U.S. Shift Boosts Afghans, Risks Pushing Pakistan Toward China

August 22, 2017

Afghan president says move to help counter Taliban, but Pakistani officials believe there is no military solution.

A member of the Afghan security forces fires on Islamic State militants on April 11 during an operation in eastern Nangarhar province.
A member of the Afghan security forces fires on Islamic State militants on April 11 during an operation in eastern Nangarhar province. PHOTO: NOORULLAH SHIRZADA/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

Updated Aug. 22, 2017 1:22 p.m. ET

The Trump administration’s tougher approach to Pakistan bolstered Afghan officials fighting the Taliban, but officials and analysts in Islamabad warned that Washington’s new stance encourages it to deepen ties with China and risks fueling the 16-year war in Afghanistan.

A day after President Donald Trump said the U.S. would expand its military involvement in the country, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said Tuesday the greater U.S. role would help counter the Taliban, which has expanded the territory it controls in recent months.

“The U.S.-Afghan partnership is stronger than ever in overcoming the threat of terrorism that threatens us all,” Mr. Ghani said. “The strength of our security forces should show the Taliban and others that they cannot win a military victory. The objective of peace is paramount.”

President Donald Trump said U.S. policy in Afghanistan and South Asia will “change dramatically,” adding that he will push Pakistan to fight terrorism more effectively. Photo: Reuters

Three Takeaways From Trump’s Afghanistan Speech
President Trump outlined his new stance to combat terrorism in Afghanistan on Monday night, saying that U.S. troops will continue to stay in the region and that the fight will only become more intense. The WSJ’s Gerald F. Seib gives us three takeaways from the speech. Photo: Getty

But Pakistani officials believe there is no military solution to the Afghan war and that peace talks with the Taliban are needed, not additional U.S. troops and the “fight to win” position announced by Mr. Trump.

“The policy announced is a recipe for instability. It won’t work. It has been tried, tested and failed,” said Mushahid Hussain, chairman of the Senate defense committee in Pakistan’s parliament.

On Tuesday, Pakistani officials also bristled at Mr. Trump’s comments, in which he said that Pakistan continued to harbor “agents of chaos,” and threatened to cut American aid unless that changes.

Afghanistan and its Western allies have long accused Pakistan of providing covert support to the Taliban and harboring the group’s leaders. Islamabad denies the allegations, although it has acknowledged some influence over Taliban officials.

Joining the U.S. war on terror has cost Pakistan tens of thousands of lives and massive economic losses, according to Pakistani officials.

“No country in the world has done more than Pakistan to counter the menace of terrorism,” Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Tuesday. “It is, therefore disappointing that the U.S. policy statement ignores the enormous sacrifices rendered by the Pakistani nation in this effort.”

Pakistan’s foreign minister, Khawaja Muhammad Asif, reiterated Pakistan’s “desire for peace and stability in Afghanistan” in a meeting Tuesday with the U.S. ambassador, David Hale, the ministry said. Mr. Asif is due to travel to the U.S. for talks with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in the next few days.

The new pressure on Pakistan will deepen Islamabad’s partnership with China, as will Mr. Trump’s call on Monday for India to “help us more with Afghanistan,” analysts said.

“Pakistan will be telling America, ‘Don’t push us too hard’,” said Rustam Shah Mohmand, a former Pakistani ambassador to Afghanistan.

China has a $55 billion infrastructure-building program in Pakistan. On Tuesday, China’s foreign ministry said “Pakistan is on the front lines in fighting terrorism and has made great sacrifices and contributions to fighting terrorism. The international community should fully affirm the efforts by Pakistan.”

Islamabad, meanwhile, accuses archenemy India of using Afghan territory to support jihadist and separatist militants that fight Pakistan. In the 1990s, a proxy war between Pakistan and India for influence in Afghanistan tore the country apart in a civil war.

“This is a real apprehension in Pakistan that America is going to use India’s presence inside Afghanistan to wage a proxy war against Pakistan for India’s own reasons and for the reason that they will be able to subvert the China Pakistan Economic Corridor,” said Rifaat Hussain, a defense analyst based in Islamabad.

New Delhi said it was ready to help more in Afghanistan. The foreign ministry said India would continue its reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan, where it has built dams, roads, government buildings and other infrastructure. India provides millions of dollars in aid to Afghanistan and trains Afghan security forces.

The ministry said it welcomed Mr. Trump’s remarks on “confronting issues of safe havens and other forms of cross-border support enjoyed by terrorists.”

But India also remains wary of aggravating tensions with Pakistan. Vivek Katju, a former Indian ambassador to Kabul, said India would watch closely for signs of how Mr. Trump planned to implement his tough talk on Pakistan.

The Taliban on Tuesday warned the U.S. against widening its role in Afghanistan, saying they will continue fighting until all American troops have departed Afghan soil.

“If America doesn’t withdraw its forces from Afghanistan, the day won’t be far when Afghanistan shall transform into a graveyard for the American empire,” said Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid.

According to the United Nations, the group now has “significant influence” over, or fully controls, some 40% of Afghanistan’s territory, home to around a third of the country’s population.

In his speech Monday, Mr. Trump didn’t spell out troop numbers. He said conditions on the ground, rather than timetables, would determine his administration’s approach, even as he noted that the U.S. wouldn’t remain in Afghanistan indefinitely or write “a blank check.”

former president Barack Obama’s decision to announce U.S. plans for withdrawal in 2014 was criticized for emboldening the Taliban at a time when the U.S. was seeking a peaceful resolution to the war.

U.S. Army Gen. John Nicholson, the commander of American and international forces in Afghanistan, stressed Tuesday that Washington had no timetable for the pullout of U.S. forces from the country.

“Our future presence will be based on conditions and not arbitrary timelines,” Gen. Nicholson said. “This new strategy means the Taliban cannot win militarily. Now is the time to renounce violence and reconcile.”

U.S. officials say Mr. Trump’s revised approach will include an increase of up to 4,000 U.S. troops. The U.S. currently has about 8,400 troops in the country, working alongside about 4,000 troops of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

The U.S. forces both train and advise the Afghan military and fight with Afghan troops against the Taliban and the local affiliate of the militant group Islamic State, which has gained a foothold in eastern Afghanistan in the past year.

In Brussels, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance joined the Trump administration in its commitment to Afghanistan, adding that the alliance would discuss “the way ahead” there—an apparent reference to what Mr. Trump said Monday would be a U.S. request to NATO to send additional troops to the country.

Some Afghans remained skeptical about the Trump’s administration’s plans, calling them vague about the envisioned role of the U.S. military in the country and about how it will win more cooperation from Pakistan.

“What kind of action will he take against Pakistan if it continues to harbor terrorists? What are his pressure tools?,” asked Atiqullah Baryalay, a retired Afghan army general and security analyst. “His policy seems ambiguous and unclear…. Meanwhile the war continues in the country. It intensifies day by day.”

Write to Saeed Shah at saeed.shah@wsj.com and Margherita Stancati at margherita.stancati@wsj.com



These Days, All Roads Lead To Beijing

The success of the new Silk Roads depends on delivering win-win scenarios.

