Japan Should Aim for a Sustained Aid Effort in Afghanistan
John de Boer (University of Tokyo)
The ministerial conference on Afghan reconstruction began in Tokyo today (January 21) amidst high expectations. Representatives from throughout the world have gathered to pledge their commitment to the rebuilding of an Afghanistan destroyed by decades of war and conflicting power interests. Billions of dollars will be earmarked for reconstruction projects in Afghanistan, however, in addition to these monetary pledges, Japan hopes that a long-term global commitment to ensuring the economic, social, political and cultural development of Afghanistan will be made. The press anticipates that Japan will demonstrate solid leadership to guarantee that a viable framework for development is created and followed up on. Reports say that the first test for Japan will be this conference and Japan has already made the initial steps.
The foremost spokesperson for Japan's leadership role in the Afghan reconstruction effort has been former UNHCR director Sadoko Ogata. She was described by Robert Whymant of the Times as saying that, "the world expects Japan to play a leading role" throughout the reconstruction effort. The Associated Press added that Ogata personally expects Japan to provide a "significant amount" of assistance.
Japan is playing co-host to this conference with the EU, the US and Saudi Arabia. As early as January 15 Japan was reported by CNN's Masato Kajimoto as having set a $500 million over two year benchmark pledge in advance of the conference. According to Whymant, Yasuo Fukuda (Chief Cabinet Secretary) confirmed Japan's willingness to cover twenty-percent of the cost of rebuilding Afghanistan. At least two to three billion dollars is needed in the first year.
Nevertheless, some remain skeptical about Japan's motives for leadership. Whymant argues that Japan is hosting this conference in order to raise its international profile. He lists another motive as being guided by a heavy reliance on imports to meet energy needs. In fact, both of Whymant's claims are correct. Japan does seek recognition and it wants a stake in potentially lucrative Central Asian gas and oil assets. It no longer wants to be a silent donor. Japan's expressed preference for the dispensing of aid directly to Kabul instead of going through international organizations such as the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank is evidence of this sentiment. As Jonathan Wright of Reuters quotes Ogata, "bi-lateral aid should not be viewed as simply being selfish. In such cases, donor countries should take responsibility and conduct aid while cooperating with recipient countries."
International recognition is a justified reward for donor countries, however, in exchange there needs to be a sustained aid effort and commitment to peace and development. Throughout the 1990's, the world pledged billions of dollars to help develop the Palestinian Territories. Japan even hosted an international conference in Tokyo back in 1999 to revive the effort. Nevertheless, the commitment to maintaining peace and securing development in the Palestinian Territories has failed to halt the spread of violence in that part of the world. These efforts did not make enough of an impact on the lives of Palestinians and Israelis for them to choose peace instead of war. Today, the buildings, the schools and facilities built with Japanese money have been destroyed. The trust cultivated between Palestinian and Israeli youth through cultural exchange programs sponsored by Japan has disappeared. Reflecting upon this reality, it is important to stress that Japan's highest task in regards to Afghan reconstruction is to ensure that progress towards peace and development is not easily reversed.
- Jonathan Wright, "Powell in Japan, US Mum on Afghan Aid Figure," Reuters, January 19, 2002.
- Robert Whymant, "Tokyo to give $500m in aid for rebuilding," The Times, January 18, 2002.
- "Envoy Urges Japan to Aid Afghanistan," The Associated Press, January 17, 2002.
- Masato Kajimoto, "Japan aid offers to 'broke' Afghanistan," CNN, January 15, 2002.