When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visits Japan this week, one of the main topics of conversation will be developments in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Japan has played an important role in contributing to efforts to stabilize and secure South Asia over the last seven years. Washington should welcome a more robust Japanese role in the region and strongly support Tokyo’s plan to hold an international donor’s meeting on Pakistan (possibly in March) to help raise funds for the cash-strapped economy.
Japan has already played a helpful role in Afghanistan, despite the unpopularity of the war back home. Tokyo replenished support to the Japanese maritime self-defense force in the Indian Ocean, and recently increased aid to Afghanistan and Pakistan by $300 million to deal with food shortages and to support upcoming elections in Afghanistan.
Washington needs to work more closely with key allies like Japan to help stabilize Pakistan, which faces numerous challenges ranging from battling Taliban militants in its northwest to an economic crisis that threatens to bankrupt the country. Working more closely with other countries to influence events in Pakistan can help reduce animus toward the U.S., which is widely viewed as dictating policy toward the 165-million strong nuclear-armed Muslim nation. On the other hand, a recent poll showed that 53 percent of Pakistanis believe Japan has a positive influence on the world. Tokyo should take advantage of this good will it has from Pakistanis to become more involved in efforts to bolster economic and social development in the country.
Demonstrating it may finally be ready to crack down on Pakistan-based terrorist groups, the Pakistani government admitted last week that Pakistanis were involved in the Mumbai terrorist attacks last November and indicated that Islamabad was deepening investigations into the role of senior members of the local extremist group Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LT). For the last three months, Pakistan had denied any involvement in the Mumbai terror attacks, despite mounting evidence from both India and the U.S. that the LT was behind the carnage. The LT claims it is being falsely accused for the attacks and has criticized Pakistani officials for caving in to Indian and U.S. pressure.
The Pakistani government admission could presage further instability in Pakistan as hardliners object to a crackdown on a group they consider legitimate “freedom fighters” in Kashmir. Washington must back the civilian government in Pakistan as it weathers a possible coming storm and demonstrate it will support Islamabad, so long as it takes the steps necessary to clamp down on terrorism and extremism in all its forms.