Huffington Post

07/28/2017 01:54 pm ET

Tourists ride camels in the Mingsha Shan desert, part of the ancient Silk Roads, during the Silk Road International Cultural Expo in Dunhuang City. Sept. 20, 2016.

When Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, at the beginning of September 2013, few thought it was anything but another ordinary visit. Xi’s predecessor, Hu Jintao, had been to the Kazakh capital several times and usually talked about how he welcomed good relations with one of China’s neighbors to the west. But when Xi began his speech, it was obvious that something new was afoot. The Chinese president was offering more than the usual banal platitudes. He was talking about the future, and he was talking about a plan.

For more than 2,000 years, he said, the peoples who live in the heart of Asia had been able to coexist, cooperate and flourish despite “differences in race, belief and cultural background.” It was a “foreign policy priority,” he went on, “for China to develop friendly cooperative relations with the Central Asian countries.” The time had come, he said, to make economic ties closer, improve communication, encourage trade and enhance monetary circulation. The time had come, he said, for a “Silk Road Economic Belt” to be built. The time had come to breathe new life back into the old Silk Roads, a series of trade routes that once connected Asia, Africa and Europe.

Cynics listening to the speech would have been forgiven for thinking this was wishful thinking. Ever since the fall of the Iron Curtain, there had been talk of old connections rebooting and new Silk Roads surging to life. Indeed, just two years before Xi’s speech, Hillary Clinton, then U.S. secretary of state, gave an upbeat talk in Chennai, on the southeastern coast of India, in which she outlined her hopes for the future. “Turkmen gas fields could help meet both Pakistan and India’s growing energy needs,” she said, “and provide significant transit revenues for both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Tajik cotton could be turned into Indian linens. Furniture and fruit from Afghanistan could find its way to the markets of Astana or Mumbai and beyond.”

A map illustrating China’s Belt and Road Initiative at the Asian Financial Forum in Hong Kong. Jan. 18, 2016.

It all sounded positive and exciting. The problem was that nothing ever came of it. As a senior official at the Asian Development Bank pointed out in 2011, it was all very well talking of massive infrastructure projects like roads, energy plants and pipelines. But “unless the job is funded, it ain’t going to happen.” Anyone can have a vision. What matters is turning it into reality. When historians look back at the first two decades of the 21st century, it is unlikely that many will focus their attention on the failure of the U.S. to follow up on the project outlined by Clinton.

It will be another matter when it comes to tracking what happened after Xi left Astana. Barely two months later, in November 2013, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China promised to take matters forward. “We will set up development-oriented financial institution,” the announcement stated, “accelerate the construction of infrastructure connecting China with neighboring countries and regions, and work hard to build a Silk Road Economic Belt and a Maritime Silk Road to form a new pattern of all-round opportunities.”

Since then, nearly $1 trillion has been earmarked for projects that form part of the Belt and Road Initiative. The scale of proposed investment is breathtaking, comparable only to the rebuilding of Western Europe after World War II when the Marshall Plan provided capital, expertise and energy to pull half a continent devastated by fighting and suffering off its knees.

The scale of the initiative is breathtaking, comparable only to the rebuilding of Western Europe after World War II.

The Belt and Road Initiative promises to do more. Tens of billions of dollars have been pumped into the Silk Road Fund and a handful of policy and development banks to push ahead with major investments in Asia, Africa and Europe across multiple sectors. In June, Commerce Minister Zhong Shen said terms had been agreed upon for at least 24 new deals in Kazakhstan alone, with a value of more than $8 billion that included investment in energy, mining, the chemical industry, mechanical manufacturing, agriculture and digital exchange.

Then there is the $55 billion that is due to be invested in Pakistan, of which around two-thirds is to be spent on building 21 power plants that will transform the energy security of a country where outages and blackouts interrupt the work day, reduce productivity and affect family life. Some experts believe Chinese investment might account for 20 percent of the Pakistan’s GDP over the next five years and boost growth by as much as 3 percent per year — an astonishing indication of the potential power of the shot in the arm that might be produced by the re-galvanization of the Silk Roads.

Given the context of forging present and future connections across continents, it is not surprising that much attention is being paid to the past. Precedents and parallels are important in providing intellectual credibility and framing the overarching vision of what is at stake. As Xi put it at a major forum in Beijing in May, the “ancient silk routes embody the spirit of peace and cooperation, openness and inclusiveness, mutual learning and mutual benefit.”

It is not surprising, of course, that the emphasis should be placed on the positive exchanges that were enabled and facilitated along the Silk Roads, rather than pointing out that disease, environmental change and violence also sometimes coursed along the arteries connecting east with west. Nevertheless, it is striking to note that while the rhythms along the Silk Roads were not always smooth, they compare favorably when set alongside those of Europe, whose history was shaped by almost never-ending confrontation and warfare.

The rhythms along the Silk Roads compare favorably when set alongside those of Europe, whose history was shaped by almost never-ending warfare.

The Silk Roads of the past were an abstract series of connections. There was no one single route or road connecting China across the center of Asia to the Mediterranean but rather a criss-crossing spider’s web that linked oasis to oasis, village to village, town to town. Most of the interaction along the Silk Roads was local in nature and involved petty transactions. Movement of high-value, high-status items — silks and other textiles, ceramics, spices, fruit, precious metals and jewels — was smaller in quantity but caught the eye of commentators as well as consumers.

People in the past were as curious about the world as we are today and were keen to try new tastes, consider new fashions and learn about new ideas. What has changed, of course, is the speed at which we are connected in the modern world: news and information moves more or less instantaneously from one side of the world to another, while we are able to travel thousands of miles quicker and more cheaply than any generation in history before us.

The Belt and Road Initiative therefore fits in alongside the paradigm of the old Silk Roads insofar as there is little congruity to which regions, countries and places fall within the geographic parameters of the scheme and which do not. In fact, some 60 countriesstretching across Asia into Europe and Africa are part of the initiative, representing some 60 percent of the world’s population.

As Chinese state media has noted, while the leadership used to talk in terms of China playing an important role in the international community, the language has recently changedto talking of China as a “guide” for others and to Xi as a leader of the “new world order.” Nowhere is this change better illustrated than in the video above, released to mark the Belt and Road Initiative forum in Beijing in May. “Why is there conflict and war? Why is there prejudice and famine? What’s wrong with the world?” sings a mournful cartoon character. “What can we do?” runs the refrain. The answer, set out to comfort those worried by pollution, inequality, warfare and change, is clear: “China has a solution.”

That solution involves building a shared future for mankind — something Xi articulated in the spring of 2017 at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where he talked of economic and environmental sustainability and of the importance of cooperation. “When encountering difficulties,” he said, “we should not complain about ourselves, blame others, lose confidence or run away from responsibilities. Instead we should join hands and rise to the challenges.”

Few had any doubts who or what he had in mind when he said that or when he warned of the dangers of trade barriers being put up. U.S. President Donald Trump had talked regularly of imposing tariffs on trade with Beijing. Xi was pre-empting potential moves from a new White House administration, noting at Davos that “pursuing protection is like locking oneself in a dark room. While wind and rain might be kept outside, that dark room will also block light and air.” Troubles in developed economies had been caused by the “excessive chase of profit by financial capital and a great failure of financial regulation,” he said.

The first freight train directly connecting China to the U.K. arrived in London on Jan. 18 after a journey of 18 days and roughly 7,500 miles.

