"See, this is our school. You can see where the girls are."
Sixteen-year-old Mahnoz Aliyar is one of the 14,000 students of Kabul's Sayedul Shohada school. The road leading up to the school gate is not paved and potholes full of muddy water make it difficult to navigate. Conditions are little better inside the gates.
Mahnoz points to a big open field.
"You see? We don't have any classrooms, we don't have any buildings, and we don't have enough facilities for the girls."
Some classes are held under makeshift tents; others are held out in the open, with nothing to buffer the girls from the elements of Afghanistan's punishing summers and bitter winters.
While the girls persevere through rain, hail or shine, boys attend classes inside several buildings on the school grounds.
Still, the fact that girls are attending school is a huge improvement from the days of Taliban rule, when girls and women were banned from getting an education.
Thanks largely to the efforts of international donors who have spent billions of dollars rebuilding the Afghan education system, millions of girls have returned to school since the Taliban fell in 2001.
However, their exact numbers are unknown.
'He was saying that school is not good for girls'
A 2017 World Bank report suggests that as many as 66 percent of Afghanistan's girls are not in school. And those who are enrolled still struggle to get an education. They have to fight against a society that has long discouraged them, a corrupt system and a lack of proper facilities that disadvantages them.
Mahnoz has been a student at Sayedul Shohada since the first grade. She's now in grade 11 and hopes to attend the American University in Kabul after she graduates next year.
"I want to learn there. After that, I want to get a job. After that, I plan to go into politics. I want to go into politics and I want to supply everything for the girls. That's my wish."
But it will take more than her own fierce determination if Mahnoz is to achieve her goals.
First, she needs her country to be stable. According to a recent Human Rights Watch report, instability is one of the main reasons why so many girls are out of school. Families are less likely to send girls to school in insecure conditions than boys.
Even in the relative security of their neighborhood, the Dascht-e-Barchi district of west Kabul, Mahnoz's father, Allahdad, says he worries about Mahnoz and her younger sister every day when they make the half-hour walk to school. He has reason to be worried - a recent bomb blast just two kilometers from their school killed 60 people.
In addition to safety concerns, cultural norms still dictate many girls' lives.
Allahdad was at first reluctant to allow Mahnoz to go to school. But she's managed to convince him otherwise.
"Before he was saying ... that school is not good for girls," she recalls. "And the girls should work in the home, cleaning, washing, these things. But right now, he is OK. I am always saying to him the world has changed. And we should learn knowledge, we should go to school."
Bribing their way into teaching jobs
If the struggle to get to school is one hurdle, girls face even more obstacles once they are enrolled.
An independent review of corruption in the education system revealed that the poor quality of education leads many parents to pull their daughters out of school.
Muzaffar Shah, the former director of Afghanistan's anti-corruption agency, says that's because teaching jobs often go to those who can afford to bribe their way into jobs rather than those who are most qualified.
"Our findings show that there was more discrimination against women," he says.
An estimated 75 percent of teaching graduates are unemployed, with most of them being women who do not have those connections or cannot afford to pay a bribe.
Getting more female teachers into classrooms could mean more families would be willing to send their daughters to school - many families will not accept men teaching their girls.
There was more discrimination against women. Males had more access to get those [teaching] jobs - either through recommendations, through knowing people, through knowing influential people. And this was not the case for females.
'If there are ghost schools, who gets the money?'
The anti-corruption report also found that most schools still lack basic infrastructure, despite the billions of dollars international donors have invested in construction and rehabilitation of school buildings. Most, according to the report, are still incomplete.
"Our findings show that literally money was taken in cash to remote parts of Afghanistan by the trustees, and we had information that the money did not make it to the right people," Shah explains.
Back at Sayedul Shohada, Aqeela Tavakoli, the principal of the girls' school, explains that Japanese donors built two new buildings for the girls five years ago. But the school shura, or local council, decided to give those buildings to the boys.
Aqeela points to a large patch of ground near one of the new buildings and says: "That is for the girls, but no one has come to build a school."
Because of the deteriorating security climate in Afghanistan, most donors can't get out of their embassy compounds to monitor the projects they support. That lack of oversight, Muzaffar Shah says, can often drive corruption.
