|Sadako Ogata (left) and M. Ishaq Nadiri (right)
Image credit; Michael Dames / Columbia University
In a special joint lecture presented on Nov. 12 at the Columbia University Faculty House by the Weatherhead East Asian Institute, Sadako Ogata, Japan’s Special Envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and M. Ishaq Nadiri, chairman of the Afghanistan National Development Strategy, spoke to a capacity audience about Japanese and American initiatives to assist Afghanistan.
Ogata, who is also president of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), highlighted Japan’s previous ongoing efforts in Afghanistan and encouraged the international community to maintain its commitment to prevent the country from becoming a “forgotten country” again—a moniker once given to Afghanistan when it fell from international focus for a 12-year period, between the 1989 Soviet withdrawals until the September 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S.
Japan established formal diplomatic relations with Afghanistan in 1930 and has maintained an active relationship ever since by holding conferences to bring divergent groups together and assisting with post-conflict social and economic reconstruction. Japan’s approach, Ogata said, is to be “a venue for peace.”
More recently, Japan has focused on expanding agricultural and rural development in the northeast region of Afghanistan, while developing urban infrastructure to address rapid population growth through the Kabul Metropolitan Area Development Project. JICA has helped manage water resources, cultivate rice production, build health clinics, commission infrastructure studies and promote industrial development. Recent successes include the construction of 500 schools that enroll six million children, 35 percent of whom are girls, and helping to establish 14 modernized national television stations.
A former United Nations high commissioner for refugees in the 1990s, Ogata was deeply involved with the Afghan refugee crisis that spilled into Pakistan and Iran following the 1979 Soviet invasion and ensuing civil war. While she admits the overall situation continues to be unstable, Ogata recognized the dual importance of military strategy combined with efforts to stabilize socioeconomic conditions. “How to balance the two is probably the challenge that the U.S. and Japan have,” Ogata said.
Moderator Gerald Curtis
, Burgess Professor of Political Science and former director of the Weatherhead East Asian Institute, noted that instability in Afghanistan resulting from the Taliban insurgency and remaining threat of Al-Qaeda is one of the most critical issues today. He stressed the importance of the growing relationship between Japan and the United States on key matters that extend beyond the traditional bilateral boundaries.
Nadiri, an economics professor at New York University who emigrated from Afghanistan to the United States at age 19, challenged the United States to reach out directly to the Afghan people, citing Japan’s exemplary role in the country. Nadiri’s work with the Afghanistan National Development Strategy has been instrumental in Afghanistan’s economic development, reconstruction and governance and security issues.
While the challenges associated with lawlessness and warlords are overwhelming, Nadiri, who served as the senior economic advisor to President Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan from 2005 to 2008 and now chairs the Kabul Metropolitan Area Development Project, said that addressing the underlying poverty and unemployment issues is crucial to creating stability.
“It’s an important strategic and human investment,” said Nadiri, citing the 60 percent unemployment rate among young adults.
He advocated for a joint project between Afghanistan and the United States that could better direct aid to where it is most needed while establishing accountability measures and enlisting Afghans in the effort to fight the Taliban. Nadiri said the challenge is to show unity and showcase talent from the Afghan people while cooperating with the international community. “We would like to show that Afghans are not just a gun-toting, ignorant group,” he said.
The lecture at Faculty House was the final event in the Weatherhead East Asian Institute’s 60th anniversary celebration, a year-long initiative to honor Columbia University’s past and present connections to East Asia and strengthen alliances between Columbia students and academic institutions across the region.
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