One of the key elements behind this massive investment is the preparation for China’s medium to long-term future. With energy needs expected to triple by 2030, securing oil and gas to fuel economic and industrial growth has been a priority. This is one reason why funding has been made available for pipeline construction but also for forward purchases of oil like the massive deal with Russia’s Rosneft, purportedly worth $270 billion.

Wider commercial and strategic aims are also part of the story. Connected by new roads that run through the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor up into western China, the Pakistani port city of Gwadar offers opportunities and options for both trade and security. Sending goods overland to Gwadar and onward significantly reduces the cost and time compared to shipping them from ports on the Pacific coast. Doing so provides an alternative to the anxieties over territorial issues in the South China Sea but also reduces the risks of passage through the pinch point of the Strait of Malacca, which handles almost all China’s maritime traffic. It also offers access to the Indian Ocean and the Gulf for Chinese navy ships, which are stationed and serviced out of Gwadar, ostensibly to provide protection for trade routes.

There is growing realization in Beijing that while it may be going too far to claim that China’s future depends on its neighbors, working to upgrade and improve the neighborhood is good for everyone. There are, of course, many reasons to do so. Leadership roles require the assumption of responsibilities— one reason why Chinese diplomats are increasingly active in shuttle diplomacy between Afghanistan and Pakistan, urging both nations to form a bilateral “crisis-management mechanism” to patch up a relationship that is often rather sketchy.

The answer — set out to comfort those worried by pollution, inequality, warfare and change — is clear: ‘China has a solution.’

There is more to this than playing a role, though. Chinese troops have reportedly been operating either just inside Afghanistan, in the Wakhan Corridor, or close to the border the two countries share, which is just under 50 miles long. Several terrorist attacks in Xinjiang by Muslim extremists have raised fears of contagion of militant ideas and activities — leading to a heavy crackdown on the Uighur population in western China that has included putting soldiers on the streets and banning some Muslim names and the sporting of beards.

The attention being paid by Beijing to states beyond its western border has of course had the effect of raising the profile and importance of the provinces in western China itself, which have become among the fastest growing in the country. The Belt and Road Initiative has helped fuel a growth spurt in regions that were falling behind the prime strip along the Pacific coast. One expected side effect of the investment abroad is a rebalancing of China’s own demographic and socioeconomic profile, spread more evenly around the country.

That virtuous circle also lies behind some of the drive to provide credit lines and expertise for projects across Asia and beyond. They offer outlets for excess capacity at a time when China’s industrial growth is slowing down and the economy is shifting toward services. Improving links, making border controls quicker and more efficient, and agreeing on common standards to enable optimal velocity of exchange opens up potentially lucrative — and huge — markets for Chinese manufacturers and businesses.

Only about 6 percent of households in India have a computer, for example, and less than a third have a refrigerator. Countries like Pakistan (population 190 million), Bangladesh (160 million) and India (1.3 billion) are potential gold mines, especially if new infrastructure provides reliable energy and enables improvements in roads, railways, ports and digital networks. Xi talks about the new Silk Roads being a “win-win” situation. He might even be right.

Xi Jinping and Nursultan Nazarbayev, the president of Kazakhstan, at a ceremony celebrating economic cooperation and energy agreements. Sept. 7, 2013.

But he might not be. These are still early days. Given the scale and breadth of what has been envisaged, it is important to recognize that plans will change and reshape over time. Some projects will inevitably work out better than others; some will be more complicated, more troublesome and less rewarding than others. The success of the initiative will depend not only on how lessons are learned from when things go wrong but which lessons are learned: bad experiences can sometimes increase resolve and improve decision-making in subsequent projects. But they can also be off-putting and close doors entirely.

And what sounds exciting to Chinese ears often sounds positively threatening to others. The high visibility of Silk Roads investments has sharpened antagonisms in some quarters. New Delhi has reacted badly to announcements from Beijing about the new Silk Roads, partly due to hurt pride and a sense of being outmaneuvered by a rival. At stake is the long and difficult relationship that India has had with China going back centuries. Competition and animosities still run high, fueled by a long-standing, unresolved border dispute.

Xi talks about the new Silk Roads being a ‘win-win’ situation. He might even be right.

Alarm bells have also gone off, however, because of the proposed investments into Pakistan, an even greater rival to India than China, where upgrades to the army and economy have led to howls of complaint. The Indian government conspicuously avoided the Beijing forum in May, refusing to send an official delegation and instead issuing a sour statement about all that is wrong about the Belt and Road Initiative. “We are of firm belief that connectivity initiatives must be based on universally recognized international norms, good governance, rule of law, openness, transparency and equality,” read a statement issued by India’s Foreign Ministry. The statement said the Belt and Road Initiative would lead, among other problems, to an “unsustainable debt burden” for countries involved in Beijing’s plans.

Not to be outdone, India has been working on its own versions of the initiative, spawning multiple schemes to collaborate on projects with Bangladesh, Burma and Thailand — the “Act East” policy, the Trilateral Highway project and the “Neighborhood First” scheme. India has also developed a “Go West” strategy that is centered on creating a port facility at Chabahar in southeastern Iran, to mirror and rival Pakistan’s Gwadar Port.

Robust rhetoric gives the impression that direct confrontation between India and China may not be far away. Memories of the war between the two countries in 1962 still loom large half a century later ― in recent months, a stand-off on the Dolam Plateau has caused military activities to rise sharply and stoke tensions that already run high. The Indian defense minister angrily noted this month that “the India of 2017 is different from the India of 1962,” General Bipin Rawat, the chief of staff of the Indian Army, stated that India “is fully ready for a two-and-a-half front war” — presumably meaning being able to fight China, Pakistan and dissidents in India simultaneously.

Although bluster like this can have consequences, it is also dangerous to let overenthusiastic declarations and denunciations take center stage. After all, there is no reason why India’s own version of the Belt and Road Initiative cannot succeed just as China’s can. And there’s no reason why the two cannot complement each other. Indeed, the fact that attention in Delhi has turned to how to best understand and react to activity led by Beijing should be welcomed and seen as part of a new Asian age where old connections are remade, new ties are forged and mutual opportunities are explored.

An Indian Army helicopter flies over a peak in the Western Himalayas. Oct. 12, 2016.

The development of the Belt and Road Initiative and the responses in India are being watched carefully in Moscow. Russia has been careful to offer warm words of encouragement, with President Vladimir Putin noting that he had “no doubt that we will work together … [to] benefit both the Chinese and the Russian peoples,” welcoming “a new stage of cooperation in Eurasia.”

But Russia has also been keeping its options open. The Kremlin has been conducting vigorous and regular diplomatic activity in the Gulf, the Middle East and Central Asia — and also with India. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was welcomed to St. Petersburg this summer “to discuss a wide range of issues related to strengthening the privileged strategic partnership between Russia and India.” Putin is not just watching from the sidelines — he is thinking about how to best participate during a time of transition.

Hopes are partly set on the Eurasian Economic Union, a free trade area set within a wider vision of joint investment, intelligence sharing and mutual interests. This body, made up of Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Armenia, overlaps with the Belt and Road Initiative — at least according to Putin. Rather than compete with China’s plans, he has said, “the main thing we should do is combine our efforts” — suggesting that the EEU is Russia’s own version of how to improve connections across the heart of Asia.

