant holding off from imposing the tariffs.
Canada, Mexico and the EU together exported $23bn (£17bn) worth of steel and aluminum to the US in 2017 - nearly half of the $48bn of total steel and aluminum imports last year.
Leaders from the EU, Canada and Mexico have criticized the move.
French President Emmanuel Macron has called Trump to tell him the tariffs were "illegal" but was told by Trump that there was a need to "rebalance trade" with the EU.
The EU has issued a 10-page list of tariffs on US goods ranging from Harley-Davidson motorcycles to bourbon.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said the US move is "totally unacceptable".
Canada plans to impose tariffs of up to 25% on about $13bn worth of US exports from 1 July. Goods affected will include some American steel, as well as consumer products such as yoghurt, whiskey and coffee.
Some prominent US Republicans have also voiced opposition.
House Speaker Paul Ryan has said the move "targets America's allies when we should be working with them to address the unfair trading practices of countries like China".
A Chinese general has defended South China Sea deployments and policy, slamming “irresponsible” comments and interference in internal affairs by US Defense Secretary James Mattis, who accused Beijing of intimidating its neighbors.
“Any irresponsible comments from other countries cannot be accepted,” Lieutenant General He Lei said at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, after Mattis promised to “vigorously” compete and confront Beijing’s growing influence in the disputed waters of the South China Sea.
“We see any other country that tries to make noise about this as interfering in our internal affairs,” General He added.
The US has, for years, agitated China by claiming a “freedom of navigation,” sailing its warships and conducting flights near the disputed areas of the South China Sea. To reinforce its territorial claims, Beijing has been building artificial islands and deploying military infrastructure on the Paracels, as well as on the Spratly Islands.
“China's policy in the South China Sea stands in stark contrast to the openness our strategy promises, it calls into question China’s broader goals,” the US Defense Secretary claimed on Friday, accusing Beijing of “intimidation and coercion.”
General He, who is deputy president at the People's Liberation Army's Academy of Military Science, made it clear that all the islands in question are “part of China’s territories,” noting that China has historical records proving its claim.
“It is undeniable that... there are soldiers that are stationed there and there are weapons that are deployed there. It is a symbol of China’s sovereignty,” the officer said. “The weapons have been deployed for national defense.”
The general also slammed Washington’s abuse of the freedom of navigation principle, noting that it is the “true root of the militarization of the South China Sea.”
“It is those that are shouting about 'the militarization of the South China Sea' who are militarizing the South China Sea,” He added. US military patrols and fly-bys “jeopardize China's security and challenges China's sovereignty,” the general explained.
The Chinese officer also slammed Washington’s pursuit of closer ties with Taiwan, which Beijing views as the violation of the One-China Policy. After Trump signed the Taiwan Travel Act (HR 535) to extend ties between Washington and Taipei“at all levels,” Mattis, in his speech in Singapore, noted that the US commitment is to “provide articles and services needed for its self-defense.” Taipei has expressed interest in American M1A2 Abrams tanks, to serve as the island’s last line of defense against a hypothetical intervention by Beijing.
Beijing will never allow a third country “separate any piece of Chinese territory from China at any time in any form,” General He said. “The Chinese People’s Liberation Army has the determination, confidence and ability to safeguard China’s sovereignty, security, unity and development interest.”
Noting that the country’s armed forces are able and ready to defend all of its territorial claims, disputed or not, including those in the East China Sea, He expressed hope that all of the governments and militaries involved “act in a manner that preserves regional and global peace.”
Thousands of people have taken to the streets in the Macedonian capital, Skopje, to protest the potential change of the name of the country.
Supporters of Macedonia’s biggest opposition party, VMRO-DPMNE, gathered in front of the government building in Skopje on Saturday, waving Macedonian flags and holding banners that read “Macedonia will win.”
“We came here united, to preserve our centuries-old... our great-great grandfathers’ name of the Republic of Macedonia. Only and nothing but Republic of Macedonia. We’ll not accept anything else,” said Andrej Filipovski, a Skopje resident.
