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Sunday, 20 January, 2002, 19:30 GMT
Japan bags top role in Afghan recovery
Sadako Ogata
Ogata says there is a danger that countries may later lose interest
By the BBC's Charles Scanlon

Japan should take a leading role in the reconstruction of Afghanistan, says Sadako Ogata, who has been given responsibility for Japan's Afghan policy.


Six months ago no-one cared - now so many want to take part in this conference

Sadako Ogata
Mrs Ogata, the former United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, is co-chairing the big donor's conference in Tokyo where officials from the world's richest countries are meeting to pledge aid.

"Japan should contribute up to 20% of the cost," she told the BBC in an interview on the eve of the conference. "It won't be easy, that's true, but it is an obligation for advanced countries to help even when they're in recession."

Japan is expected to offer about $500m to help rebuild Afghanistan over the next 30 months. But with aid agencies estimating that $15bn will be needed over 10 years, it could find itself paying much more.

Eager to give

Ironically, Japan's commitment comes just as it implements a 10% cut in Overseas Development Assistance - part of budget cutbacks at a time of deep recession and mountainous public debts.

Children play in Kabul
Agencies estimate that $15bn will be needed to rebuild Afghanistan
But the Prime Minister, Junichiro Koizumi, is determined to show the strength of Japan's commitment to the fight against terrorism through generous financial contributions.

The Japanese armed forces are limited to a marginal supporting role because of the country's peace constitution which forbids the use of force except for self-defence.

During her time at the UNHCR in the 1990s, Mrs Ogata repeatedly tried to draw attention to the plight of Afghanistan and the millions of refugees living in camps in Pakistan and Iran.

Now she says the world, and particularly the United States, is much more attuned to the danger of failed states.

"There's a lot of strategic interest involved [in setting aid priorities], my job was to try to get aid to people on a humanitarian basis but it's difficult."

"Six months ago no-one cared, now so many want to take part in this conference."

Maintaining interest

No-one is underestimating the scale of the task to rebuild Afghanistan. Civil servants need to be paid, roads built, schools repaired and landmines cleared.

At the same time security cannot be guaranteed and the interim administration has yet to show it is capable of handling large quantities of aid.

"It's very important to strengthen the administration," says Mrs Ogata. "That is very much the key to peace and stability".

Donors in Tokyo are expected to pledge contributions for between one and five years, although reconstruction will take much longer than that. Mrs Ogata says Japan should take the lead in ensuring that the process continues as long as it is needed.

"There is a danger that countries will lose interest, I've seen it in the past, but if the government in Kabul becomes more stable that should help convince donors."

See also:

12 Nov 01 | South Asia
UN prepares major Afghan relief effort
21 Dec 01 | South Asia
Afghanistan hopes for global aid
20 Jan 02 | South Asia
Aid lifeline for Afghanistan
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