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1,900 airstrikes on rebels: AAF

Monitoring Desk

KABUL: The Afghan Air Force (AAF) carried out 1,900 air strikes against militants over the past nine months, the force commander said.

Maj. Gen. M. Shoib Pilot told reporters in Kabul the AAF conducted a total of 27,000 flights in the period.

These flights also included 900 supportive, 200 surveillance and the rest logistics supply, airlifting goods weighing 3,300 tones. He said the armed opposition had sustained heavy casualties in the 1900 airstrikes, but provided no figures.

He said the AAF whenever called in backed security and defense forces during ground operations and air supplies.

“The AAF is strong compared to the past, and we have devised a four years plan which is being executed to further strength the force,” he said without going into details.

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Imports from Pakistan drop by 80% this year

Monitoring Desk

MAZAR-I-SHARIF: As its trade with Central Asia states has been on the rise, Afghanistan’s imports from Pakistan have declined by 80 percent, say traders in Balkh province.

Due to commerce and transit issues between Afghanistan and Pakistan, businesspeople in the province say imports through the Torkham port have precipitously fallen.

Meanwhile, officials of the customs department say their revenue in 2017 had increased by 16 percent over last year, thanks to increased imports via Hairatan port from Central Asia.

Customs Director Abdul Rahman Rasikh told Pajhwok Afghan News most of Afghanistan’s customs revenue came from taxes on imported business goods. He called Hairatan port one of the most essential trade hubs.

According to him, imports through the port were more than exports. He said during the current year, the Balkh port collected revenue of 12 billion afghanis, recording a 16 percent increase over last year.

Rasikh called increased imports through the Hairatan port a key factor behind enhanced revenue levels. He added the import of steel, grains, timber, flour and fuel had recently increased.

Falling imports through the Torkham port was another reason behind surging imports through Hairatan, the director explained.

Frequent border closures over the past two years and transit problems between the neighbours had resulted in the decrease of imports through the Torkham crossing point, he added.

Traders in Balkh also say most of business goods, which earlier used to be imported through Torkham, are now coming from Central Asia and entering the country through the Hairatan port.

One trader named Mohammad Nasim confirmed to Pajhwok Afghan News the level of imports through Hairatan had gone up during current year.

One of the reasons behind increased imports through Hairatan was the decline in imports via Torkham, he said. Imports through Torkham into Afghanistan had slumped by 80 percent this year.

On the other hand, some businessmen linked the rising imports through Hairatan to the stable security environment in Mazar-i-Sharif.

A trader, Mohammad Nabi, said the security situation in Mazar-i-Sharif and on the Kabul-Mazar Highway had positively impacted trade via Hairatan.

He said while considering the relatively good security situation, businessmen were willing to import and export goods through Hairatan. “As a result, the revenues of the Customs Department has jumped this year.”

However, Rasikh said exports through Hairatan were almost zero. With the construction of a rail link between Afghanistan and China, Afghanistan’ exports would see a boost, but it didn’t happen, he added.

According to him, the prevailing transit issues between Afghanistan and Uzbekistan have left negative effects on exports through Hairatan. He revealed exports worth two million afs had taken place this year.

Afghanistan is connected to Central Asia through Hairatan, Aqina and Sher Khan ports. Trade through Hairtan has considerably increased and improved over the past few years.

The important aspects of the port include the railroad extension from China and the $400 million investment in the petroleum and gas sectors.

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MoU signed on modernizing postal services

Monitoring Desk

KABUL: A three-way memorandum of understanding has been signed to modernize postal services throughout the country.

The MoU has been signed among the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT), Capital Region Independent Development Authority (CRIDA) and Afghan Post.

Signing of the MoU on improving the postal services was announced at a press conference at the Government Media and Information Centre in Kabul on Sunday.

The MoU allows the creation of post offices to international standards, including banking services, a comfortable space for clients such as library and resource centres, café shops and an internet lab.

Minister of MCIT Shazad Arubi said: “There are over 463 post offices in Afghanistan, and around 24 deliver services abroad.

“We are committed to modernize post services inside and outside the country, and the MoU concentrates on equipping post offices with modern IT and other mechanisms.”

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5 policemen detained

Monitoring Desk

KHOST CITY: The security personnel in Khost province have arrested five policemen in connection with the escape of an inmate from a police station.

Last week, provincial police headquarters reported they had arrested a group of armed criminals allegedly involve in robberies and other criminal activities.

Police spokesman Abdul Basir told media Afghan News one of the detainees escaped from the police station on December 28.

He said an investigation had been launched in this regard. Police conducted a search for the fleeing detainees. Qamar Ali Lakanwal, a public representative, expressed concern over the increasing activities of armed gangs in the city.