What sounds exciting to Chinese ears sounds positively threatening to others.

Countries from the Pacific through the Indian Ocean, Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean recognize the potential possibilities of the Silk Roads. But many also have limited choices. “Other countries have lots of ideas but no money,” said Hun Sen, the prime minister of Cambodia. “But for China, when it comes with an idea, it also comes with the money.” The lure of possible investment is not welcomed by all, as angry demonstrations in Kazakhstan in 2016 over the possibility of opening up land for Chinese buyers proved. Many in Pakistan are wary about potential suffocation by Chinese investment, both because of its sheer scale and firepower, but also because they worry that they’ll lose control of the entire supply chain, with Chinese farmers using Chinese pesticides and fertilizers to grow crops that are gathered by Chinese workers, transported on Chinese vehicles and sold to consumers in China.

Adding to these problems is the asymmetry of the Belt and Road Initiative. While China is keen to open up new markets abroad, it is not opening up its own domestic market. Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta is one leader who has been vocal about the need to “increase opportunities for Kenyan goods to penetrate the Chinese markets.” “If [China’s] win-win strategy is going to work, it must mean that, just as Africa opens up to China, China must also open up to Africa,” he said.

This proved a sticking point at the Beijing forum this year, where representatives of the European Union refused to sign a joint statement about the wonders of the Belt and Road Initiative. The EU was not able “to confirm our joint commitment to international trade rules and to a level playing field for all companies,” according to Daniel Rosario, the EU spokesman for trade. As a statement issued by the French embassy in Beijing noted tartly, the initiative’s success depends on “open, rules-based public tenders and reciprocal market access.”

‘If [China’s] win-win strategy is going to work, it must mean that, just as Africa opens up to China, China must open up to Africa.’Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta

We are living in a time of change in a world where power, wealth and expectations about what tomorrow will bring are in flux. Eight hundred years ago, a similar massive shift in the center of gravity took place when Genghis Khan and his heirs built the land empire connecting the Pacific coast of China with the Mediterranean. The initial, sudden wave of conquest gave way to peace and to what is sometimes called the Pax Mongolica — the Mongol peace — a long period of stability, rising prosperity and cooperation. The Mongols paid the price for not commissioning historians to preserve their legacy. Today they are synonymous with violence rather than tolerance, with crude use of force rather than sophistication and with haphazard destruction rather than careful planning.

Once upon a time, all roads led to Rome, as the saying goes. These days, all roads lead to Beijing. In the coming years, much will depend on how well China executes its plans for the future and how well it can choose projects that really deliver a win-win scenario not just for business tycoons and political leaders but for local populations. Much will also depend on the ability to explain what is going on and to not seek the best bargain but rather the best long-term deal. Perhaps most important of all, it depends on being able to win goodwill through building relationships that are ultimately based not on commercial and economic interests but on mutual respect.

History teaches us that the cornerstone for this geopolitical alchemy lies in education. Learning about each other’s histories — about what has mattered in the past and what matters in the future, and being able to understand grievances, slights and petty rivalries — is what will ultimately decide how successful the Belt and Road Initiative will be in the long term.



Iran denies joint operation against Kurds with Turkey

August 22, 2017


© TURKISH PRESIDENT PRESS OFFICE/AFP | Iranian armed forces chief of staff General Mohammad Hossein Bagheri with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara on August 16, 2017

TEHRAN (AFP) – Iran’s Revolutionary Guards on Tuesday denied claims by Turkey that the two countries were planning joint military operations against Kurdish rebels in Iraq.

“We have not planned any operations outside Iran’s borders,” said a statement from the Guards’ regional ground forces headquarters published by the ISNA news agency.

“But as always we will strongly confront any group, team or person who wants to penetrate into Iran’s territory for anti-security or terrorist operations,” it added.

The statement came a day after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said a joint Turkish-Iranian operation against Kurdish militants was “always on the agenda”.

A leading Turkish newspaper also claimed Iran made a “surprise proposal” to Ankara to jointly attack Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq during a rare visit by armed forces chief of staff General Mohammad Hossein Bagheri earlier this month.

Turkey has battled the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) for decades, while the Iranian security forces have also fought its affiliate, the Party of Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK). Both groups have rear bases in neighbouring Iraq.

Despite denying that specific operations were planned, the Revolutionary Guards did threaten the possibility of cross-border attacks in the future.

“Although Iran has no plan to take widespread operational actions outside its borders, if any terrorist group… aims to take the slightest measure to create insecurity on our borders, they will be faced with our intensive and fierce response, and their remnants will be targeted wherever they are,” the statement said.

Erdogan said on Monday that the two countries’ military chiefs had discussed how to work against Kurdish militants.

“The work will continue because you know that the PKK terror organisation has a foot in Iran,” he said.

“We believe that if the two countries cooperate, we can reach a conclusion in a much shorter period of time.”

Tensions between Turkey and Iran — both of which see themselves as historically powerful regional leaders — have often been tense, and they currently back opposing sides in the Syrian conflict.

Bagheri’s visit — hailed as the first by an army chief of staff since Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution — was therefore seen as a key sign of warming ties.

“The actions of Turkey and Iran complement themselves. We reached good agreements to prevent terrorists passing from one side of the border to the other,” Bagheri said during the visit.

How Does Pakistan Fit Into Trump’s Afghan Plans

August 22, 2017

ISLAMABAD — In announcing his strategy for Afghanistan, U.S. President Donald Trump lashed out at neighboring Pakistan, an ostensible U.S. ally, ordering it to stop giving sanctuary to “agents of chaos, violence and terror.”

His predecessors have aired similar complaints, and U.S. officials and analysts have long accused Pakistan of playing a double-game with Islamic extremists — supporting those that threaten its rivals in India and Afghanistan while cracking down on those who target its own citizens.

Pakistan has been at war with the Pakistani Taliban and homegrown extremists for years, but it has long tolerated the Afghan Taliban and the allied Haqqani network, which are battling U.S. troops in neighboring Afghanistan.

Pakistan has also struggled to combat other forms of extremism. Blasphemy against Islam is punishable by death and has been known to incite mob lynchings. Around 1,000 women are murdered each year in so-called honor killings, and attacks on Shiites and other religious minorities are on the rise.

How did the U.S. come to ally itself with Pakistan, and where do they go from here? The AP explains.

The U.S. backed Pakistan during the Cold War, and in the 1980s the CIA used it as a staging area for efforts to aid the Afghan Mujahedeen, who were then fighting to drive out Soviet troops. At the time, the U.S. viewed the Mujahedeen and Pakistan’s president, Gen. Zia-ul Haq — a military dictator who promoted a harsh version of Islam — as allies.

The U.S. renewed the alliance after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, as Pakistan again emerged as a key staging ground and supply route in the war to overthrow the Taliban and eliminate al-Qaida. The U.S. has since given Pakistan billions of dollars in military aid.


Since the days of Zia and the Mujahideen, Pakistan’s security apparatus has supported or turned a blind eye to extremist groups in Afghanistan and the disputed Kashmir region, viewing them as a weapon against India, its main rival.

