Editorial: Japan has a unique role to play in Afghan reconstruction

Can the reconstruction of Afghanistan truly be accomplished with a plan that seems to be lacking some essential components?

At the International Conference on Reconstruction Assistance to Afghanistan, organized by the Japanese government, the international community pledged to provide over 16 billion dollars (approximately 1 trillion 280 billion yen) toward this goal. The participants of the conference urged the Afghan government to address corruption within its ranks and plan to carry out assessments every two years of the mutual efforts being made.

Over ten years have passed since the United States entered Afghanistan to wage a “war on terror.” But all the military might and money devoted to the U.S.-led effort has yet to bring about peace in that nation.

Conditions, in fact, have gotten worse. Errant bombings by U.S. forces, resulting in the loss of life of many Afghan civilians, have led to the growth of anti-U.S. sentiment. As terrorism is the product of anger, this creates a vicious circle, and the Taliban, forced out of power not long ago, is regaining strength.

Meanwhile, as the conference pointed out, the Karzai administration, installed by the United States, has become heavily tainted by corruption. As vital monies disappear, the public suffers from drought and poverty. The unemployment rate is estimated at over 40 percent.

What is most needed right now are concrete measures to restore security and provide assistance to support the lives of the Afghan people.

The key to reconstruction over the long term is a political reconciliation with moderate members of the Taliban. By the end of 2014, the international forces currently in Afghanistan, including U.S. forces, will complete a full withdrawal and leave the Afghan government to manage the task of maintaining security. Building an international framework for promoting reconciliation between the Karzai administration and the Taliban has become an urgent matter.

At the same time, Japan’s role going forward should be re-examined.

Afghanistan is known as a nation that is “friendly” toward Japan. Some Afghans praise Japan as the only country which takes a “neutral” stance among the advanced nations of the world. Consequently, Japan, the A-bombed nation and a state that has renounced war, can serve as a mediator between Afghanistan and other countries. A mission of this kind, which only Japan can fulfill, should be part of our nation’s agenda.

The Japanese government must also take a hard look at its original measures designed to assist Afghan civilians.

The turning point should have come in 2009, when the Democratic Party of Japan took over the reins of the government. The new DPJ administration suspended the refueling mission by the Self-Defense Force, which had been an obligation of the Japan-U.S. alliance. To make up for this reversal, the new government proposed offering the massive sum of “up to five billion dollars over five years” in assistance.

This financial assistance has reportedly been used for measures to improve security conditions and integrate former Taliban soldiers back into Afghan society. But how much of this money was used to better the lives of ordinary citizens is unknown. More detailed information is needed to confirm where the assistance went.

At the conference, Koichiro Gemba, Japan’s foreign minister, pledged to provide Afghanistan up to three billion dollars over five years, starting this year, as well as about one billion dollars to other nations in the region, including Pakistan. The top priority for these funds should be to restore the livelihoods of the people and, toward that end, the money must be administered more directly to the public.

The efforts of NGOs, which have been devoted to supporting Afghan civilians by becoming involved in the life of local communities and listening to the voices of residents, may serve as a guide.

One Japanese NGO, called “Peshawar-kai,” has been engaged in bringing water back to farmlands that have gone dry due to desertification. “One irrigation canal does more than one hundred health clinics,” is their contention. This effort seeks to restore Afghanistan’s original state, which was once a rich agricultural nation, and will surely yield long-term bounty for the people. The Japanese government should take the position of supporting such efforts by civil society.

Dedicated activities to support the Afghan people are also quietly being carried out closer to home. The Hiroshima Office of the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) has been involved in human development programs to assist Afghanistan’s reconstruction by inviting public servants and other officials to trainings in Hiroshima. Japan, as the A-bombed nation, should lend its unique perspective to Afghanistan to promote peace building there.

(Originally published on July 10, 2012)