Struggle over bid to extend Japan's role in Afghanistan

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wants to continue logistical support to coalition forces.

Six years after the 9/11 attacks on the United States, Japan's role in Afghanistan is roiling the already struggling administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. On Sunday, Mr. Abe threatened to resign unless the National Diet, Japan's legislative body, agrees to continue Japanese operations in support of US troops.

Since nearly the beginning of the US-led war in Afghanistan, Japan has participated by offering refueling assistance in the Indian Ocean as well as other logistical support. In a March 2007 report by Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the government laid out the nation's accomplishments in Afghanistan.

Japan held the International Conference on Reconstruction Assistance to Afghanistan in January 2002 (Tokyo Conference). Since then, using approximately US$1.2 billion Official Development Assistance and the Maritime Self-Defense Force's support to Maritime Interdiction Operation (operation to prevent flow of terrorists and arms) in the Indian Ocean as well as other types of aid to the country, Japan has coherently given support to the nation-building of Afghanistan. Japan also held the First and Second Tokyo Conference on Consolidation of Peace in Afghanistan in February 2003 and July 2006.
The maintenance of stability in Afghanistan supports peace and stability in the world as well as the Middle East and Central Asia, further contributing to the eradication and prevention of terrorism in the international community. As a responsible member of the international community, Japan will positively work for the reconstruction of Afghanistan.

The Japan Times reports that Abe's remarks about resigning should be taken at "face value."

"I made the remarks with the determination to stake my job on and deal with the issue with the utmost effort," Abe said.
When reporters tried to reconfirm if he truly meant he would step down, Abe said, "I believe that's how the respective media organizations understood it."

It appears that since Abe's initial ultimatum, he may be showing less resolve to step down if he is not successful, reports eFluxMedia, an online news source. His opponents have said that "military troops in the Middle Eastern country and any other missions would represent a violation of the pacifist constitution and foreign policy." On Monday, Abe changed his position, remarking that he would remain in office to continue finalizing reforms he'd started.

After seeing he will have a hard time passing a new bill, Abe threatened to resign if the government doesn't approve the law. On Monday Abe adopted a different stance, saying he [would] stay in office and continue reforms initiated.
The premier said he won't give in under pressure exerted by opposition parties who condemn him for failing to end political instability plaguing the government.
"I have decided to stay in office because I need to lead Japan out of its postwar regime at all costs," he said.

Even if Abe cannot build a strong-enough coalition to pass the bill with a majority in both of Japan's legislative houses, he may be able to take advantage of a constitutional clause to force the law into effect. The Asahi Shimbun reports that Chief Cabinet Secretary Kaoru Yosano offered one option to Abe that may allow him to out maneuver his opponents.

[Mr.] Yosano touched upon a constitutional provision that allows legislation to be passed into law even if the Upper House votes it down. If the legislation is resubmitted to the Lower House and passed with the support of two-thirds of the attending members, it becomes law.
Since the ruling coalition controls about two-thirds of the seats in the Lower House, that possibility cannot be ruled out.
"There is no need to think too dramatically about the possibility of using that provision," Yosano said. "I believe it is a constitutional provision that should be used in a normal manner."

US officials are urging Abe's opponents to continue Japan's support role in Afghanistan. The Financial Times reports that President George W. Bush has publicly described Japan's role as "absolutely essential" to the Afghan effort.

During talks at the regional Apec summit in Sydney, Mr Bush told Shinzo Abe, Japan's prime minister, that Japanese tanker ships had an "absolutely essential" role in refueling coalition vessels in the Indian Ocean.
Jim Jeffrey, US deputy national security adviser, said the US would be "very, very concerned" if Japanese support disappeared, and urged Mr Abe's opponents to "rethink their position".

Abe's struggle to push the Afghan support measure through the Japanese legislature reflect his waning base of support. China's Xinhua News Agency reports that even before his recent showdown over Afghanistan, many people in Japan wanted the prime minister to resign.

Abe has been under the pressure to quit the post among a series of scandals involving his Cabinet ministers earlier this year, especially after his party's failure to maintain majority in the upper house election in July. The Cabinet reshuffle he then led late last month apparently hasn't improved the situation much, with a farm minister resigned over fund scandal in less a week after assuming post.

Since Abe's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) lost control of the parliament in July's election, people have been calling for him to step down. At the time, The Christian Science Monitor reported that Abe said he would resist pressure to resign.

Despite facing a loss of his parliamentary majority, Abe told Japan's Public Television network, NHK, that he is determined to continue his efforts to revise Japan's pacifist Constitution and reform its educational system to reflect more patriotic views of Japanese history.
"The nation-building has just started," Abe told a television reporter. "I would like to deliver on my duty to proceed with reform."
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