Pakistan has long feared that Afghanistan would ally with India against it, and sees the Taliban as the best tool for thwarting such an alliance. Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were the only three countries to recognize the Taliban when they ruled Afghanistan in the 1990s.

That approach became increasingly problematic as the U.S. waged its war on terror. Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency is widely believed to maintain close ties to the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network. Their leaders live relatively freely in Pakistan — as long as they aren’t seen as acting against Islamabad’s political interests.

The ISI has long said it has limited influence over such groups, and uses it to pursue regional stability.


Al-Qaida’s top leaders, Osama Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahri, also found refuge in Pakistan after the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, but they went into hiding. Whether Pakistan was ever able or willing to track them down remains the subject of heated debate.

U.S.-Pakistan tensions came to a head in 2011 when American commandos killed Bin Laden in a secret raid in Abbottabad, just a few miles away from one of Pakistan’s premier military academies. Pakistan once again insisted it had no idea about his whereabouts, and expressed anger over the U.S. carrying out the raid without giving it prior notice.

Shortly after the raid, Pakistan arrested a local doctor accused of running a fake vaccination program in order to gather DNA from Bin Laden, which he then allegedly passed on to the CIA. Pakistan has refused U.S. demands to release the man.


Relations remained chilly in the following years, as the U.S. repeatedly pushed Pakistan to do more to eliminate militant sanctuaries and trimmed military aid when it did not.

But Pakistan remains a major player in Afghanistan, and will need to be on board if Trump hopes to end America’s longest war. Pakistan has used its close ties to the Taliban to bring them to the peace table in the past and could do so again, but it will want to preserve its own interests, which appear to be in conflict with the U.S.-backed Afghan government.

Kabul and Islamabad routinely accuse each other of turning a blind eye to Islamic militants operating along their porous border, and relations plunge with every deadly attack.


Senior administration officials said ahead of Trump’s speech that he was considering further cuts in aid to Pakistan unless it reins in the Taliban and the Haqqanis, but that approach has failed in the past. Pakistan could respond by revoking U.S. transit rights, shutting off the main supply route to U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

Trump said he hoped to pursue closer ties with India, remarks that were sure to anger Pakistan. But whether that would lead Islamabad to re-evaluate its ties to militant groups — or double down on its support for them — remains to be seen. A tougher U.S. line might also push Pakistan into the arms of Russia, China and neighboring Iran.

U.S. to Withhold Up to $290 Million in Aid From Egypt

August 22, 2017

WASHINGTON — The United States has decided to deny Egypt $95.7 million in aid and to delay a further $195 million because of its failure to make progress on respecting human rights and democratic norms, two sources familiar with the matter said on Tuesday.

The decision reflects a U.S. desire to continue security cooperation as well as frustration with Cairo’s stance on civil liberties, notably a new law that regulates non-governmental organizations that is widely seen as part a growing crackdown on dissent, said the sources who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Spokespeople for the White House and the State Department were not immediately available for comment.

(Reporting By Arshad Mohammed and Warren Strobel; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)

Philippines: Police Shooting Death of Kian Loyd delos Santos Results in One Chief Superintendent Sacked in Earliest Phase of the Investgation

August 22, 2017
Dalawang pulis ang umamin na sila nga daw ’yung nakaakbay kay

Kian at si Kian nga ang nasa video. Taliwas po dun sa kanilang sinabi nung una na iyon daw ay informant (Two of the policemen admitted that they were the ones with arms around Kian’s shoulders and that Kian is the one in the video, contrary to their initial statement that the one with them was an informant),” IAS Inspector General Alfegar Triambulo told reporters. Edd Gumban, File

MANILA, Philippines – Two of three policemen linked to the killing of 17-year-old Kian Loyd delos Santos have admitted they were the persons in civilian clothes seen dragging the teenage student along an alley on the night of Aug. 16, as shown on a video recording of the closed circuit television installed in the area, the Philippine National Police (PNP)’s Internal Affairs Service (IAS) said yesterday.

This developed as the director of the Northern Police District (NPD), Chief Supt. Roberto Fajardo, who claimed that Delos Santos was a drug courier, was sacked yesterday.

Dalawang pulis ang umamin na sila nga daw ’yung nakaakbay kay Kian at si Kian nga ang nasa video. Taliwas po dun sa kanilang sinabi nung una na iyon daw ay informant (Two of the policemen admitted that they were the ones with arms around Kian’s shoulders and that Kian is the one in the video, contrary to their initial statement that the one with them was an informant),” IAS Inspector General Alfegar Triambulo told reporters.

He did not identify the two police officers.

“I’m not sure why they initially denied that (they were in the video), but they confirmed that with our investigators who put it on record,” Triambulo added.

In a report by GMA News, a witness presented by the police, drug suspect Renato Loberas, earlier claimed it was not Delos Santos who was being dragged away as recorded on CCTV.

Following the developments, Triambulo said the IAS has found sufficient basis to push through with the pre-charge investigation against Caloocan City Police Officer 3 Arnel Oares, PO1 Jerwin Cruz and PO1 Jeremias Pereda for lapses that led to the death of the Grade 11 student.

“There is obviously something irregular in their police operation because someone died. There are lapses in the conduct of the operation because their primary function is to make arrests and not to kill,” Triambulo said.

The IAS chief said that after finding probable cause, the IAS can file an administrative case of serious irregularity in the performance of duty or grave misconduct by the police officers.

He explained that this will pave the way for the summary hearing procedure where the three policemen will have the opportunity to defend themselves.

Chief Insp. Amor Cerillo, the precinct commander and supervisor of the police operatives, is included in the IAS investigation under the command responsibility doctrine, according to Triambulo.
“Under command responsibility, as provided in (Republic Act) 8551, the immediate supervisor is included in the investigation,” he noted.

The IAS will submit today to PNP chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa its initial findings on the investigation in the police operation that led to Delos Santos’ death.

NPD chief relieved

Meanwhile, Dela Rosa ordered the administrative relief of Northern Police District (NPD) director Chief Supt. Roberto Fajardo to give way to an impartial investigation.
“Dahil sa nangyari, kasama na ang command responsibility sa kanya para mabilis ’yung pag-imbestiga ng kaso (Because of what happened, Fajardo is included in the command responsibility to speed up the investigation on the case),” Dela Rosa said.

Fajardo will be placed at the Personnel Administrative Holding Unit of the PNP at Camp Crame while relieved Caloocan City Police Senior Supt. Chito Bersaluna will be detailed at the Regional Personnel Holding and Accounting Unit at the National Capital Region Police Office in Bicutan, Taguig City.

Earlier, Fajardo said Delos Santos used to sell 10 grams of shabu worth P18,000 a day in their area before he was killed by police operatives.

He said a gram of shabu could cost about P8,000-P9,000, depending on its quality or grade.

“Shabu is sold as isang bulto (one bulk), equal to five grams… So, dalawang bulto ’yung (two bulks are) 10 grams na nasa (which cost) P18,000 ’yung recovered kay (from) Kian,” Fajardo explained.

Fajardo said the Caloocan City Police have witnesses to testify to Delos Santos’ alleged involvement in drug operations as the runner.

He added that the pushers now use minors as their runners. 
He said Delos Santos was newly identified in the police intelligence network and was known in their neighborhood to be a runner. He said the source and recipients of the drugs the boy was peddling remain under investigation.

