Japan resumes Afghan war role

Japan is to resume its role in the war in Afghanistan after its government on Friday forced through a Bill extending a controversial refuelling mission.

The move brought to an end months of political deadlock, and relieved friction with Washington over its commitment to the so-called war on terror.

Japanese ships were forced to withdraw from the Indian Ocean last November after the opposition Democratic party used its majority in the upper house to block an extension to the mission.

The Democrats’ leader, Ichiro Ozawa, whose party made huge gains in parliamentary elections last July, said the dispatch lacked a United Nations mandate and violated Japan’s pacifist Constitution, which severely curtails its involvement in overseas conflicts.

But the Prime Minister, Yasuo Fukuda, said involvement in the Afghan war was critical to Japan’s international standing.

”The refuelling mission is Japan’s effort to do as much as it can,” he said after the Bill passed by 340 votes to 133. ”It is truly significant that Japan can rejoin the fight against terrorism.”

US officials, who had been irritated by the withdrawal of a key member of its self-styled ”coalition of the willing”, welcomed the move.

”The US appreciates the fact that the Japanese government has taken this important step in support of the international community’s efforts to create a stable and democratic Afghanistan,” the US ambassador to Tokyo, Thomas Schieffer, said.

”Terrorism is the bane of our time. By passing this legislation, Japan has demonstrated its willingness to stand with those who are trying to create a safer, more tolerant world.”

In an attempt to boost public support for the mission, the measures passed will limit Japanese ships to refuelling vessels that are not directly involved in the conflict in Afghanistan.

The Liberal Democratic party and its junior coalition partner, New Komeito, took the unusual step of using their huge majority in the more powerful lower house to push through the extension, just hours after it had been rejected by the upper house.

It was the first time for more than half a century that a Japanese administration had used its constitutional right to override an upper house decision by a minimum two-thirds majority.

The Defence Minister, Shigeru Ishiba, ordered the immediate mobilisation of the refuelling fleet, which is expected to leave port by the end of the month. Over the past six years Japanese ships have supplied almost 500-million litres of fuel to US, British and other warships.

Opponents of the mission accused the government of abusing its lower house majority, gained in 2005 during the popular premiership of Junichiro Koizumi.

”The most recent will of the people is reflected in the upper house,” the Democrats’ secretary general, Yukio Hatoyama, said. – Guardian Newspapers Limited 2008

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