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

Japan should play an active part in winning the hearts and minds of the Afghan people
NUMATA Sadaaki / Chairman, The English-Speaking Union of Japan, Former Ambassador to Canada and Pakistan

August 26, 2021
When the US-led military action against the Taliban started in the wake of 9/11 in 2001, my pro-Western Pakistani friends were voicing their fear of being abandoned again by the US, as was the case after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989. After 20 years, the “forever war” does not seem to be over, but is entering a new phase fraught with the danger of another turmoil. Japan needs to weigh the following factors judiciously as it considers the role that it can play.

Pakistan and Afghanistan, both “frontline states” where ethnic, religious, civilizational and great power rivalries are concentrated, have been faced with severe challenges. For us Japanese, who have lived in peaceful bliss for three quarters of a century since the last World War, it takes conscious efforts at empathy to appreciate the plight of the people in that distant part of the world.

A distinguishing feature of the situation surrounding Afghanistan is the intertwining interests and ambitions of multiple actors, that is, the US and its NATO allies, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India as well as China, Russia and other outside powers.

The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan was a humiliating defeat for the US, evoking the memory of the fall of Saigon in 1975, though the size of peak American troop deployment was one fiftieth that of Vietnam, and the number of American military casualties one twenty-sixth. President Biden has blamed the inability of the Afghan leadership and military forces to put up any real resistance to the Taliban. It should not be forgotten that at least 70,000 Afghan police and soldiers are reported to have been killed in the conflict over the past 20 years.

The US-led military intervention was largely successful in eliminating al Qaeda in the country and reducing the threat of terrorist attacks in the United States. But the ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) Headquarters, likened by some to the GHQ under General Douglas McArthur in occupied Japan in the immediate postwar years, failed in its approach to counterinsurgency, to Afghan politics, and to “nation building.”

The Afghan government, for its part, tended towards “dependence on the US rather than self-reliance”, seeking “immediate short-term gains rather than engaging in long-term planning”. In fact, no central government has ever exercised control over the whole country, an ethnic patchwork of the Pashtuns, Tajiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks, Turkmens and other tribes. When the Taliban succumbed to the military attack by the US and its allies after 9/11, Sahibzada Yaqub Khan, former lieutenant general and 7 times the foreign minister of Pakistan, who signed the Geneva Accords of 1988 on the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan, said to me, “Afghanistan will continue to be a kaleidoscope of tribal rivalries, given the ‘mini-Shogun syndrome’ of the tribal war-lords.” Now the Taliban will be faced with the formidable task of actually running the government and stabilizing the country through economic, foreign and internal policies, while respecting the rights of minorities including women “within the limits of Islam”.

About one year before 9/11, Lt. Gen. Mahmud Ahmed, Director General of ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence), Pakistan, used the metaphor of Buzkashi, the polo-like Afghan national game played with headless goat carcass as a ball, to describe to me Pakistan’s involvement with internal conflicts in Afghanistan. He said, “As onlookers, we engage with them, but do not dictate.” Pakistan’s military leaders have been intent on denying India a foothold in the backyard and, to that end, have at least tacitly supported the Taliban. On August 16, Imran Khan, Pakistan’s Prime Minister, said about the Taliban takeover, “In Afghanistan, they have broken the chains of slavery.” Pakistan apparently welcomes Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan insofar as it serves to diminish the influence of India on Afghanistan. The TTP (Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan), though often equated with its Afghan namesake, is an umbrella organization of radical Islamist anti-government groups in Pakistan. If the Taliban’s takeover emboldens the TTP and intensifies its anti-government terrorist activities, it will pose a serious challenge to the Pakistani government.

China and Russia may stand to gain by the perceived defeat of the US. China is likely to urge the Taliban to deny safe haven to Uyghur fighters and other groups that could destabilize Central Asia or harm Chinese interests in the region or at home. At the same time, China may wish to connect Pakistan to Afghanistan and make Kabul a participant in China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

Over the past 20 years, Afghanistan has achieved remarkable progress. The infant mortality rate has been halved and the enrollment of girls in primary education has risen from zero to more than 80%. Japan has played a major role in this as the second largest donor after the US with its development assistance of $6.9 billion in total, helping the nation’s reconstruction and democratization through building schools and hospitals and training teachers, etc. Many Afghans cherish in their hearts fond memories of Madam Sadako Ogata, who led the repatriation of Afghan refugees as UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) in the 1990s and Japanese development assistance as President of JICA (JapanInternational Cooperation Agency) afterward, and Dr. Tetsu Nakamura, a medical doctor who was killed by terrorists while undertaking an irrigation project to turn desert into a fertile agricultural area.

To ensure that such assistance will continue to benefit all segments of Afghan society, it is important to sustain the dialogue between the international community and the new Afghan government. Japan should play an active role in such efforts to reach the hearts and minds of the Afghan people. To that end, we will have to tackle the difficult challenge of drawing the Taliban from their hermetic fundamentalism out into dialogue and cooperation with the international community. In the immediate future, we should be seriously thinking about how best we can use the leverage of the recognition of the new government and the SDR allocation by IMF. It would be a huge loss for all if all the past efforts by the international community simply went down the drain.

Sadaaki Numata was Japanese Ambassador to Pakistan in 2000-2002.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

沼田 貞昭 / 日本英語交流連盟会長、元駐カナダ、パキスタン大使

2021年 8月 26日








過去20年間、アフガニスタンは目覚ましい進歩を遂げてきた。幼児死亡率は半減し、女児の初等教育就学率はゼロから80%を越えるまで上昇している。日本は、ODA累計69億ドルで米国に次ぐNo.2ドナーとなっており、学校・病 院建設、教員の育成等を通じて復興や民主化を支援してきた。1990年代に国連難民高等弁務官としてアフガン難民の帰還を、後日JICA(国際協力機構)理事長として対アフガニスタン開発援助を率先して推進した緒方貞子氏、および、砂漠を豊沃な農業地域に転換する灌漑プロジェクトを手がけているうちに凶弾に倒れた中村哲医師のことは、多くのアフガニスタン人の心に貴重な記憶として残っている。


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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Japan should play an active part in winning the hearts and minds of the Afghan people