World News

Japan adviser says Pakistan key for Afghan order

TOKYO (Reuters) - Stabilising Pakistan’s economy and fighting poverty there are key to combating the insurgency in neighbouring Afghanistan, a special adviser to Japan’s prime minister said ahead of a Pakistan donors’ conference this month.

“It has become much, much more clearly recognized that unless you can manage the tribal areas of Pakistan from where a lot of the Taliban is gaining strength, you cannot deal with Afghan security,” Sadako Ogata, the special envoy for Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso to the two countries, told Reuters in an interview Thursday.

Ogata, who was high commissioner for the U.N. refugee agency from 1991 to 2000, said while various factors such as religion and politics have encouraged a Taliban insurgency, those struggling from poverty are the most vulnerable.

“The poor people having very little resources would be easily recruited to radical action,” the 81-year-old envoy said.

Nuclear-armed, and a hiding place for al Qaeda, Pakistan has become a foreign policy nightmare for the West.

Pakistan’s leaders know al Qaeda is encouraging a Taliban insurgency in Pakistani tribal lands bordering Afghanistan as they seek to destabilise the Muslim nation of 170 million people.

Japan and the World Bank will host a Pakistan donors conference in Tokyo on April 17, which Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari will be attending.

Pakistan is hoping that the meeting of potential donors, including the United States, will yield billions of dollars in loans needed to pull the economy round. Ogata said she does not know the amount of the pledge that is being worked out.

A related gathering on the same day will also discuss political support for the South Asian country.

Ogata, who now heads the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), said Tokyo’s efforts for Afghanistan will continue to focus on socio-economic reconstruction and expressed doubts on the Japanese military playing a role on the ground there.

Japan’s pacifist constitution restricts its participation in military activities overseas and forbids the use of force to settle international disputes.

There have been exceptions such as Iraq, Ogata said, where Japan has dispatched ground troops on a non-combat mission that ended in 2006, adding: “But they were in a very secure area and secluded. Now I don’t think that’s the kind of operation that is possible in Afghanistan.”

Around 130 Japanese civilians, mostly from the embassy or JICA, are based in Afghanistan. Most Japanese non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have withdrawn after Taliban insurgents captured 23 South Korean church workers in Afghanistan in 2007.

“That is a shame,” Ogata said, and added that whether more Japanese aid workers will go to Afghanistan is up to the security conditions there.

Violence in Afghanistan is at its highest level since U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban in 2001 for sheltering al Qaeda leaders behind the September11 attacks on the United States.

Japan so far has pledged $2 billion (1.4 billion pounds) in aid and implemented $1.78 billion through humanitarian assistance, governance, security and reconstruction projects, data from the foreign ministry showed.