He alleged some security officials had links with robbers. He complained the police headquarters had yet to take any serous action.

A resident of Khost City, Qais, said law should be enforced in order to prevent robberies and curb the movement of illegal gunmen.

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Eight injured as twin blast hit Chaman’s Mall road

F.P. Report

CHAMAN: As many as eight persons including security forces were injured in after two explosions hit the Chaman city of Balochistan on Monday.

As per the locals, the blasts took place on Mall Road in the city, which is also close to Pak-Afghan border.

The explosive material was hiding near the road and it exploded and when the people gathered around the second blast took place.

Security forces cordoned off the area and started rescue operation. Nature of the blast is yet to be determined.

More details are coming.

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Bombing at funeral kills 15 in eastern Afghanistan

Monitoring Desk

JALALABAD: Fifteen persons were killed and 14 more wounded in a bomb blast during funeral prayers of a former district governor in Nangarhar province on Sunday.

Explosives planted in a motorcycle went off during funeral prayers in Muqam Khan area in the limits of Behsud district at around 2:30 pm, Nangarhar governor’s spokesman Attaullah Khugiyani told media.

“Explosives planted in a motorbike exploded while people were offering funeral prayers of former governor of Haska Maina district, Gul Wali. Resultantly, 15 people were killed and 14 more injured,” he said.

The locals stated that it was a suicide attack. Most of victims are relatives and associated with Haji Gul Wali, the late governor of the restive Haska Maina neighborhood.

Meanwhile, Nangarhar public health director Dr Najibullah Kamawal said they had received 15 dead and 14 injured people from the blast site so far. Most of the victims were civilians. Some of them belonged to the same family.

Some of the injured were in critical condition, he said. The death toll could further rise, he added. A motorcycle and a rickshaw were damaged in the bombing.

Dr. Ehsanullah Shinwari, director of regional public hospital in the provincial capital Jalalabad, has confirmed the death toll.

“As I am talking to you now, bodies of 15 martyred and 14 injured people have been brought to the hospital; some of them are in critical condition,” Shinwari said.

Earlier, Attaullah Khugiyani said it was a suicide attack.

Chief Executive Officer Dr Abdullah Abdullah condemned the bombing in strong words and expressed grief over the loss of precious lives in the incident. No one has claimed responsibility for the blast so far.

Meanwhile, the Afgha-nistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) on Sunday said that over 1900 civilians have been killed or wounded in the southern province of Helmand last year.

All the victims were killed or wounded as a result of the war, including explosions and terror attacks, AIHRC site office in Helmand said in a statement on Sunday.

Residents in Helmand have called on the warring factions to ensure the security and safety of civilians during the conflict. From the figures, over 200 civilians killed and 1700 others were wounded, said the AIHRC site office.

“Helmand has had two bloody years. The number of civilian casualties, among them women and children, have been higher and we are very concerned about it,” said Afifa Maroof, AIHRC site office chief in Helmand.

“Both sides have used civilian homes as shields. Civilian casualties have been on the rise because the warring sides do not respect the rules of war,” said a civil society activist in Helmand Nazar Mohmammad Rodai.

But, local officials in the province have blamed the Taliban for most of the fatalities among the civilians.  “Our security forces have always tried to ensure the security of the civilian population. The majority of the casualties have been inflicted by the Taliban,” said spokesman for the governor of Helmand.


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Pak-Afghan border fence moves ahead despite objections

F.P. Report

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan says that almost 92 percent of its 2,611-kilometer largely porous frontier with Afghanistan will be fenced by end of 2018, hoping the massive unilateral undertaking will effectively address mutual complaints of militant incursions.

The military-led construction effort went into action earlier this year. It has already fenced off about a 150-kilometer portion of the border identified as “highly prone” to terrorist infiltration.

The pair of nine-foot wire fences, with a six-foot gap, and topped with barbed wire, runs along rugged terrain and snow-capped mountains as high as 12,000 feet. Officials estimate the project will cost about $550 million.

“Our target is to complete it [the fence] by end of 2018,” Major-General Asif Ghafoor told Voice of America. He explained the plan intends to cover up to 2,400 kilometers of the entire Afghan border because the rest cannot possibly be fenced.

Additional outposts and small forts are also being built and being equipped with high-tech surveillance systems to enable soldiers to monitor and detect intrusions around the clock. “And on the average, every 1.5 to 2 kilometers will have physical presence [of our soldiers],” Ghafoor said, adding the army has also recruited tens of thousands of new troops for the deployment. Afghanistan opposes the fencing project because it historically disputed the colonial-era demarcation drawn up by the British in 1893. Kabul insists the barrier would add to problems of divided families on both sides. Islamabad rejects Afghan objections and is pressing ahead with the border fencing, insisting the project is critical for national security and for promoting peace and stability in Afghanistan.