“Ang tawag nga dati diyan ay (They used to call Kian) addict, pusher. Now na namatay na, mabait na sya(that he’s dead, he became a good person). Lumalabas na sinasakyan nila na mabait na ito (It’s turning out that the public is riding on his ‘good image’),” Fajardo noted.

He, however, admitted that the intelligence information did not indicate that Delos Santos was a minor.

9 more cops

The IAS is also looking for about nine more cops believed to be part of the deadly police operation.

Triambulo said records submitted by the Caloocan City Police indicated that there were 13 police officers who took part in the Oplan Galugad.

He said the investigators went back to the area to conduct ocular inspection. He also said the IAS would request Dela Rosa to order the relief of the remaining policemen, place them under restrictive custody and disarm them to encourage witnesses to come forward without any fear of retaliation.

Pro-Duterte fiscal won’t handle Kian case – Aguirre

The Caloocan City prosecutor whom Sen. Franklin Drilon accused of prejudging the death of Delos Santos will not handle the case, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II said yesterday.

Aguirre assured Drilon that Assistant City Prosecutor Darwin Cañete would no longer be involved in the imminent preliminary investigation on criminal charges expected to be filed by Delos Santos’ family against the policemen behind the teenager’s death.

“This exclusion is precisely done to avoid any purported prejudgment from being present in his resolution of the case if the same is raffled to him,” Aguirre said, explaining that Cañete was only tasked to assist in the fact-finding probe upon request of the local police due to his availability, being a resident in the city.

Aguirre further bared that cases in the Caloocan City prosecutor’s office are raffled among prosecutors to ensure impartiality, unlike in other cities where cases are simply assigned to investigating prosecutors.

With these reasons, Aguirre stressed that there is no need to remove Cañete from the case – as sought by Drilon – since there is no preliminary investigation yet.

“I simply cannot order the relief of Cañete from the case of Kian delos Santos. In the first place he is not handling the case. No case has yet been filed. How can I relieve a prosecutor from a case which he is not handling? How can I relieve him from handling a case that has yet to be filed?” Aguirre pointed out.

Still, he assured the opposition senator of fairness in the resolution of the murder charges that the Delos Santos family intends to file against the policemen.  – With Edu Punay



Brawls Break Out Among Migrants Near French Port City Calais

August 22, 2017

PARIS — Authorities say as many as 200 migrants have clashed near the northern French port city of Calais, using sticks and iron bars in five battles pitting mainly Afghans against Eritreans.

The prefecture of the Pas-de-Calais region said up to 150 migrants were involved in the latest mass brawl on Tuesday afternoon. It says five people were slightly injured before police dispersed the group.

The prefecture says four previous fights started late Monday and continued until dawn. Six riot police were injured, along with 16 others.

Police detained seven migrants and put 20 others in administrative detention, meaning they risk expulsion from France.

Authorities cleared some 7,000 migrants from a makeshift camp in Calais last fall, but people hoping to enter Britain illegally via the English Channel are steadily returning.

Image may contain: 2 people, shoes, child and outdoor

After a fight among migrants at calais, July 1, 2017.  The migrants were reportedly armed with sticks and stones. GETTY IMAGES

Prayer and Meditation for Wednesday, August 23, 2017 — The Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard

August 22, 2017

Wednesday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 421

Image may contain: 1 person, indoor

Art: Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard By Rembrandt

Reading 1  JGS 9:6-15

All the citizens of Shechem and all Beth-millo came together
and proceeded to make Abimelech king
by the terebinth at the memorial pillar in Shechem.

When this was reported to him,
Jotham went to the top of Mount Gerizim and, standing there,
cried out to them in a loud voice:
“Hear me, citizens of Shechem, that God may then hear you!
Once the trees went to anoint a king over themselves.
So they said to the olive tree, ‘Reign over us.’
But the olive tree answered them, ‘Must I give up my rich oil,
whereby men and gods are honored,
and go to wave over the trees?’
Then the trees said to the fig tree, ‘Come; you reign over us!’
But the fig tree answered them,
‘Must I give up my sweetness and my good fruit,
and go to wave over the trees?’
Then the trees said to the vine, ‘Come you, and reign over us.’
But the vine answered them,
‘Must I give up my wine that cheers gods and men,
and go to wave over the trees?’
Then all the trees said to the buckthorn, ‘Come; you reign over us!’
But the buckthorn replied to the trees,
‘If you wish to anoint me king over you in good faith,
come and take refuge in my shadow.
Otherwise, let fire come from the buckthorn
and devour the cedars of Lebanon.'”

Responsorial Psalm  PS 21:2-3, 4-5, 6-7

R. (2a) Lord, in your strength the king is glad.
O LORD, in your strength the king is glad;
in your victory how greatly he rejoices!
You have granted him his heart’s desire;
you refused not the wish of his lips.
R. Lord, in your strength the king is glad.
For you welcomed him with goodly blessings,
you placed on his head a crown of pure gold.
He asked life of you: you gave him
length of days forever and ever.
R. Lord, in your strength the king is glad.
Great is his glory in your victory;
majesty and splendor you conferred upon him.
You made him a blessing forever,
you gladdened him with the joy of your face.
R. Lord, in your strength the king is glad.

AlleluiaHEB 4:12

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
The word of God is living and effective,
able to discern the reflections and thoughts of the heart.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel  MT 20:1-16

Jesus told his disciples this parable:
“The Kingdom of heaven is like a landowner
who went out at dawn to hire laborers for his vineyard.
After agreeing with them for the usual daily wage,
he sent them into his vineyard.
Going out about nine o’clock,
he saw others standing idle in the marketplace,
and he said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard,
and I will give you what is just.’
So they went off.
And he went out again around noon,
and around three o’clock, and did likewise.
Going out about five o’clock,
he found others standing around, and said to them,
‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’
They answered, ‘Because no one has hired us.’
He said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard.’
When it was evening the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman,
‘Summon the laborers and give them their pay,
beginning with the last and ending with the first.’
When those who had started about five o’clock came,
each received the usual daily wage.
So when the first came, they thought that they would receive more,
but each of them also got the usual wage.
And on receiving it they grumbled against the landowner, saying,
‘These last ones worked only one hour,
and you have made them equal to us,
who bore the day’s burden and the heat.’
He said to one of them in reply,
‘My friend, I am not cheating you.
Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage?
Take what is yours and go.
What if I wish to give this last one the same as you?
Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money?
Are you envious because I am generous?’
Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last.”


The Laborers in the Vineyard by Christopher Holdsworth

Since we are dealing with “the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 20:1), we need to think our way into the cultural setting of the parable, eradicating worldly presuppositions along the way.

First of all, the employer went to the market place to hire daily labourers. This was the usual custom. Straight away we are made aware that it is God who comes seeking us, rather than vice versa: but it helps if we situate ourselves in the place where we know God will most likely reveal Himself.

Secondly, the employer came with the express intention of hiring labourers. We see the dignity of work (cf. Matthew 20:7), and God’s grace in providing it (Genesis 2:15).