The protesters said the government had harmed national interests by discussing a possible new name for the country with neighboring Greece.
Macedonia and Greece have been holding talks to resolve a long-running dispute over the use by the former Yugoslav republic of the name Macedonia, which Athens says implies a territorial claim because its northern province has the same name.
Greece’s left-wing government has proposed agreeing to a composite name for the country that would include the word Macedonia but ensure a clear differentiation from the Greek province.
The issue has hampered Macedonia’s hopes of joining the European Union (EU) and NATO, as Greece has the power to veto its membership bid.
Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said a day earlier that negotiations with Greece to resolve the 27-year-old row over the name were in “the final stages.”
Participants in the Saturday protest also called for early elections next year, citing the poor state of the economy.
VMRO-DPMNE leader Hristijan Mickoski told the crowd that the prime minister “will do irreparable damage, from which there is no coming back. VMRO-DPMNE is against any change of the constitution with an aim to change our name.”
The opposition party led the country for nearly 10 years until 2016.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte lashed out Sunday at another UN human rights expert for making critical remarks about his supposed role in the expulsion of the chief justice, telling him “to go to hell”.
Duterte dismissed the remarks of Diego Garcia-Sayan and told him not to meddle in domestic problems.
Duterte was replying to a reporter’s question before flying on a visit to South Korea.
“Tell him not to interfere with the affairs of my country. He can go to hell,” Duterte said in a late-night televised news conference.
“He is not a special person and I do not recognize his rapporteur title.”
Garcia-Sayan told reporters in Manila on Thursday that the unprecedented ouster of Maria Lourdes Sereno as chief justice after Duterte lambasted her in public is an attack on judicial independence that could put Philippine democracy at risk.
Duterte has reacted with similar public outbursts in the past against other UN rapporteurs who raised alarm and sought an independent investigation into his bloody campaign against illegal drugs, which has left thousands of mostly poor drug suspects dead. Police blamed the deaths on clashes with law enforcers.
Sereno’s ouster has generated “a climate of intimidation” in the 15-member High Court and other levels of the judiciary, Garcia-Sayan said in an interview with The Associated Press in Manila.
He added that there was no formal UN investigation into Sereno’s removal, but as the UN rapporteur who looks into threats to independence of judges and lawyers worldwide, he had to speak up when problems are reported anywhere in the world.
He cited his upcoming report on such a threat to the judiciary in Poland.
“For a rapporteur of the UN on independence of justice to keep silent when a chief justice in any country in the world, even in my country, would be dismissed in such way is impossible, and it will be immoral to stay silent,” Garcia-Sayan, a former justice and foreign minister of Peru, said.
He said he sent questions to the Philippine government about the circumstances leading to the May 11 ouster of Sereno and expressed hopes that the Duterte administration would reply within 60 days and agree to a dialogue on issues that could threaten the judiciary’s independence.
Sereno, 57, was expelled by an 8-6 vote on a petition filed by government lawyer General Jose Calida, who accused her of failing to file asset disclosures as a state university law professor years ago, a charge she denies.
It pre-empted impeachment proceedings against Sereno that were then underway in Congress.
Sereno has appealed the ruling, citing a constitutional principle that top judiciary officials can only be removed by congressional impeachment.
A majority of the 23-member Senate, including some Duterte allies, has asked the Supreme Court to review its decision, calling it a “dangerous precedent” that infringed on Congress’ power to impeach senior officials.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said Garcia-Sayan was misinformed and added that while Duterte has been critical of Sereno for claiming that he plotted against her, the president had no hand in her expulsion.
His dislike of Sereno “is not an attack to the judiciary or an affront to judicial independence,” Roque said.
Peach farms on around 500 acres of land in eastern Nangarhar province produced 1,850 metric tons of the fruit this year, an official said on Saturday.
According to the Agriculture Department, farmers earned 150,000 Afghanis from per half an acre yield this season. The newly cultivated peach farms in Nangarhar are also seen as a good alternative to Pakistani peach.