Afghans have long accused Pakistani security institutions for sheltering Taliban insurgents and the Haqqani Network of terrorists staging deadly attacks in Afghanistan to allegedly prevent rival India from increasing its influence in the war-torn country.

For their part, Pakistani off-icials say anti-state militants after fleeing security operatio-ns, have taken refuge in Af-ghan border areas and plot terrorist attacks against the country from those sanctuaries.

Relations have deteriorated between Afghanistan and Pakistan over terrorism allegations against each other. Ghafoor said that military-to-military coordination has improved since the Pakistani army chief visited Kabul in October and held detailed talks with President Ashraf Ghani.

“We have shared through [our] Foreign Office a comprehensive action plan document with Afghanistan and subsequent action on this plan will lead to further improvement,” Ghafoor added.

Islamabad shared with Kabul last month what it called an “Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan for Solidarity” (APAPS) for a “constructive and meaningful” engagement between the two countries. The proposed plan would create working groups in politics, economics, the military, intelligence sharing, and issues related to Afghan refugees in Pakistan.

Ghafoor said no anti-Afg-hanistan sanctuaries are present in Pakistan following maj-or counterterrorism operations in the past three years. B-ut he complained that a large number of Afghan refugees in the country are blocking efforts to completely eliminate the thre-at. “I can assure you the day these 2.7-million Afghan refugees go back to their country, our liberty of action will expand to trace the left-over facilitators and abettors,” Ghafoor said while responding to U.S. criticism of Islamabad’s “inaction” against insurgents using Pakistani soil for attacks inside Afghanistan.

The army spokesman said investigations in connection with recent terrorist attacks in Pakistan have led officials to conclude that planners were located on the Afghan side of the border. Many of the would-be suicide bombers authorities have recently arrested in Pakistan are Afghans, he added, without giving any figures.

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Turkish president slams US plan to cut UN funding

Monitoring Desk

ANKARA: President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday criticized the U.S. President Donald Trump’s plan to cut funding of the United Nations.

“The U.S. will apparently withdraw its [financial] support on the UN. I think you said you are a democrat, you believed in democracy. In this case, you are a democrat if everything goes as you wish,” Erdogan said while speaking at the provincial congress of ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party in northwestern province of Duzce. On Tuesday, the U.S. an-nounced that it would reduce its funding of the UN by $285 million for the coming fiscal year.

The announcement by Niki Haley, the U.S. envoy to the UN, came shortly after UN member nations voted overwhelmingly to oppose a decision by President Donald Trump to recognize Jerusa-lem as the capital of Israel — a move that drew condemnation and protests from across the Arab and Muslim world.

On Dec. 21, the full 193-member UN General Assembly met for a rare emergency special session regarding Trump’s decision. Unlike at the Security Council, the U.S. has no veto power in the assembly.

A total of 128 members voted in favor of the resolution while nine countries voted against it and 35 others abstained. Twenty-one countries did not cast a vote.

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Iran warns protesters will ‘pay the price’ as unrest turns deadly

Monitoring Desk

TEHRAN: Interior minister says protesters will “pay the price” after a third night of unrest saw mass demonstrations across the country in which two people have been killed and dozens arrested.

Iran warned on Sunday that protesters will “pay the price” after a third night of unrest saw mass demonstrations across the country in which two people were killed and dozens arrested.

The protests which began in the city of Mashhad on Thursday as an attack on high living costs quickly turned against the government as a whole.

As videos on social media showed thousands marching across the country on Saturday, an official in the small western town of Dorud confirmed two people had been killed during protests, but denied security forces had fired on the crowd.

“A number of people took to the streets responding to calls from hostile groups,” Lorestan province deputy governor Habibollah Khojasteh pour told state television.

“Unfortunately in these clashes, two citizens from Dorud were killed. No bullets were fired by the police, military or security forces towards the people,” he said.

‘Violence will be confronted’

However, Iran’s interior minister warned Sunday that “violence, fear and terror” will be confronted after a third night of protests against the government.

“Those who damage public property, disrupt the order and break the law must be responsible for their behaviour and pay the price,” Abdolrahman Rahmani Fazli said on state television.

“The spreading of violence, fear and terror will definitely be confronted. The vigilance and intelligence of people has always led any plot to fail,” he said.

Videos on social media overnight showed demonstrations in Isfahan, Mashhad and many smaller cities but travel restrictions and limited coverage by official media made it difficult to confirm reports.

Semi-official conservative outlets confirmed an evening attack on a town hall in Tehran and showed protesters attacking banks and municipal buildings in other parts of the country.

Mehr news agency showed protesters overturning a police car and burning the Iranian flag.

