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Saturday, Dec. 22, 2007

MSDF exit elated al-Qaida, Taliban: Afghan ambassador


Staff writer

Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States, Afghanistan has been the battleground for the global war on terrorism.

News photo
Haron Amin

So when Afghan Ambassador to Japan Haron Amin learned Japan was withdrawing its Maritime Self-Defense Force vessels from the Indian Ocean on Nov. 1 and heard rebels supporting the Taliban praising it, he was shocked.

"To whom was the withdrawal of (Japan's) ships a positive signal? Not to the international coalition against terror and not to the Afghan people. It was encouraging news to al-Qaida and the Taliban," Amin said in an interview with The Japan Times Thursday.

"As the recipient of international assistance, as the recipient of the benefits of the global war against terror, we are calling for the participating countries not to abandon Afghanistan, not to disengage the Taliban or al-Qaida, because ultimately, any kind of abstention will serve to encourage the Taliban and al-Qaida."

The special law on antiterrorism cooperation expired Nov. 1, forcing Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba to withdraw two MSDF vessels from the Indian Ocean, where they were refueling coalition ships taking part in a multinational mission.

The ambassador said he hopes Japan will soon be back to resume its logistic support for the U.S.-led antiterrorism operation in and around Afghanistan.

The Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito ruling bloc extended the extraordinary Diet session by another month to Jan. 15 to get a contentious bill to resume the MSDF's Indian Ocean support mission passed by a divided Diet.

The opposition camp, led by the Democratic Party of Japan, which controls the Upper House, has criticized the bill as unconstitutional and can either vote it down or delay it in the upper chamber.

The ruling bloc is hoping to get the bill back to the Lower House and enact it with a two-thirds majority vote, but given the falling approval ratings of Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda's Cabinet, due primarily to its inability to deal with the fiasco over the millions of missing pension records, the ruling bloc is losing public support for the antiterrorism bill.

Amin said he hopes Japanese people view the MSDF's refueling mission and the pension fiasco as separate issues.

"I hope that the people of Japan will understand that they have an obligation and cannot remain indifferent (from the threat of terrorism)," he said.

Amin is well aware of the constrictions on Japan's participation in overseas military-related operations due to its Constitution.

"What shape it takes is to be decided by the Japanese Diet," he said. "But Japan's enrollment or reintegration back into the antiterrorism coalition is paramount because we are living in an interconnected world."

Amin said Afghanistan is thankful for Japan's support for rebuilding the country but also stressed the importance of being engaged in containing terrorism in the region to help the war-torn country achieve full recovery.

"Japan has so far committed more than $1.45 billion (¥164 billion) for Afghanistan. There have been hundreds of clinics and hospitals and hundreds of schools built in Afghanistan (thanks to Japan's support)," he said, adding there has also been considerable help provided for health care through the Asian Development Bank, for which his country is grateful.

"But there is also a war on terror in a true sense. Japan shares the same belief . . . and it is important for Japan not to let go of the symbolic role that Japan has played thus far, to participate also in the war on terror."

Amin, 38, became ambassador of the Embassy of Afghanistan in Tokyo in 2004, after working for two years at the Afghan Embassy in Washington.

He has seen how Afghanistan enjoyed prosperity back in the 1970s and how the Taliban ruined his country after taking power in the 1990s.

The country was once forgotten by the world, but 9/11 changed all that.

"Despite the fact that there's been war going on in Afghanistan, we have seen a vast improvement of all the sectors in Afghanistan," he said. "Our aim is to make sure Afghanistan does not return to the hotbed of terrorism again."



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