"The schools are located in areas which are insecure. It's hard to know if those schools are there or not - if there are ghost teachers, if there are ghost schools, if there are ghost principals, who gets the money?"
'We've learned hard lessons'
Jeff Cohen, the deputy mission director for the largest donor, USAID, acknowledges that his government could have done better.
"Just because as a donor, you want to build a school in this place, doesn't mean it's the right school to build," he says. "I think we've learned lessons - hard lessons. We've tried to do a lot very quickly. It's still a process. Self-reliance is a long-term goal," says Cohen.
Self-reliance is something Mahnoz has learned in her 16 years. Asked whether sometimes it all just seems too hard, a fiery determination flashes in her big brown eyes.
"If I face a problem ... I am saying to myself, that 'Mahnoz, this situation is not good. You have to change this situation.' And just by starting you can change first your family, then your neighborhood, and after that ... you can serve your people."
Thirteen policemen have been killed and four others injured in the Taliban attack in the Arghandab district of southern Kandahar province, local security source said on Sunday.
Among the dead, were two Afghan Local Police (ALP) commanders, the source said, adding the Taliban also suffered casualties in the firefight.
Police Spokesman Zia Durrani told Pajhwok Afghan News the Taliban stormed security forces check-posts in the Tangari locality on Saturday evening.
He said six policemen, including ALP men were killed and three other injured.
Taliban Spokesman Qari Yousuf Ahmadi claimed 17 local policemen were killed, one check-post captured in the Nagahan locality.
But security officials rejected the Taliban claim. In Kandahar the Taliban attacks has increased following raise in the temperature.
Earlier, 25 Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers were killed, 10 injured and eight others went missing in the Taliban attack.
President Ashraf Ghani on Sunday reiterated his government’s commitment for political solution of current conflict in Afghanistan. Speaking at the 18th meeting of the Council of Heads of Member States of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), the president said: “Having formed a national consensus on peace we are firmly committed to a political solution to the conflict with the Taliban.”
“We are pleased that our international partners are resolute in their support for a stable, peaceful, democratic and self-reliant Afghanistan,” Ghani said.
“We are witnessing the emerging of a regional consensus on the need for a stable and connected Afghanistan. On behalf of our people and government, let me thank the leaders around the table for the momentum generated and to highlight some events and measures,” he said.
He also said that the potential of Afghanistan as a hub for regional energy trade is no longer a pipe dream but a rapidly unfolding reality. “We are making weekly progress on expanding the national grid, to provide the power to drive the engines of growth,” Stated the President.
On the consequences of US South Asia strategy, Ashraf Ghani said that it had been a game changer in creating the enabling conditions for peace and stability.
“We gratefully acknowledge the support of our partners in the security arena through the Resolute Support mission and the developmental partners through the EU sponsored Brussels conference of 2015 and bilateral commitments,” Ghani said, adding that “Our unconditional peace offer is comprehensive and we are pleased that yesterday the Taliban accepted our ceasefire declaration for Eid.”
“We are utilizing the generous support to change the lives of our people through consolidation of effective and efficient institution that will be accountable to our fellow citizens,” he added.
The President also stressed that to overcome inherited problems of corruption, governance and limited utilization of our human and natural capital, the government was accelerating the implementation of a comprehensive agenda reform.
Democracy depends on choice of leadership through credible, inclusive, free and fair election and we are fully committed to holding parliamentary elections in 2018 and presidential elections in 2019, he added.
“Our progress is real but every step forward is made in a very difficult context. We are gaining our rights through the immense sacrifice and valor of our defense and security forces,” Ghani said.
Geographically located at the heart of Asia and a historical gateway to the Indian subcontinent, Afghanistan is poised to function as an Asian Roundabout, according to Ghani.
The SCO summit was the first held after the admission of two new members, India and Pakistan.
The economic and security bloc now has eight members with the inclusion of the two last year. The others are key drivers, China and Russia, and the Central Asian states of Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.
There are four observers, including Iran and Afghanistan, and six dialogue partners.
President Ashraf Ghani believes the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) can play a key role in strengthening regional connectivity and combating terrorism.
Before his departure for China to attend SCO summit, slated for Sunday, he said boosting economic and trade cooperation within the regional bloc would be the focus of discussion.
