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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Why Japan helps Pakistan

Why Japan helps Pakistan

Apr 23 2009 2117 hrs IST
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Tags: Japan, Pakistan, Views
By Urs Schöttli
Recently, an international donors’ conference was held in Japan, in which some 50 countries pledged aid to Pakistan. President Asif Ali Zardari had travelled to Tokyo expecting some $6 billion in pledged aid. In the end, he had to return to Islamabad with promises amounting to some $5.3 billion.In these days of financial crisis, the world has got used to juggle trillions and hundreds of billions. So $5.3 billion does not look such an impressive sum. Indeed, in a press conference in Tokyo, the American special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, stated that $5 billion was not enough to fund Pakistan’s anti-terrorism campaign and alleviate its poverty. Holbrook said he had heard that to achieve these goals as much as $50 billion might be needed.As was to be expected, the United States will cover a major share of the aid promised at the Tokyo meeting. In addition to its already existing bilateral aid to Pakistan, Washington pledged to cough up $1 billion. Host Japan matched the American promise, while Saudi Arabia with $700 million and the European Union with $640 million were not come far behind.Surprisingly, Iran pledged $300 million. More interesting than all these figures are the motives that are behind the donations and, even more importantly, what will be happening with all the money destined for Pakistan.International aid is not only about charity. The major donors want something concrete in return for theirmillions and billions, be they economic or geopolitical benefits. The American interest in Pakistan is obvious. But, what about Japan?For the average Japanese, South Asia is a very distant corner of the world. In fact, many Japanese do not consider themselves to be Asians. For them, Asia is China, South East Asia and India, while Japan is a case apart. Of course, educated Japanese know that Buddhism has its origins in India. But the number of Japanese who have visited India as tourists or on business is very small, much smaller than the number of Japanese who flock to neighbouring China.In general, Tokyo follows Washington’s guidance in international affairs. Japanese security depends on the alliance with the United States. The Americans maintain a number of military bases on Japanese soil. The most important ones are located on the Japanese islands of Okinawa, from where you can control access to large stretches of the Chinese coast.During the Cold War, Japan had shared the American perception of the world. Particularly after the Soviet invasion in Afghanistan, Tokyo saw Pakistan as a friendly country, a front state of the West in its fight against Soviet expansionism. At the same time, India was seen as a camp follower of the Soviet Union. Tokyo considered the policy of non-alignment pursued by Indian Prime Minister late Indira Gandhi a sellout to the Soviet Union.Japan’s economic relations with Pakistan took off very early. Already on visits to Pakistan in the 1980s, the strong presence of Japanese cars and Japanese consumer goods was noticeable. This was before Maruti hit the roads in India and much before the Indian car market had been opened to a wide array of foreign models.Since Pakistan had liberalised its economy earlier than India, Japanese industry saw Pakistan as South Asia’s most lucrative destination for its exports and investments. Only in recent years, Japanese enterprises have become more aware of the opportunities offered by the much larger Indian markets.However, the intention of Japan’s recent $1 billion aid to Pakistan is not only to stay in the competition for new market shares in Pakistan. It is also intended to send a political signal to Washington. Japan’s defence policy is subject to significant legal restrictions. Its constitution dates from 1947 and was drafted by the Americans who, after the capitulation, had occupied the country.In its spirit, the constitution commits Japan to disarmament. However, already in the early 1950s, the Korean war was to demonstrate the impracticability of unilateral disarmament. Today, Japan has a strong self defence force (SDF), the naval wing of which is formidable.A large part of the Japanese public, the bulk of the parliamentary opposition and also important voices in the ruling coalition are very reluctant to see Japan involved in international military actions. It had caused a lot of controversy, when some years ago then Prime Minister Junichiro Kozumi had decided to send a logistic SDF-unit to Iraq and to support the international forces in Afghanistan.For the first time since the end of World War II, Japanese naval vessels have been sent on missions beyond Japanese territorial waters. However, a dispatch of Japanese ground forces to Afghanistan remains out of the question. Therefore, the $1 billion Tokyo promised to Pakistan must also be seen as a financial compensation for military inactivity.
The writer is the Far East correspondent of Swiss daily Neue Zurcher Zeitung

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