My Japanology / Patient, kind host father helped envoy bridge language divide

Yoshikazu Okunishi/The Yomiuri Shimbun

Ambassador Asad Majeed Khan talks in an interview with The Japan News on Monday at the Pakistan Embassy in Minato Ward, Tokyo.

The Japan News Since being born out of the partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947, Pakistan has faced many upheavals in terms of its domestic politics and security environment. Pakistan’s ambassador to Japan, Asad Majeed Khan, who emphasizes the Pakistani people’s special fondness for Japan, discussed the relationship between the two nations and the challenges Pakistan is facing.

Q: When did you come to Japan for the first time?

Khan: I arrived in Japan on Sept. 5, 1990. I came to Japan as a language trainee on the invitation of the Japan Foundation. I stayed at Nihongo Kokusai Center [The Japan Foundation Japanese-Language Institute] in Urawa, Saitama Prefecture. I was part of the Japan Foundation program, which was specifically meant for diplomats from the developing countries. I had 16 other classmates from different countries from the developing world.

Q: Why did you choose the Japanese language?

A: In the 1990s Japan was the second-largest economy in the world, and for Pakistan Japan was one of the largest aid donors. It was an important trading partner, and also a major investor. So for us, this was a very, very important relationship. And globally also, Japan and the Japanese development experience was seen as a role model by many countries. So I chose Japan because of these considerations. In our system, obviously people go for French, Spanish or Arabic, so Japanese is not a normal choice.

Q: What was your first impression of Japan when you started living here?

A: People are very friendly, the country and the streets are very clean — these are the two overwhelming impressions that I found. And the third one, which took perhaps a little while, was the discipline and patience of the Japanese people.

I remember my first homestay. My host father knew very, very little English. And I knew very, very little Japanese. I stayed with him for two days. On the first night, throughout the entire night, we were talking to each other through a dictionary. And he really explained everything to me with a lot of patience. It was not just him. I did subsequent homestays also, and I generally found people to be extremely, extremely helpful.

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  • Yoshikazu Okunishi / The Yomiuri Shimbun

    Ambassador Khan speaks in an interview on Monday.

Like, at a railway station, if I am not sure about the train that I need to take and I ask somebody, they will guide me to not just the platform but also right into the train. So this was something which really impressed me a lot.

Q: Do you think Japan has changed since then? Or is there continuity?

A: When I was driving into Tokyo — I left Tokyo in 1998 and had never come back to Japan — the first thing that looked different was the skyline. There were not as many high buildings at that time as there are now. The second thing that I noticed after some time was the number of foreign tourists. It was not like this [before].

I think another thing that has changed is the greater visibility of women in politics in Japan. I think when I was here last time, there was Takako Doi-san [former speaker of the House of Representatives].

But now you have [more] prominent woman politicians, not only in opposition parties, but also within the [ruling] Liberal Democratic Party. And [there are female bureaucrats] in very high positions also, which is very refreshing.

Q: While living in Japan, do you find any difficulties in terms of your life with your family?

A: Not really. I say this very honestly. I think Japan is sugoku sumiyasui tokoro da to omoimasu [a place that is very comfortable to live in]. Of course, language is an issue for those who do not speak Japanese. But I started Japanese learning the day I arrived here, so for me, that has never been an issue. Other than that, the friendliness of the people, the availability of facilities, everything is organized, everything is predictable. And, frankly, as a diplomat, I never experienced any discrimination. So I have always felt very comfortable and at home in Japan.

Q: Are there enough halal restaurants in Tokyo?

A: Well, now there are many. In the 1990s there were only three restaurants in almost all of Tokyo which had halal food. But now, I think there is this halal food boom in Japan. The other day, I actually went to a halal yakiniku [barbecue restaurant]. And I was told that there are halal ramen shops, which was frankly unthinkable.

Centuries-old relationship

Q: What do you do in your free time?

A: I would love to do many things, but since I came I have been to Pakistan twice already for official consultations. I did not get as much time in Japan as I would like to. I like hiking, I like going up a mountain. I have done all of Kamakura [last time]. This is one thing [I want to do this time].

The second thing I want to do is to go deeper into the history of Pakistan and Japan’s relations. I have gathered almost all the books of those who have served [from Pakistan] in Tokyo or those who have served from Japan in Pakistan — that part is still not properly done. That is something that I want to do.

Q: A sort of research project?

A: A sort of research to get a picture of the relationship, not just between countries, but between peoples. Pakistan is a young country; we got our independence in 1947. But our relationship with Japan as people is centuries old.