In an exclusive interview with Xinhua in Kabul, the president hoped for winning support for regional connectivity and dealing with the common threat of terrorism.
“Our objective now is to turn Afghanistan into a land bridge between East Asia, Central Asia, West Asia and South Asia,” he said.
Afghanistan had been on the frontline in the war against terrorism, he said, insisting: “We fight and die on behalf of our neighbors.” Afghanistan, being an SCO observer, should raise the level of cooperation with member countries to jointly ensure regional security. As the world’s second largest economy, China was an engine of the Asian economy, the president said. “China, for instance, has a huge demand for marble. Afghanistan has over 40 varieties of marble,” Ghani said, noting an increase in people-to-people contacts between the neighbors.
Thousands of illegal Afghans with no grounds for asylum will cost Sweden $350 million over the next three years, a Russian news service reports.
A Swedish parliament’s decision recently allowed 9,000 Afghans to stay in the Scandinavian country despite lacking proper justification for asylum.
Described as unaccompanied refugee children, the Afghans have been afforded a new chance after their asylum applications were declined, according to Sputnik.
More than 99 percent of the Afghans are males, with 78 percent previously found lying about their ages.
The parliamentary bill, costing Sweden $350 million in the first three years alone, was passed after a long delay and aversion from Democrats, Conservatives, Christian Democrats and the Liberals.
However, the government proposal was supported by the Center Party, which managed to win a majority of votes in favor of the controversial move.
President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani has dismissed the Energy and Water Minister Ali Ahmad Osmani days after reports emerged regarding the growing controversies between Ghani and Osmani.
The Office of the President in a statement confirmed that President Ghani had issued a decree confirming the dismissal of Osmani as the Minister of Energy and Water.
The statement further added Deputy Energy and Water Minister had been appointed as the acting Minister of Energy and Water.
According to the Office of the President, Engineer Mohammad Gul Khulmi will take charge of the ministry until a new minister-designate has been introduced to the Lower Houe of the Parliament, Wolesi jirga, for confidence voting.
No further details have been given regarding the circumstances surrounding the dismissal of Ali Ahmad Osmani as the Minister of Energy and Water.
This comes as reports emerged earlier suggesting that President Ghani has included the name of Ali Ahmad Osmani in the Exit Control List.
However, the main reason behind the growing tensions between ARG Palace and Mr. Osmani has not been ascertained so far.
The United States and European Union will establish a dialogue on trade within the next two weeks, a French official said on Friday, signaling a modest step forward for bitterly divided allies at a Group of Seven summit in Canada.
US trading partners have been furious over President Donald Trump’s decision last week to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Canada, the European Union and Mexico as part of his “America First” agenda. Some countries have retaliated with their own levies on US imports.
“The principle of a dialogue was agreed this afternoon,” the French official told reporters. “Everyone agreed, including President Trump.”
While G7 leaders confronted Trump with a slew of data on imports and exports in a bid to sway his thinking, Trump countered his own numbers and held his position that the United States was at a disadvantage on international trade, an official who followed the talks said.
But Trump struck a more affable tone after a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron, saying the French leader was helping work out trade issues.
“Something’s going to happen. I think it will be very positive,” Trump said, without giving details.
Macron said it was possible to advance the trade issues that have split the US and its allies.
“I think, on trade, there is ... a way to progress all together,” he told reporters after his meeting with Trump. “I saw the willingness on all the sides to find agreements and have a win-win approach for our people, our workers, and our middle classes.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday floated an idea to set up a way to resolve trade disputes between the United States and its allies. An official described Merkel’s suggestion as a “shared assessment and dialogue” mechanism, but gave no further details. It was unclear if the technical talks were part of her initiative.
The proposal was supported by other leaders present, the official said. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker offered to visit Washington for an assessment of EU-US trade to help resolve the dispute, an official said.
Expectations for a major breakthrough on trade at the summit, however, remain low, with US allies focused on avoiding rupturing the G7, which in its 42-year history has tended to seek consensus on major issues.
“It’s highly unlikely there will be a final communiqué,” a G7 official said on condition of anonymity.
Merkel said it was not clear whether the group would issue a final directive, adding that failure to do so would be an honest reflection of the lack of agreement among Canada, the United States, Japan, Britain, Italy, France and Germany. The EU is also attending the summit.