Thirdly, as we might expect, the employer contracted with his employees to pay a specific amount (Matthew 20:2). That amount was enough for each to purchase his daily meal. It may have been no more than the national minimum wage, or the equivalent thereof: but it was sufficient, though not excessive (Exodus 16:14-18). Furthermore, BOTH PARTIES AGREED TO THE AMOUNT.

So far so good: but as the parable proceeds it becomes a little strange to our ears. There is nothing wrong with the employer seeking out other workers as the day proceeds (Matthew 20:3-7): even if it is for no other reason than to rescue them from the indignity of being idle (Matthew 20:6). And each would receive, “whatever is right” (Matthew 20:4; Matthew 20:7).

I don’t know whether it was normal for the last to be paid first, but certainly this is what Jesus would have the employer doing here (Matthew 20:8). Remember we are talking about the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 20:1): which though the world views it as topsy-turvy (Acts 17:6), is in fact setting things the right way up!

Imagine the surprise when the employer gave to each group of labourers the full day’s wage! A pleasant surprise for some, but a source of increasing alarm to the first-contracted workers. Jesus certainly wasn’t teaching a lesson about the economy and diplomacy of trade relations!

The angry attitude of the first-in-the-field (Matthew 20:11) reminds us of the jealousy of the Prodigal’s brother (Luke 15:29-30). Both Peter and Paul teach us that, ‘God is no respecter of persons’ (Acts 10:34; Romans 2:11). There are eleventh hour converts, and they are just as eligible as recipients of God’s grace as those who fancy that they have personally “borne the burden and the heat of the day” (Matthew 20:12).

The complaint was: “you have made them equal with us” (Matthew 20:12). However, since the first-comers RECEIVED THEIR FULL CONTRACTED AMOUNT (Matthew 20:13), why was anyone complaining? Would they rather that these others were sent home without sufficient for their daily meal?

The Lord is in no doubt: “I will give unto this last, even as unto you… Is your eye evil because I am good?”

We pray day by day, ‘Give us (plural) this day our (plural) daily bread’ (Matthew 6:11). Whether viewed in relation to our physical needs, or to our spiritual needs, it is a prayer for us all.

We should not begrudge those who receive the answer to this prayer, though late in the day. We must not envy the new converts their blessings.




Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
23 AUGUST, 2017, Wednesday, 20th Week, Ordinary Time

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ Jdg 9:6-15Ps 21:2-7Mt 20:1-16 ]

“Why have you been standing here idle all day?”  This is the question that the Lord is asking of us all.  Are we gainfully employed in the vineyard of the Lord?  This call to serve in the Lord’s vineyard is a call addressed to all.  No one is exempted from this invitation.  Indeed, the parable of the labourers in the vineyard shows the generosity of the landlord in hiring as many as he could find to work in His vineyard.  He would go out again and again to the market place, and if any were found to be without work, he would employ them. It could be the third, sixth, ninth or even the eleventh hour.  It did not matter to the landowner.  What mattered was that all must be fully employed to work in the vineyard, regardless.

The Lord needs each one of us to work in His vineyard according to our capacity and our resources.  He has blessed us with different gifts, as we read in the first reading.  The olive tree provides oil “which gives honour to gods and men.”  The fig tree provides the sweetness and excellent fruit.  The vine provides “wine which cheers the heart of gods and men.”   None of us is without skills and without resources.  St Peter wrote, “Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.  Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God; whoever serves must do so with the strength that God supplies, so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ.”  (1 Pt 4:11)

Each one of us is called to give his or her best to the work of the Lord according to his or her charism and state of life.   It does not matter whether we are called to be priests or religious, or to be saints in the world through our vocation of married life, workers and professionals in the workplace.  What is important to remember is that it is not simply work that we are doing, or just making a living for ourselves, or even fulfilling our ambition.  Rather, we are all working for the glory of God and for the extension of His kingdom.  All of us through our services and contributions are growing the kingdom of God.  So we must not forget the reason and the motive for our work.

In this way, we will not be envious of others because each one of us is playing our part in the work of building the kingdom of God.  We can be sure that the way we are appointed for the task is the best for us.  There is no need to be envious of others who are given better positions or offices.   What we do does not matter.  We all have our appointed roles in life.  What matters is that we do well and we do it for God’s glory.  As for positions in life, we must leave it to the plan of God for He knows best.  Envy and personal ambition will only make us unhappy and competitive.  We will never have peace in life otherwise, because life becomes an unending quest to fulfill and win all the crowns of life.  Life is not about winning glory but simply doing our part, having a clear conscience and doing what is given us well, and responsibly.  This is what will give us peace.

This is also the warning in today’s first reading.  We should not attempt to be what we are not called to be.  We read that “all the leading men of Shechem and all Bethmillo gathered, and proclaimed Abimelech king by the terebinth of the pillar at Shechem.”  When Jotham heard it, he told a parable to warn the leaders.  They chose the wrong person to be their king.  Abimelech was ambitious and he sought to be king over the rest for himself and not for the greater good of the people.   He was unfit, incompetent and too self-serving to be the king.  What will happen to the thorn bush?  “And the thorn bush answered the trees, if in all good faith you anoint me king to reign over you, then come and shelter in my shade.  If not, fire will come from the thorn bush and devour the cedars of Lebanon.”   Such was the tragedy of those leaders who chose the wrong king to lead them.

On the other hand, we should be ready to serve in a higher office when called upon to do so.  It means giving up our comfort zone.  This was what was asked of the olive tree, the fig tree and the vine.  But they were not keen to give up what they felt they could do best. They wanted to protect their turf, their convenience, their privacy, and they were not ready to take risks.  This is a big mistake because the failure to put the best person in the highest office would cause us to lose all that we have.   We must always choose the best people to lead us; not the second best.  Those who are talented and good must remember that God has gifted them for the service of others.  They are not given such gifts just to suit themselves and have an easy and comfortable life.  Those who have been given more, more would be expected of him.  This is what the Lord said. “For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.”  (Mt 25:29)

If all of us are working where we should and playing our roles properly,  peace, joy and fulfilment would be our reward.  We should not be seeking material reward for the work of building the kingdom of God.  This was the mistake of the workers in the vineyard.  They were comparing the wages they received.  Those who were employed earlier thought they would receive more than those who were employed last.  But all received the same amount.  “They took it but grumbled at the landowner.”  But the landowner was not unjust as that was the contract.   “He answered one of them and said, ‘my friend I am not being unjust to you; did we not agree on one denarius?  Take your earnings and go.  I choose to pay the last-comer as much as I pay you.  Have I no right to do what I like with my own?  Why be envious because I am generous?’”

The point about paying the same reward for all is that we should not merely seek the tangible rewards of this world.  Jesus promised the disciples, “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold, and will inherit eternal life.”  (Mt 19:29) St Paul said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”  (2 Tim 4:7f)  The truth is that more than just earthly remuneration, we should be happy that we are useful and are able to work.  There are many who wish to work, not so much for the money but so that they can utilize their resources.  Those without work or without any gainful service to do will suffer deterioration in their physical, emotional and psychological health.  So the truth is that the rewards of our labour in God’s vineyard cannot be measured in earthly terms.