Reports of clashes and marches spread across Iran on Saturday despite government warnings against any further “illegal gatherings.”

Videos posted on social media on Saturday showed two young Iranian men lying motionless on the ground and covered with blood and a voiceover said they had been shot dead by police. Other protesters in the same video were chanting, “I will kill whoever killed my brother!”

“People are protesting because there are under economic pressure and the government must be responsive in the face of rising inflation and these economic hardships,” said Mostafa Kiaie, a demonstrator.

“We urge all those who receive these calls to protest not to participate in these illegal gatherings as they will create problems for themselves and other citizens,” said Fazli.

A swirl of wild rumours, combined with travel restrictions and a near-total media blackout from official agencies, made it difficult to confirm the reports.

The authorities appeared to respond by temporarily cutting internet access to mobile phones, but full coverage was eventually restored.

Several Iranian news agencies warned Telegram, the most popular social media service in the country, might soon be shut down after communications minister Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi accused one channel, Amadnews, of encouraging an “armed uprising”.

There was chaos earlier on Saturday around the capital’s university as hundreds took to the streets, blocking traffic and shouting slogans against the regime.

But the authorities could also count on a show of strength, with hundreds of counter-demonstrators seizing control of the university entrance, chanting “Death to the seditionists”.

Annual rallies marking the defeat of the last major protest movement in 2009 had already been scheduled for Saturday morning and brought thousands of government supporters to the streets across the country.

There were even chants in favour of the monarchy toppled by the Iranian revolution of 1979, while others criticised the government for supporting the Palestinians and other regional movements rather than focusing on problems at home.

State news channel IRINN said it had been banned from covering the protests that spread to towns and cities including Qom and Kermanshah.

“The enemy wants once again to create a new plot and use social media and economic issues to foment a new sedition,” Ayatollah Mohsen Araki, a prominent cleric, told a crowd in Tehran, according to the conservative Fars news agency.

Other officials also pointed the blame outside Iran.

US cheers protests

US President Donald Trump tweeted later that Iran’s people wanted change and “oppressive regimes cannot endure forever”.

Trump’s tweets on Friday prompted Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Bahran Ghasemi to dismiss his remarks as “opportunistic”.

Iranian officials warned against dismissing the public anger seen in recent days.

“The country is facing serious challenges with unemployment, high prices, corruption, lack of water, social gap, unbalanced distribution of budget,” tweeted Hesamoddin Ashena, cultural adviser to President Hassan Rouhani.

“People have the right for their voice to be heard.”

There has been particular anger at welfare cuts and fuel price increases in the latest budget announced earlier this month.

Some of this week’s protests were directed against financial scandals linked to unauthorised lending institutions which collapsed with the loss of hundreds of thousands of accounts.

Officials from across the political spectrum have called for greater efforts to tackle poverty and the 12 percent unemployment rate.

“Solving people’s economic problems is the chief priority in the country,” tweeted Ebrahim Raisi, the hardline cleric defeated by Rouhani in May’s presidential election.

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LHC CJ condemns frequent strikes by legal fraternity

F.P. Report

LAHORE: Lahore High Court Chief Justice Mansoor Ali Shah criticized Sunday the frequent strikes by the legal fraternity, and shared that the lawyers should only protest issues they deeply care about.

Sharing statistics, he poin-ted out that 200,0040 additional cases could have been heard if it weren’t for 3,040 strikes by lawyers in 2017.

While addressing an event in Lahore, CJ LHC remarked that it makes no sense for la-wyers to protest issues which do not relate to Pakistan.

The LHC CJ lamented the lack of judges in the city and shared that one judge is available for 62,000 people in Lahore.

He remarked that Punjab has a total population of 110 million, and a total of 1,731 judges. “This amounts to one judge per 62,000 people.”

On the contrary, in a developed nation such as Germany, there is one judge is per 4,000 people.

“If we have 10,000 judges then we can compete on an international level,” Shah added.

“Our judges are working on a target of 70,” he said, adding “Despite facing many challenges, the judges are working with hard work and integrity.”

On the tensions between bar members and the judges, he encouraged the bar members to approach him and sort the issue. “I request them [bar members] to come talk to me, no one needs to misbehave with one another.”

Shah also remarked that there is a need to draw a distinction between getting up-set with him and reforming the system.

“If I say I take any action, then it will be a part of disappointment or reforming system,” he asked.

“I don’t want to get recommendations asking for the transfer of judges. How can this lead to disappointment?”

CJ Shah also pointed out that there is a misperception that courts are working.

He assured that work is being done.

Sharing some statistics, he remarked that three million cases were filed before the court, of which verdicts were given in 2.1 million cases.

Taking notice of the media reports about illegal promotions of judges, the chief justice clarified that no judge was promoted in violation of merit.