Trump had set a combative tone before leaving Washington on Friday, saying he was “going to deal with the unfair trade practices” of other G7 members.
But he was more affable after meeting Macron and Trudeau, swapping jokes with the latter before the media though neither budged on their trade positions.
“We’ve had really a very good relationship, very special,” the US president said of Macron, a day after the two leaders had exchanged terse messages on Twitter. “We have little tests every once in a while when it comes to trade.”
Merkel and Trump also had a brief conversation at the summit but no bilateral meeting.
Trump’s “America First” message to allies has hardened since he brought hardline national security adviser John Bolton on to his team.
Trump plans to leave the summit four hours earlier than originally planned to fly to Singapore to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the White House said.
G7 chiefs have largely praised Trump for his efforts to stabilize the Korean peninsula, but they are unhappy he pulled out of an international agreement to limit Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
The United Nations has said that half a million severely malnourished children around Africa's Lake Chad need life-saving assistance, but warned funding for humanitarian aid in the region was dramatically low.
The top UN aid chiefs for the countries straddling the lake -- Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon -- told reporters in Geneva that funding was desperately needed.
Nearly a decade after the insurgency by Boko Haram extremists plunged first Nigeria and later its neighbors into chaos, the security and humanitarian crises in the region remain "severe," said Bintou Djibo, the UN humanitarian coordinator for Niger.
Some five million people are acutely food insecure, while around half of the children under the age of five in the region -- 490,000 in total -- are suffering from acute, severe malnutrition, according to UN numbers.
"Without treatment, they risk death," Djibo said.
At the same time, some 2.4 million people have been displaced by conflict and food insecurity, with millions facing the risk of killings, kidnappings, rape and other abuses.
In Nigeria, where at least 20,000 people have been killed since the Boko Haram insurgency began in 2009, "we are dealing with a major protection crisis," said Edward Kallon, the UN humanitarian coordinator for the country.
Despite military successes scored against extremists, he warned that Boko Haram "is still a potent force."
More than 1,000 children in northeastern Nigeria have been abducted by armed groups since 2013, and in the past year many have been forced to carry out attacks with explosives strapped to their bodies.
Kallon said 160 women and children had been used as "human bombs" since January 2017.
At the same time, he said the extremists still control enclaves, with about 930,000 people inside that "are not accessible to international aid workers."
He estimated that up to 200,000 people had left such enclaves, saying many were "extremely malnourished."
Overall, Kallon said, 1.6 million people are internally displaced inside Nigeria while nearly one million people are acutely malnourished.
The UN is seeking $1.5 billion (1.27 billion euros) to fund humanitarian aid operations in the region around Lake Chad this year, but so far it has received only a third of that amount.
"Low funding means cutting of food rations, lack of basic social services, health, education, sanitation facilities," Kallon said.
Lacking aid can also force vulnerable people into "negative coping mechanisms" like selling sex or joining insurgents, he warned.
"Youths are the most at risk, and they are also ... the ones Boko Haram is out there to create alternative livelihoods for," he said.
The United Nations has warned that a military attack or siege by pro-Yemeni government forces supported by a Saudi-led coalition on the port city of Hudaida will impact hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians.
Lise Grande, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, said on Friday that humanitarian agencies "fear, in a prolonged worst case, that as many as 250,000 people may lose everything - even their lives".
As many as 600,000 civilians are currently living in and around the rebel-held city, a vital lifeline through which most of Yemen's population gets food and medicine, according to estimates by the UN and its partners.
The UN warned that the likely "catastrophic humanitarian impact" would be worsened due to Hudaida's key role as the point of entry for some 70 percent of Yemen's imports.
"Cutting off imports through Hudaida for any length of time will put Yemen's population at extreme, unjustifiable risk," Grande said.
Saudi Arabia, together with several other Arab nations, launched a military campaign in 2015 in support of Yemen's internationally recognized government, aiming to roll back advances made by Houthi rebels after they overran much of the country in 2014.
Most countries have since withdrawn their forces from the US-backed coalition, with only Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates conducting attacks in Yemen.
Meanwhile, heavy fighting in Yemen's Marib province left at least 20 Houthi rebels dead and several wounded, Yemen's military announced on Friday.
