The Tokyo Foundation for Policy Research


The Tokyo Foundation for Policy Research

Japan’s Change of Government: Little Impact on Afghanistan and Pakistan

April 2, 2010

The birth of a new administration in Tokyo led by the Democratic Party of Japan has not made a major impression on the governments or people of Afghanistan and Pakistan. And as a practical matter, it is inconceivable that the foreign policies of the new administration will have a significant impact on the situations in these two countries.

*     *     *

This is obvious if we compare the visits to Kabul by Japan’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Katsuya Okada on October 11 and by US Senator John Kerry on October 19. Okada’s visit was to tour the local scene and get a grasp of the situation and of the types of support required. Kerry’s was to encourage President Hamid Karzai to agree to a runoff presidential election in line with the findings of the Electoral Complaints Commission. In general terms, Foreign Minister Okada’s visit probably served a useful purpose in helping the new DPJ administration consider the shape of Japan’s support for Afghanistan’s reconstruction. But in terms of the course of local developments, it was off key for the foreign minister to visit Afghanistan at this delicate juncture, while the ballots in the first round of voting for president were being recounted and the prospects for a runoff election were up in the air, and to meet with Karzai and his challenger to ask them about their country’s assistance requirements. Furthermore, Okada’s meeting with Karzai could give the impression that Japan has recognized his reelection as president. The fact that this caused no international ripples shows that Japan’s political stance with respect to the issue of Afghanistan is now considered to be of negligible consequence.

Japan’s Support Welcomed on the Ground

The civilian aid Japan provides to Afghanistan and Pakistan is always welcomed. In Pakistan’s case, the fuel that the country’s naval vessels had been receiving free of charge under Japan’s refueling program for ships engaged in antiterror activities in the Indian Ocean (a program that the DPJ administration has decided to end) will need to be found and paid for some other way, but this loss may be covered by aid from Japan in another shape—and it may be possible for Pakistan to draw a greater amount of assistance.

In Afghanistan, meanwhile, Japan has established a track record as a donor over the past eight years, and both the government and the private sector welcome Japan’s aid, which they recognize as coming from a country with no political designs. The areas in which assistance is desired, notably agriculture, energy, infrastructure, and police, will remain the same as before regardless of the change to a DPJ administration in Japan, and if additional emphasis is placed on vocational training (for which Japan has been providing support since 2003), that will be welcomed too.

The cessation of Japan’s refueling activities in the Indian Ocean, I might add, will have virtually no effect on feelings toward Japan among the people of either Afghanistan or Pakistan. The activities have been taking place in a location that is far from their everyday interest, and they have not received media coverage great enough to draw people’s attention. The halt of the activities may cause al Qaeda to remove Japan from its list of targets, but it will not affect the level of danger for Japanese people conducting activities locally.

US and NATO Eyes on Japan’s Policy

Ultimately it is the United States, along with its allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, that cares seriously about the policy set forth by Japan’s DPJ administration toward South Asia, particularly Afghanistan and Pakistan. America and its NATO allies are deeply involved in Afghanistan, and this country presents the biggest foreign policy issue for the administration of US President Barack Obama. The war on terror in Afghanistan has been going on for eight years, and as American public opinion begins to see that country as a quagmire that the United States is caught in, a debate is underway concerning whether to carry out a major increase in the number of troops under the new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan that was announced in March 2009. At this juncture what the United States is probably concerned about is whether its allies will share its agenda and to what degree they will support the United States in dealing with the issues on this agenda.

America’s NATO allies share its goal of making Afghanistan a stable country that will never again serve as a base for terrorists; toward this end they have dispatched military contingents and have also supplied large amounts of civilian assistance. Over the past three years, however, attacks by and the increasing influence of antigovernment forces centering on the Taliban have resulted in substantial casualties among these countries’ forces in Afghanistan, and in almost all of these countries public opinion makes it impossible for their governments to provide additional military support.

In this context, the DPJ administration was quick to inform Washington that Japan would not extend its refueling operations in the Indian Ocean beyond their scheduled expiry in January 2010. The US government accepted this calmly as a matter for Japan to decide, but we should assume that the United States is hoping that Japan, as an ally, will come out with some new sort of measure of equivalent scale to support its efforts in Afghanistan in place of the refueling activities. If this measure is to be vocational training for the reintegration of former Taliban and other insurgents, it is doubtful that it will meet the United States’ expectations, because it does not seem to represent a sharing of the issues and the provision of a direct response to them. So the question for the DPJ administration will be whether to come out with additional measures that will contribute to the solution of issues on the agenda shared with the United States or instead will look for new ways of cooperating in areas of US interest other than Afghanistan.

Current Issues for the United States

Under the new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan that the United States adopted in March 2009, Pakistan has been pushing ahead with efforts to contain the Taliban forces within its borders, while in Afghanistan military operations have been conducted with the aim of restoring order. Meanwhile, General Stanley McChrystal, who took charge as commander of the US and NATO forces in Afghanistan following the adoption of this new strategy, has submitted a request for additional forces, telling the administration that up to 80,000 more troops are required on top of the 68,000 scheduled to be dispatched by the end of 2009. McChrystal judged that the initially planned number was insufficient for execution of the new strategy. The point is to restore order in the country by protecting people’s lives and livelihoods, but corruption in the government, which bears prime responsibility for this task, and high-handed behavior by its police have caused the people to lose trust. Meanwhile, the Taliban and other insurgents have been putting up major resistance and wielding considerable clout; eliminating these forces, McChrystal judged, would require additional troops.

Against this backdrop, Afghanistan held its presidential election, and suspicions of irregularities caused a further loss of public trust in the electoral process and the government. In order to implement its new strategy smoothly, the United States requires Afghanistan to have a government and security forces that enjoy public trust. The country’s next administration, whether chosen through a runoff presidential election or in some other manner, must offer the hope of working for a restoration of this trust. This will open the way for operations using the additional troops to mop up the insurgents and protect people’s lives and livelihoods.

The question now facing the new DPJ administration is whether it will be able to share the United States’ agenda and formulate concrete measures that will contribute to overcoming the problems. It seems to me that the question is what Japan can do in the fields of rear-area support for operations to protect the lives of the Afghan people, contribution to the training of domestic security forces, measures to strengthen the government in order to regain popular trust, and civilian assistance for the stabilization of people’s livelihoods. ( Translated from a report in Japanese published on October 21, 2009 )

    • Research Fellow
    • Nobutaka Miyahara
    • Nobutaka Miyahara




Click on the link below to contact an expert or submit a question.