AFGHANISTAN: Interview with Japanese envoy Sadako Ogata

KABUL, December 15, 2005 (IRIN) - In an interview with IRIN, Sadako Ogata, Japan's special envoy to Afghanistan and head of Tokyo's International Cooperation Agency (JICA), said there was a need for massive donor input to fund infrastructural development such as roads, bridges and power lines to help boost the economy.

Japan is one of the major donors to war-ravaged Afghanistan and the lead nation in supporting the disarmament of ex-combatants in the country. Ogata, who served as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees from 1991 to 2000, was in the country to attend the recent inauguration of Afghan President Hamid Karzai. She also visited the southern province of Kandahar to look at the situation of internally displaced persons (IDPs).

QUESTION: What was the objective of your trip to Afghanistan?

ANSWER: Japan has made major contributions to Afghanistan reconstruction. One of my objectives of this trip was to see how far Japan has contributed, how far this country has moved and to see what needs to be done next.

In order to get a real feel of how the reconstruction is progressing I went to Kandahar, which I had visited before in June 2002. I was really pleasantly surprised by the change in the city. I recall Kandahar as very dusty with lots of broken buildings and houses that had to be repaired; a city that was coming out of a serious conflict.

But the city that I saw this week was the one with beautifully paved streets all around and there were no dusty roads. There were schools and hospitals that had been repaired or constructed. And also the demobilised military ex-combatants had found jobs. There were not many people who required [help] to start a self-reliant life.

Q: How do you assess the status of IDPs in the camps you visited in the south?

A: This was a very big issue because I don't think UNHCR [the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] had an exact knowledge of the number or the situation. We were alerted to this problem and there is a very strong interest on the part of the government to settle IDP issues. We always help them go back to where they come from if there is a clear identification of their place of origin.

The first thing is to assure their security by negotiating through the commanders. Last time when I travelled to Mazar [in the northern province of Balkh] I raised this issue with Mr Dostum and Atta [General Dostum and Ustad Atta, two northern warlords] and others to make sure that commanders under them could guarantee that harassment and land grabbing didn't take place.

We have to legalise and stabilise the situation in the north. I don't want to give up on that because those who want to go back should be assisted.

Q: What are Japan's aid priorities in this post-election period?

A: Education and health and other basic community building efforts will have to continue at the same time, [while] Japan plans to focus on irrigation and water supply, which would facilitate rural community development. This is the time to address more of the economic needs of the country.

There are many other fronts that require further attention in the national building process. For example, the security issue; there are international forces in Kabul and other parts of the country that are helping to stabilise the security. My understanding is that the building of the Afghan army is moving quite well. The police training I am told is not moving as desired and further training of the police would add to stabilising the country.

Japan's pledge altogether was US $1 billion over 10 years and we have disbursed more than $850 million. We will have to look again after the full amount is disbursed.

Q: What are Tokyo's priorities for Afghan women?

A: I think for a lot of rural women, it would be basic literacy, education and healthcare. What is needed is a massive literacy campaign. I have made appeals to the United Nations and the Japanese NGOs and government, who are interested in elevating the status of women.

Q: As Japan is the lead nation in the demobilisation of Afghan ex-combatants, are you satisfied with what has been achieved so far?

A: I can say I am satisfied partially because at least [to have] a formal DD [Disarmament and Demobilisation] process is an impressive result. But the arms they are bringing in may be old while they keep the new ones. Also the treatment of the commanders is very serious especially in terms of getting them jobs and retraining them. We may have to have a commander-focused reintegration programme too. It is moving gradually but still a lot of work is needed.

Q: What development stood out most in your trip to Afghanistan?

A: First the elections. We all felt that the elections were the expression of a broad section of the population wanting to exercise their rights to determine their future.

In terms of reconstruction, the most visual thing was roads, and that is very clear. The Kandahar-Kabul road did not exist [before]. Now some 10,000 to 15,000 thousand cars move along it every day and this brings change to community lives and economic lives. It is the most obvious development.

Q: What advice would you offer the new government?

A: As President Karzai himself has said, you have to have a good, effective government that is not corrupt and comes up with new initiatives. A strong government is necessary at least at this point. A government that wins the trust of the people. From the central government to the provincial, and the districts; administrative capacity building is very important aspect.

Meanwhile, in order to move further to full economic reconstruction as well as better social lives I think there would be a need for large-scale infrastructure building, such as dams and so on.

Q: What is your view on the massive increase in opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan, as indicated by the United Nations this year?

A: It creates a very bad image. The international community should address it too. But the Afghan government at all levels should address this. Because it does give a very bad image.