1. Following the Tokyo Conference in January 2002, the Embassy of Japan in Afghanistan was reopened. The change for the better during these past two and a half years has been simply remarkable. By the beginning of 2004, 430,000 children (of which 40% are girls) were back to school, and we were able to shift from humanitarian aid to assistance that focuses on reconstruction. The reconstruction of Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, is astounding, and other cities within the nation are catching on as well. Political progress is also substantial. Afghanistan went from the establishment of the Karzai interim government in December 2001 under international guidance, to June 2002’s establishment of the Karzai transitional government following the national emergency assembly, and finally to the presidential election held this past October 9 th, which was the nation’s first direct popular election. In addition, although the current government administration began while the Northern Alliance (which fought with the Taliban) controlled both central and regional powers, this bias is dissolving. Due to power gains by the central government, the establishment of a new national military and police, as well as improvement in the defense department and governorship, the Afghan government has gradually become more responsive to the mixed ethnicities that comprise the country.
2. But in rural areas of Afghanistan, reconstruction is slow. Their situation shows little improvement since the Taliban era. Taliban is still going strong, based in the rural area in the east and southeast of Afghanistan, as well as the Pashtun region that borders Pakistan . Collaborating with Al-Qaeda and other anti-government organizations, Taliban attacks the coalition army as well as government officials daily, and the coalition army is continuing its strategy to wipe out terrorists. In addition, the cultivation of poppy that had once diminished during the Taliban era is now reviving, due to the reconstruction delay of the rural development. Afghanistan is now the world’s greatest producer of poppy, contributing 75% of all opium production in the world. Most of the income from drugs like this goes to the mafia, and is the primary financial source of the armed faction. These illegal incomes are said to comprise half of Afghanistan’s GNP, and is becoming a problem that may even challenge the newly formed democracy of this country.
3. To make Afghanistan’s reconstruction efforts and consolidation of peace and stability irreversible, first, we must succeed in the Parliamentary election that is scheduled in six months. We must establish a “fully representative government” that is the aim of the Bonn Peace Process that laid out a new nation-building plan in December 2001. Secondly, we must dismantle the warlords under the Ministry of Defense that are controlled by the Northern Alliance, as well as other militia, and plan a cultural and social transition “from guns to hoes,” i.e. from war to agricultural and social productivity. Thirdly, we must begin and promote a national campaign to eradicate drugs, and stabilize the reconstruction of rural and agricultural regions.
4. Under the Japan-led Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) program, the local disbandment of the military has been accelerating since September. This is in thanks to the diplomatic and political efforts toward warlords who had been previously uncooperative, such as the defense minister and the governor of Herat prefecture. By this coming spring, we are hoping to dismantle the armed factions that are controlled by the old national military, for they would hinder the establishment of a democratic assembly. As for anti-drug policies, we must create an effective strategy immediately, because the end of October is planting season for poppies.
5. In the beginning of November, Hamid Karzai, president of the transitional government, was inducted as the official Afghan president. He is the first president to be elected through democratic means, and his authority as the chief of state has improved dramatically. The Afghan people’s expectations towards the new Afghanistan are becoming greater, resulting in a momentum to push forward various policies. The 180 days until the Parliamentary election will be the deciding point for both Afghanistan and the world.
Yasushi Fujii joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan in 1982. He was trained as the Persian language expert at the Ministry. He was at the Embassy of Japan in Tehran from 1984 to 1992 and in Kabul from 1992 to 1994. He is cuttently the Deputy director of the Japan Information and Culture Center in Washington D.C. He was called in to help the Embassy in Kabul during the recent presidential election.
Yasushi Fujii in Maruuf Japanese NGO in Afghanistan