During my tenure there, Pakistan went through the heightening of tension resulting from the Islamist resistance to the U.S.-led military action in Afghanistan after September 11, 2001, and the near-war with India in May 2002.
As I witnessed the people of this “frontline state” coping with security as a life and death issue, Japan appeared blissfully peaceful to me. To us Japanese, the Great East Japan Earthquake was comparable as a crisis to 9/11, meriting the acronym 3/11 (March 11).
What 9/11 meant to Pakistan as a frontline state is naturally very different from what 3/11 means to Japan as a disaster-stricken state.
However, Japan can learn certain things from Pakistan’s experience. The tracking and killing of Osama bin Laden by the U.S. military within Pakistan gave rise to the strong suspicion that Pakistan had been colluding with al-Qaida and Taliban while helping the U.S. in the fight against terrorism.
There is no proof that the top leaders of the Pakistani government or the military were engaging in such a double game. However, Pakistan has long resented the fact that, though they had helped the U.S. with their Mujahedeens fighting the Soviet troops in the Afghan war of 1979-89, the U.S. abandoned Pakistan after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan.
It cannot be denied that this led some in Pakistan to try, for Pakistan’s survival, the dangerous game of holding on to U.S. support on the one hand and, on the other, conniving to have a pro-Pakistan (anti-Indian) regime in Afghanistan.
Japan has enjoyed peace for the past six decades as an ally of the U.S., and is in no position to try a dangerous double game for its own survival. However, Japan does need to be more sensitive to what is happening in the world, keenly grasp the situation in which it finds itself, and act with alacrity and agility.
The Great East Japan Earthquake has bought to the fore a host of issues such as whether to have nuclear power generation, which could be linked to the question of the elimination of nuclear weapons, climate change and energy policy as well as the role of the supply chain in the global economy. Every single one of these issues has global implications, and does not allow itself to be handled from a myopic, purely domestic perspective.
We in Japan have faced the biggest adversity in the 66 years since our defeat in the Second World War. We can no longer take either safety or security for granted. It is argued that this leviathan disaster, compounded by the tsunami exceeding all assumptions and the severe nuclear accident, was not just a natural disaster but a man-made as well as a planning disaster.
It has also raised the question of whether our pursuit of economic growth and prosperity may have incurred a considerable loss in the blessings of nature and the quality of life of the Japanese people.
Pakistan has found itself in the cross-section of civilizational, religious, ethnic and big-power rivalry fault lines. It has struggled to achieve national unity under the banner of Islam out of a mosaic of geographic, regional, ethnic and linguistic differences. The wars with India, Sunni-Shiite sectarian conflicts, terrorist attacks, as well as earthquakes and floods have claimed numerous lives, which almost seems the Pakistani people’s fate.
By comparison, Japan is far more blessed in terms of geography, economic and social systems, national unity and other aspects, which has enabled it to play a leading role in the international community in support of Pakistan’s stability.
Pakistan expects Japan to maintain its confidence despite the disaster, rebuild the nation with vigor and continue to fulfill its international role, including assisting Pakistan.
Since the earthquake, local people in the affected areas have displayed their remarkable capabilities on-site. There has also been an upsurge in the public communitarian spirit across the nation.
The Reconstruction Design Council, the blue-ribbon panel entrusted with the task of providing the blueprint for post-earthquake reconstruction, has recommended that we appreciate anew the importance of “linkage,” which comes in many forms: people to people, community to community, company to company, municipalities to prefectural and national governments, local communities with other communities at home and abroad, eastern Japan with western Japan, and country to country.
It is now the responsibility of the political leaders to bring these “linkage” activities into reality.
Unlike Pakistan, which is still on the long and arduous path to democracy amid the legacies of feudal lords and tribal societies, Japan is a nation with a mature democracy and, as such, should be capable of doing this.
Were we to prove incapable of doing it, we would have to consider seriously what might be at fault in Japan’s political system.
Sadaaki Numata is former Japanese ambassador to Pakistan and chairman of the English Speaking Union of Japan. This article first appeared in the bulletin of the ESUJ.