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Middle East specialist says give aid but keep SDF home

by Eriko Arita

Last in an interview series on Afghanistan In the U.S.-led antiterrorist campaign, Japan should not only emphasize its diplomatic relations with the United States but give more consideration to sentiments in the Islamic world, according to an expert on Islamic society.

Osamu Miyata, an associate professor specializing in modern Middle Eastern studies at the University of Shizuoka, said that because Muslims have a strong sense of solidarity, a great number would harbor anti-U.S. feelings if the U.S.-led attacks kill civilians.

Miyata opposes the plan to send Self-Defense Forces personnel to Pakistan, saying it could provoke anger toward Japan in Afghanistan and in the Middle East, which Japan depends upon for oil.

“People in Islamic societies have strong pride,” Miyata said in a recent interview with The Japan Times. “They feel very offended by foreign militaries coming onto their land.”

He added that if the Japanese government wants to “show the flag,” it can do so by building hospitals or schools in Japan’s name.

Though Japan sent $13 billion to fund U.S.-led multinational forces in the 1990 Persian Gulf War, many politicians and bureaucrats still regret that Japan failed to send troops due to constitutional restraints.

Miyata argued that because only financial contributions were made, Japan stands apart from nations that provided military support and won the favor of some in the Islamic world.

At this point, he said, the government should not dispatch the SDF. Instead, he said, it should send civilians to provide emergency humanitarian aid to Afghan refugees.

Japan stopped its assistance to Afghanistan after the Soviet Union invaded the country in 1979 but resumed aid in 1997 through international organizations.

Since 1999, it has also extended 287.6 million yen in grants and disaster relief, according to the Foreign Ministry.

“Japan has supported Afghanistan by sending humanitarian aid, which has been highly appreciated by the people. The Japanese government should expand it,” Miyata said.

As an example of Japan’s support, Miyata said Japan sent missions to observe the elections in Cambodia in 1993, after more than two decades of civil war in the country.

Using that experience, Japan can help rebuild war-torn Afghanistan when peace is established, Miyata said.

The professor said the indifference of the international community has brought tragedy on Afghanistan, which has endured war and poverty.

Afghanistan lost its strategic importance to the superpowers after the Cold War, he said. The U.S. stopped support for the country, and the former Soviet Union was also indifferent.

Twenty years of war has devastated Afghanistan’s industry. There are six operating factories — there were once 220 — and the country must depend on narcotics production for revenue, according to Miyata.

Under these circumstances, Afghans definitely need Japan’s help in restoring the social and economic infrastructure, such as housing and schools, Miyata said.

Afghanistan’s neighbors, including Iran, Russia, Pakistan and India, supported different warring factions in the country, and this interference prolonged the conflicts, he said.

Japan, which has not been involved in the country’s conflicts, can also be a mediator between Afghanistan and its neighbors, he said.

“Japan can take the initiative in creating a framework for a new government to stabilize Afghanistan through discussions with the concerned countries,” he said.