Speech by Mr. Mutsuyoshi Nishimura
Ambassador in charge of Afghan Aid Coordination
At Wilton Park Conference on Afghanistan

October 25th, 2002

It is a great pleasure for me to be here this evening and to share some thoughts with you in this important forum.

As co-sponsor of this conference, allow me to express on behalf of the GOJ, our gratitude to the other co-sponsor, the government of the UK.

I also wish to pay tribute to the organizer of the Wilton Park conference for making possible this all-important seminar on Afghanistan. Afghanistan of today deserves Wilton Park. We applaud your vision.

Today we have the pleasure to have amongst us, you, Minister Abdullah Abdullah, despite your busy schedule. In fact, if we make your life very much congested, it is because GOJ is inviting you to Japan right after this conference.

I deeply admire the courage and devotion exhibited by you and your government to pursue the path of peace and national unity, when so many forces are working against this objective. I applaud you for your commitment.

I must admit that I am a newcomer to the issues, and perhaps what I can best share with you today is newcomers' perspective; a perspective from somebody looking at these issues with a bit of fresh eyes, an objective viewpoint possibly.

I have made several trips by now to Afghanistan, and my overall impression is all positive. I am, in fact, rather optimistic about your future.

Upon my first arrival back in August, I was quite surprised to find a flurry of human activity. Everywhere people were on the move, brisk trading, traffic congestions, and lots of activity everywhere.

Despite the stress that comes with deprivation, I noticed that people seldom shout or quarrel. Afghans, I witnessed were engrossed in creating new opportunities through innovation and resourcefulness.

Even little kids are doing good job. One little boy fashioned a sliced carrot to sell it with his own unique value-added.

Another boy, this time in Kandahar, approached me with his value-added product: a plastic sack filled with goat's milk cheese. He was a roaming cheese maker. As I looked at his product, I could not help but be impressed with these enterprising children as they ran bare-footed through the dust and ruins, marketing their value-added goods.

Another testimony of the Afghan spirit was offered by a Japanese construction engineer who participated in the "Back to School" project for more than 8 months. He observed an enormous absorption capacity in most ordinary Afghan workers. They are eager to learn new things and ready to work hard. He said it is almost inconceivable how small Afghan companies get construction materials just in time, seemingly out of nowhere.

Mr. Hiroshi Takahashi offered yet another window to Afghanistan. Many of you may know this Dari-speaking, Kabul University graduate. As a Japanese diplomat who served until recently as a close aide to Ambassador Brahimi, he confided that most compelling moment during his 30-year experience with Afghanistan came when he visited the Zabul and Uruzgan villages. He asked villagers a simple question - what they wanted the most. To his surprise, they replied the same answer- education for their children.

It was the most moving moment of his long stay in Afghanistan, he said, because the villagers were widely believed to be the staunchest traditionalists and ultra-conservatives in the entire country. So, for them to say with one voice, that their greatest goal is to have their children educated, signals that something new is afoot.

It is on the basis of these observations that I am indeed hopeful.

Of course, Afghans face a myriad of challenges. Everyone knows it. The total destruction. People lost everything. Almost all productive infrastructure is damaged beyond repair. Security continues to be a paramount concern. Poppy production is a huge worry. Capital formation, tax collection, international finance, possible fight against inflation are just some of the challenges we are facing.

Yet, we are confident that with the close partnership between the Afghan Government and people and the international community, we can ultimately achieve our shared goal, which is to realize the aspirations of the Afghan people to live in peace and human dignity.

I still remember what one of my friends told me sometime ago. Standing in front of some ruins, an Afghan woman's determination shown through when she said, "We have lost everything except for these ruins. But at least they are our ruins. All we need is peace so that we can work on these ruins with our own hands".

I think all of us here, we are partners with Afghanistan. But in my mind, when I say we are partners with you, sir, Mr. Minister, I also feel that I am in partnership with that Afghan woman, that enterprising cheese-maker and those old villagers who wish to have their kids learn new things. For they represent, in my view, the three most important elements on the road to a national progress----self-help, entrepreneurship, and readiness to know new things.

For all these reasons, I feel I am confident of our success in our common endeavour, endeavour which we started a year ago. This endeavour must succeed if we are to realize the aspiration of the Afghan people which we share. This endeavour must succeed if we are to win this war against poverty and terror.

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