Hence, today, we are called to be as generous as God is in calling us to work in His vineyard.  He calls all of us, irrespective of who we are.  He calls us at every hour of the day.  There is no person who cannot be at the service of the Lord.  Even the sick and the disabled, when they take their sufferings cheerfully, are also serving the Lord.  Whether young or old, we serve the Lord by offering our daily chores, sacrifices, inconveniences and sufferings for the glory of His kingdom.  We must not be calculative like the workers in the parable.  We must rejoice whenever we see people working for God.  It does not matter who leads people to Christ or to the kingdom.  What matters is that we are all working in the same vineyard in different ways.  There is no need to be envious of the work and the offices of others.  When the Lord wants us to work there, He will appoint us accordingly.  He knows what is best and what fits us perfectly.   So without envy, but rejoicing with all, we work for God and His kingdom. St Paul urges us, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are.”  (Rom 12:15f)  And finally, he reminds us, “Whatever your task, put yourselves into it, as done for the Lord and not for your masters, since you know that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward; you serve the Lord Christ.”  (Col 3:23f)

Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore

Duterte faces nationwide revolt over drugs war after killing of schoolboy sparks outrage — 12,500 people dead

August 22, 2017

Seventeen-year-old Kian Delos Santos was allegedly shot three times by undercover police officers CREDIT: AP


horrifying image of a schoolboy being dragged to a violent death in a dirty alleyway has galvanised the Philippines against a brutal state-led war on drugs that has killed over 12,500 people in the last year.

For a nation now largely immune to the bloodied corpses of alleged small time drugs users and dealers dumped on the streets, the graphic reports of the final moments of Kian Delos Santos, 17, who was allegedly shot three times by undercover police officers, have been too much to bear.

His killing last week has united the public, senior politicians and the Catholic Church into the most significant sweep of mass protests since President Rodrigo Duterte pushed for a savage crackdown on drugs after his election last June.

Most of the 12,500 casualties have been killed by masked assassins.  An estimated 3,500 have been killed in police shoot-outs, which officers often claim were self-defence.

Protesters wearing masks depicting victims of extra judicial killings taking part in a demonstration against the killings of suspected drug users in Manila
Protesters wearing masks depicting victims of extra judicial killings taking part in a demonstration against the killings of suspected drug users in Manila CREDIT: AFP

In the case of Delos Santos, the police initially claimed he had fired first.

But their story was contradicted by witnesses and CCTV footage that showed the teenager being dragged down alleyways into a dead-end corner where he was asked to run with a gun, and shot when he did.

He was heard screaming “Please can I go home, I have school tomorrow.”

Delos Santos is one of 81 people killed last week during mass police raids in what was the bloodiest period of the drugs war so far. His bullet-ridden, semi-naked body was found in a foetal position with a gun in his hand.

Speaking to Rappler news, his parents, Saldy and Lorenza, said he was a well-behaved teenager who loved watching YouTube and who helped with the family shop. His only vice was eating cheese-flavoured crisps.

Protesters display placards and candles outside the wake for slain Delos Santos
Protesters display placards and candles outside the wake for slain Delos Santos CREDIT: AP

On the night he died, his father gave him a prescient warning to come home early. “You know how it is on our street, it could be dangerous,” Saldy said.

Images of his devastated parents, comforting each other by his open casket have since dominated the local media. “I need to speak up for my son,” Lorenza told reporters.

Saldy Delos Santos hit out at police attempts to smear his son’s name by alleging he was a drugs runner. “We are the victims here. We are the ones you should help,” he said.

Several children have been caught in the crossfire of the drugs war, but the killing of Delos Santos has resonated in a way that none other has done before.

Saldy Delos Santos comforts his son's girlfriend at his wake 
Saldy Delos Santos comforts his son’s girlfriend at his wake  CREDIT: AP

Church leaders have led the outcry, pledging to ring church bells every evening in protest. The senate has launched an inquiry into the escalation in killings, and people have gathered in candlelit vigils.

Vice-president Leni Robredo, said Delos Santos could have been her own child. “How many Kians have we had? How many more Kians will follow?” she asked.

Three police officers, suspected of the murder, are currently in custody while the case is probed. Mr Duterte’s hardline stance wavered on Monday when he said if they were guilty they would “rot in jail.”

Meanwhile the poignancy of his son’s future ambitions are not lost on Delos Santos’ father.

“They killed an innocent child. And to think, he wanted to be a policeman,” he said.


Palestinians Seek Answers From US Envoy Kushner

August 22, 2017

RAMALLAH, West Bank — A top Palestinian official says the Palestinians are hoping for some clear answers from the U.S. when White House envoy Jared Kushner returns to the region this week.

Ahmad Majdalani, a top aide to President Mahmoud Abbas, said the Palestinians asked Kushner for the U.S. position on two key issues — Israeli settlements and support for Palestinian independence — during his last visit to the region in June.

“Since then we didn’t hear from them,” he said Tuesday. “We hope they bring clear answers this time.”

Majdalani says the peace process cannot resume “from scratch.”

Kushner, who is President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, is expected to meet with Israeli and Palestinian officials on Thursday as he tries to restart talks. The last round broke down over three years ago.

Bahrain Rights Groups Accuse National Security Agency of Torture — “Chambers of Death”

August 22, 2017

DUBAI — Three Bahraini human rights groups accused the Gulf Arab monarchy’s National Security Agency on Tuesday of systematic use of torture, and a security official said it would investigate their allegations.

The NSA has for decades been central to the Sunni Muslim-ruled kingdom’s efforts to overcome protests and occasional violence by members of the country’s Shi’ite Muslim majority.

The Gulf Institute for Democracy and Human Rights, the Bahrain Forum for Human Rights and Salam for Democracy and Human Rights accused the NSA of employing excessive force from its predecessor agency’s founding in 1966 to the present.

Giving examples, the report by the three groups entitled “Chambers of Death” alleged that female rights activist Ebtisam Alsaegh was subjected to torture and sexual assault during an interrogation by the NSA in May this year.

It accused the NSA of having arrested an opposition party official Adel Marzooq in the same month, “stripping him of clothes, pouring cold water several times on him, threatening him with rape, forcing him to repeat the slogans ‘I am a traitor to the homeland’ and forcing him to quit his legal activism”.

The rights organizations recommended that the NSA be relegated to gathering intelligence and be stripped of a role in arrests and law enforcement.

A Bahraini security adviser said the government took allegations of wrongdoing seriously and would investigate any violations.

“The NSA is committed to protecting and preserving Bahrain’s national security whilst upholding domestic and international law. We therefore take very seriously any allegations of wrongdoing by NSA staff,” said the adviser, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter.

“We will be examining the report in detail and will provide a full response when we have looked into these allegations.”

In 2011, Bahrain put down an uprising by pro-democracy activists, many of them Shi’ites. The monarchy believes the opposition seeks to overthrow it by force and accuses Iran of aiding in deadly militant attacks on security forces.

Home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet, Bahrain denies opposition claims that it marginalizes Shi’ites economically and in government representation. But U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration reiterated concerns about Bahrain this month.

“In Bahrain, the government continued to question, detain, and arrest Shi’ite clerics, community members, and opposition politicians,” U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said with respect to an annual report on global religious freedom.

Bahrain said Tillerson’s remarks were “inappropriate” and showed “a deep misunderstanding of the facts”.

(Reporting By Noah Browning)