August 22, 2007 / 11:36 AM / 13 years ago

"Negative message" if Japan ends Afghan mission

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - The failure of Japan to extend a navy mission in support of U.S.-led operations in Afghanistan would send the wrong message to the world and to terrorists, Japan’s defense minister said on Wednesday.

Japanese Defense Minister Yuriko Koike (2nd L) reviews the guard of honour during a welcome ceremony at the Pakistani Defense Ministry in Rawalpindi, near Islamabad, August 22, 2007. REUTERS/Mian Khursheed

Japan has been providing fuel and goods for U.S.-led coalition warships in the Indian Ocean since 2001 under a law that expires on November 1.

The head of Japan’s main opposition party opposes a bill to extend the law. Policy experts say the end of the Japanese mission could sour Japan’s security ties with the United States.

Defense Minister Yuriko Koike said during a visit to Pakistan the Japanese operation was highly valued by its allies, including Pakistan, and they wanted to see Japan continue it.

“If we stop our operation in the region, members who have been participating in this global war on terrorism need to change their plans and operational schedules,” Koike told a news conference.

“We need to be careful ... that would give a negative message to international society and also to terrorists.”

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf agreed with Koike, telling her that the Japanese operations in the Indian Ocean were indispensable for Pakistan to continue its own participation in the U.S.-led antiterrorism operations in and around Afghanistan, according to Kyodo News.

Ichiro Ozawa, leader of the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan, which won control of the upper house of parliament last month, has vowed to oppose the extension of the mission.

Asked about the implications for ties with the United States if the mission was not extended, Koike said: “Our effort is not for the U.S., it’s for international society.”

Ozawa said this month the war in Afghanistan was an American fight that “had nothing to do with the United Nations or the international community”.

If Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party fails to push a renewal through parliament by the end of October, supplies may be interrupted.

More significant may be the symbolism of Washington’s closest Asian ally withdrawing from the Afghan operation.

Ozawa said his party may also submit a bill to parliament halting supply flights into Iraq by Japanese troops based in Kuwait.

But many analysts doubt that Ozawa will deliver on his threat to block the extension of the Indian Ocean operation, not least because his party is deeply divided on the issue.

Restricted by its pacifist constitution, Japan has spent years in lockstep with U.S. defense policy in return for the shelter of Washington’s “nuclear umbrella.”

Abe has sought to propel Japan further out of its post-World War Two pacifist shell since he took office last September.

Tokyo has been a major contributor of aid to Afghanistan since U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban in late 2001.

Additional reporting by Hugh Lawson in Tokyo

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