"Fierce fighting erupted Thursday after a group of rebels attempted to infiltrate army positions in southern Serwah," the statement quoted an unnamed military source as saying.
The military artillery had targeted Houthi sites and concentrations throughout southern Serwah, leading to heavy casualties and material losses among the ranks of the rebel group, it added.
There was no immediate comment from the Houthis regarding the army's claims.
The Houthis have controlled the center of the Serwah Directorate since April 2015, and the area remains the scene of frequent clashes between the two sides.
Impoverished Yemen has been wracked by violence since 2014 when the Houthis overran much of the country, including the capital, Sanaa.
The conflict escalated in 2015 when Saudi Arabia and its allies, who accuse the Houthis of serving as Iranian proxies, launched a massive air campaign aimed at rolling back Houthi gains.
The following year, UN-sponsored peace talks held in Kuwait failed to produce any tangible breakthroughs.
Since then, more than 10,000 people have been killed, most of them civilians.
The ongoing violence has also devastated Yemen’s infrastructure, including water and sanitation systems, prompting the UN to describe the situation as one of "the worst humanitarian disasters in modern times".
On Thursday, the International Committee of the Red Cross pulled 71 of its international staff out of Yemen, citing rising security threats.
Some 450 ICRC employees remain in Yemen, including dozens of expatriate staff, spokeswoman Marie-Claire Feghali said.
The Palestinian ambassador to the United Nations has called on the UN General Assembly to adopt a resolution seeking investigations into the increasing deadly attacks against people in the besieged Gaza Strip by Israeli troops, demanding that the world body ensure the protection of Palestinian people.
Addressing his fellow Palestinians, Riyad Mansour said during a press conference in New York on Friday that despite being in initial stages, he had managed to draw support for such a resolution from the “majority of members” in the Security Council.
“And, we are determined to have a larger support in the General Assembly, when it moves to the General Assembly soon. And we will not relent until protection to be provided in the path of ending occupation,” he added.
AFP Quoted a diplomatic source as saying that an emergency meeting had been pushed by the Organization of Islamic States and the Arab League.
The General Assembly’s president, Miroslav Lajcak, said the meeting would be held on June 13 to vote on a resolution to condemn Israel.
"We will work next week to get the maximum number of votes," said a diplomat from a country that supported the move.
Unlike those passed by the Security Council, the resolutions adopted by the General Assembly are non-binding.
The developments came hours after Israeli soldiers shot dead four Palestinian demonstrators protesting at a rally marking the International Quds Day along the border between the blockaded sliver and the occupied territories. More than 600 others were also wounded along the flashpoint border either by Israeli fire or as a result of inhaling tear gas.
It was the 11th Friday in a row where thousands of Palestinians protested at the border fence since the “Great March of Return” began in the Gaza Strip on March 30. More than 120 Palestinian protesters have been killed and thousands more injured by Israeli forces, mainly sharpshooters.
“What happened today on the ground of killing more Palestinian civilians, injuring more of them, is a testament to the urgency of needing the protection to be provided. And I said we will not relent in our quest to try to find ways to provide protection for the civilian population, because it is our duty,” Mansour added.
Earlier this month, the US vetoed a Kuwait-drafted resolution asking UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres to report on ways to protect Palestinian civilians, including an “international protection mechanism.”
The Israeli military has come under intense international criticism for allowing its troops to open fire on unarmed demonstrators in the besieged enclave.
The Gaza clashes reached their peak on May 14, the eve of the 70th anniversary of the Nakba Day (the Day of Catastrophe), which coincided this year with the US embassy relocation from Tel Aviv to occupied Jerusalem al-Quds.
Israel has launched several wars on the Palestinian coastal sliver, the last of which began in early July 2014. The military aggression, which ended on August 26, 2014, killed nearly 2,200 Palestinians. Over 11,100 others were also wounded in the war.
The Gaza Strip has been under an Israeli siege since June 2007. The blockade has caused a decline in the standards of living as well as unprecedented levels of unemployment and unrelenting poverty.
The Israeli regime denies about 1.8 million people in Gaza their basic rights, such as freedom of movement, jobs with proper wages as well as adequate healthcare and education.