Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Japan should not shirk real engagement in Afghanistan
TANAKA Koichiro / Director of JIME Center & Board Member, The Institute of Energy Economics, Japan

October 21, 2008
Afghanistan is still far from being stable. In fact, the challenges from the armed groups such as Taliban have intensified year by year. The tragic incident that cost a Japanese aid worker his life brought to the attention of a number of people the danger inherent in that country, which had been overshadowed by Iraq or Georgia. The last time that Afghanistan came into public focus was only a year ago when the controversy on extending the duration ofthe Anti-Terrorism Special Measures Law resulted to the change of leadership in Japan.

It is not that the Japanese have not been involved in Afghanistan. At the time of 9/11 simultaneous terrorist attacks in the United States, Al-Qaeda used Afghanistan, then under Taliban control, as the base from which to plan and stage the attacks. Thus it was in Afghanistan that the war on terrorism called the "Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF)" was launched. It is well remembered here that Japan, with its considerable constraints under its Constitution, hastened to enact the Anti-Terrorism Special Measures Law which enabled the dispatching of the Maritime Self Defense Force refueling vessels to the Indian Ocean. Japan went on to co-host the International Conference on the Reconstruction of Afghanistan in January 2002 and has been active as one of the top donors. It has extended assistance to help dissolve and disarm the warlords. Its NGOs and charity organizations have been carrying out steady and impressive activities to improve the life of the Afghan people.

However, since 2003, Japanese public attention shifted to the war in Iraq and the dispatching of the Ground Self Defense Force personnel to Samawah. In the meantime, in Afghanistan, which had been put on the back burner, attacks by Taliban and other insurgents intensified. This year, to deal with the mounting crisis, the troop strength of the NATO and US-led OEF forces has been augmented to the tune of 70,000. Even this is not sufficient to prevent the worsening of the situation. The situation in Afghanistan is now at its most fluid since the start of OEF.

Why is it that the responses by the international community including Japan have not yielded tangible results? Many Japanese, including politicians, have been content with the illusion that Japan's Self Defense Forces are contributing to the stabilization of Afghanistan through their supply activities to the maritime interdiction operations (MIOs) under the old and new Anti-Terrorism Special Measures Law. The relevant UN Security Council resolutions refers to the MIO in its preamble, and the Afghan government, careful not to annoy the donor, loses no opportunity to express its appreciation for it. But, in reality, this make-shift response since last autumn falls far short of what it claims to achieve.

As far as the MIO is concerned, the center of maritime interdiction has now shifted away from the north of the Arabian Sea to the waters off the coast of Yemen and Somalia. It has even less significance than ever to Afghanistan, a land-locked country.

The OEF, PSI (Proliferation Security Initiative), anti-piracy measures, sea lane defense and control of narcotics traffic are all important tasks that Japan should tackle proactively in fulfilling its responsibility as a member of the international community. That said, it is wrong to lump them all together under the banner of "contribution to Afghan stability" without examining how Japan can effectively involve itself in each of these issues with a view to removing the multitude of threats at high seas.

The underlying message of the UN Security Council resolutions cited in the old and new Anti-Terrorism Special Measures Law is that the fight against terrorism has become a universally accepted value for the civilized society in which we live. Thus, it is only natural for Japan to fulfill its share of responsibility. But, in reality, Japan has yet to confront the essence of the threats lurking in Afghanistan and its neighbor, Pakistan, and again, tries to deal with the situation only on the basis of temporary legislation. This approach is highly questionable. It is no longer the time in which "emergency measures" work. Haphazard, make-shift operations are not only ineffective, but can end up benefitting the Taliban and other groups that are bent on destabilizing the situation even further.

By pushing the banner of contribution to the MIO up front, Japan has shirked real engagement in Afghanistan that would contribute to the stability of that country on the frontline of the fight against terrorism. As has been the practice since the Gulf War, we have neither really debated the issues of our Constitution and our security, nor have made any decision. The Japanese political leadership and the Japanese people are both equally to blame for allowing the situation to drift thus far. When will it ever be that there will be a real debate which will free us from this self-imposed shell? Now is the time to initiate the discussion, at least.

The writer is Director of JIME Center and Board Member of The Institute of Energy Economics, Japan. This article first appeared in the October 9, 2008 edition of Fuji Sankei Business i.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

田中浩一郎  / 日本エネルギー経済研究所理事・中東研究センター長

2008年 10月 21日








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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Japan should not shirk real engagement in Afghanistan