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2009年11月15日 (日)


--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 13(IHT/Asahi: November 14,2009)
EDITORIAL: New aid to Afghanistan.

In a new assistance package for Afghanistan, the government has pledged up to $5 billion (about 450 billion yen) over five years for a range of civilian aid programs, such as job training for former Taliban fighters and enhancing the capabilities of the police force.

The security situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating steadily. The United States is considering sending additional troops. Improving the situation with military power alone would seem like a tall order. That explains growing expectations by the United States and European nations for civilian aid from Japan to help rebuild the war-torn nation.

Because of the war raging in Afghanistan, Japan is unable to commit substantial human resources for aid activities. The government's decision to provide financial support for civilian assistance is eminently reasonable.

The former coalition government led by the Liberal Democratic Party dispatched Maritime Self-Defense Force vessels to the Indian Ocean to refuel the ships of allied forces targeting terrorists in Afghanistan. The new administration led by Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama plans to discontinue the mission in January. Given the fact that demand for refueling has been falling, there is a strong case for the decision, which is in line with an election promise made by Hatoyama's Democratic Party of Japan.

But some people say the decision amounts to "checkbook diplomacy." Critics contend that the refueling mission was intended to help international efforts in thwarting terrorists and that Japan's assistance was valued by the United States. They argue that Japan cannot make a meaningful contribution to such efforts only by providing money while bringing its troops home.

The criticism may be a reflection of sensitivities that were aroused when Japan was roundly criticized for offering only financial assistance--albeit a large amount--when the Persian Gulf War flared 18 years ago.

But the criticism is off the mark. Japan should consider and decide on its own what it can and should do to help restore stability in Afghanistan, instead of acting in response to pressures from other countries. With Japan's military role in Afghanistan restricted by its pacifist Constitution, the best it can do is to provide as much civilian assistance as possible.

Japan can be proud of its past achievements concerning civilian aid to Afghanistan. Long before the Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan, Japan was providing technical support to ensure cities had stable supplies of drinking water and helping rice farming activities. The lessons learned from those experiences are being put to effective use for projects now being pushed by the Japan International Cooperation Agency and others.

Japan's long-term commitment to helping efforts to rebuild Afghanistan will contribute to eliminating the root causes of terrorism. Civilian aid from Japan will also give indirect support to military efforts by the United States and other countries deploying troops to the landlocked country. That was why the White House press secretary immediately issued a statement welcoming Tokyo's promise of fresh aid to Afghanistan.

But the amount--$5 billion--does not represent specific spending plans. Apparently, the government hastily decided on the figure to placate President Barack Obama ahead of his visit to Japan over its decision to terminate the refueling mission.

To ensure that Japan's financial aid will not be consumed by rampant corruption in the government in Kabul headed by President Hamid Karzai, Tokyo needs to develop careful aid plans and closely monitor how the funds are spent.

The government should provide taxpayers with a convincing explanation about the importance of this costly aid package. It should also take effective steps to make Japan's contribution to Afghanistan's reconstruction known widely in the international community.


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