Rafiullah Rahimzai, the agriculture director, in an exclusive interview told Pajhwok Afghan News that a large number of peach farms had been established in four Nangahar districts under the National Horticulture Livestock Project (NHLP).
He said these orchards had been cultivated on personal lands of farmers, measuring around 500 acres.
Every half an acre of orchard produced nearly 350 kilograms of peach, with each farmer earning 20,000 to 150,000 Afghanis.
New types of peach had been discovered at the fruits research center in Nangarhar. The local peach quickly ripens compared to the one from foreign countries.
Rahimzai added flawwhite and wiowhite are two different peaches and their samples were brought from Italy for cultivation and promotion here.
He said these orchards had been established in Surkhrud, Behsud, Khewa and Kama districts and being expanded to other areas.
Qaseemullah, who in the past grew a pomegranate orchard, changed his mind two years back and set up a peach orchard.
He said peach saplings provided by the agriculture department to him earned him 30,000 afghanis profit, although the trees were yet to reach fruit producing level.
Another farmer from Kama district Malak Zarab said he was pleased with growing peach farm on his land. His orchard is three years old and produced quality fruit this season.
The weakness of central government is one of the major contributing factors to the numerous problems facing Afghanistan. In addition to areas over which insurgents hold sway, the central government apparently has no rule in regions under its control. The weak rule of law even in capital Kabul has allowed strongmen and irresponsible gunmen to commit illegal activities. This unruliness is not limited to only warlords. Now, individuals, who have no power and influence among people, not only challenge the rule of government but also disrespect the undisputed national values – something no one could even expect until a few years ago.
The central government’s weak position and preference for political compromise and deals over rule of law have sparked off a rising wave of anarchy and anti-Afghanistan movements in the country. Some opportunist circles working for outsiders are exploiting the situation even to embrace a stance that is against national values such as identity, because they are sure the central government cannot act against them.
A handful of people have recently started to hold gatherings in some provinces against Afghan as national identity. A member of Wolesi Jirga has even warned to declare north of the country as an autonomous region. There is still opportunity to control these circles. If the government and patriotic politicians work together, they can quell voices of the circles who are trying to sow the seeds of disunity and hatred among Afghan people.
Some politicians, who have no public support, and no political ideology and platform to offer to people but ethnic card, are exploiting the government’s existing shortcomings, and pursuing their personal interests. Besides the government, it is also the responsibility of people to know their true representatives. Instead of listening to the slogans of the divisive elements, they should maintain their national unity and prevent the designs of regional and global enemies from being implemented in the country. Afghanistan is the shared home of all Afghans, and Afghaniat (Afghan-centrism) is their collective identity; no one should excuse himself or herself from it. Our shared identity can bring us closer than separate us. After religion, it is our national identity that can give us a sense of oneness more than anything else can. The people should not be deceived by a few slaves of foreign countries for their interests. They should not allow these evil elements to sacrifice our national interests for the sake of their personal agendas. In Afghanistan, Afghans are all in the same boat. If it sinks, all people will sink together, regardless of their language, religion and race, except those serving for foreign countries, as they will be granted asylum by those states.
Nearly 3,000 people have been killed and injured in 205 attacks in Afghanistan in May, showing 42 percent increase in casualties happened in April.
Pajhwok Afghan News reports show 1,220 people have been killed and 866 others injured in 173 different attacks in 28 provinces of the country in April.
Reports based on different sources showed 1,762 people were killed and 1,190 others injured in 28 out of total 34 provinces of the country during May.
Available statistic showed that of every 19 persons, 14 suffered casualties in face to face clashes, two in blasts, and one each in airstrikes, suicide attacks and targeted attacks.
Nearly half of the May attacks took place in Faryab, Nangarhar, Ghazni and Helmand provinces and the rest others happened in 25 other provinces while Pajhwok had no report of violent incidents from Balkh, Bamyan, Nuristan, Panjshir, Daikundi, and Kunar provinces in the same period.
Rebels, security forces and civilians were among the dead and wounded, but Pajhwok could not share separate and exact number of the dead and injured of each category because different sources shared different figures.