I was at the Tokyo National Museum. If you go to a display section, you see a lot of artifacts [related to Buddhism] from the Gandhara area. These artifacts are from that part of Pakistan. Of course, the part is [in many cases] described as a part of India. But there was a deep historical cultural connection [between Gandhara and Japan], particularly in the context of the spread of Buddhism, and that all came from [the area around what is now] Peshawar that is close to Islamabad.

Q: How does the general Pakistani public see Japan?

A: I have been dealing with Japanese friends now for almost 30 years. And those who have served in Karachi, Islamabad or in any other parts of Pakistan always come back with very good memories of Pakistan, and they always are treated with great warmth and affection. I think that defines Pakistan’s attitude toward Japanese people.

Frankly, I think this is unique in subcontinent, because in our relationship, history is an asset. In South Asia, particularly in Pakistan, we always saw Japan as a country which was fighting the Western imperialism, so there was some affection. And as Japan is the first Asian country to achieve that level of development, there was always a desire to basically emulate the Japanese role model and Japanese development experience.

As we started our business relations also, you created a reputation as a people who were fair in their dealings, who would engage in honest transactions, provide good quality materials and your business was trustworthy. So this all, I would say, underpins our attitude and our goodwill toward the people of Japan.

Q: Do you think the Japanese general public properly understands Pakistan?

A: I would say that those who have served in Pakistan or those who have had an occasion to travel to Pakistan have a very different view of Pakistan than those who have never been to Pakistan. Obviously they are influenced by these stereotypes projected by the media.

So the impression that many Japanese have of Pakistan is positive, if you compare that with the average Westerner’s. Your impression of Pakistan is perhaps better, but still, it is influenced by that common stereotype, and that needs to be corrected.

Understanding industrial scene

Q: What kind of bilateral relationship does Pakistan need to forge with Japan?

A: I think the anchor of our relationship has always been and still should be a very strong and mutually beneficial trade and investment relationship. I think another area where our two countries, particularly Pakistan, can benefit a lot is human resource development and education. My own career is a very good example of how we can benefit from Japan in the field of education. And, frankly, as Pakistan’s ambassador, my top priority will be to work on creating education, science and technology as a key pillar of the relationship.

I think there is a natural complementarity between Japan and Pakistan. Yours is a population which is aging, and in Pakistan we have a huge young population. And the quality of our human resources is also rated very highly. So I will be very much interested in exploring avenues and opportunities that would allow us to benefit from your cutting-edge technologies, from your good educational institutions and universities, for undertaking joint research.

The second important aspect that I feel needs attention is the Japanese experience and understanding of the industrial scene in Pakistan. Of all the G-7 countries, Japan knows Pakistan’s manufacturing the best. You have one of the oldest industrial presences in Pakistan.

We see that the economic situation in Pakistan has changed for the better. Last year witnessed the lowest number of terrorist incidents. I know that our friends in Japan have a concern for security, but the security has improved remarkably, as has our economic conditions.

Concerns over ‘strategic balance’

Q: Japan, the United States and India have strengthened their cooperation in the field of maritime security. For example, the Malabar exercise was held in the Bay of Bengal in July. How do you see this framework?

A: It is our hope that this and other arrangements that countries are forging are able to contribute to the promotion of peace and stability, and do not in any way contribute to the increase in polarization. I’m talking specifically of the exercises. It is a sovereign right of every country to choose the measures and options that they want to undertake. But I can certainly say that for us what is really important is that this should contribute to the promotion of peace and security and should not disturb the strategic balance in the region, and also further disturb the conventional balance in terms of arms supplies and military assistance. That larger balance in South Asia needs to be kept in mind, because if that is maintained, that is what helps keep the peace and security of the region.

Q: India is increasing its defense ties with the United States.

A: That is precisely what I just said. Of course, it is for India to choose because it’s sovereign, and I cannot sit in judgment on what they decide for themselves. But our security concerns are aggravated, because India is now the largest defense buyer in the world. This is adversely impacting the conventional balance in South Asia.

It’s unfortunate that India is resorting to escalatory tactics, has refused to engage with Pakistan in a dialogue, and has shunned our peace overtures. The violation of human rights in the Indian-held Kashmir and the reign of terror that they have unleashed there is all linked to that added sense of confidence that they have in terms of having that balance tilted in their favor. I think this is where the international community must bear in mind the consequences of pushing the balance too far, so that India is convinced on the importance of engaging and of dialogue to resolve the conflicts, including the dispute in Kashmir.

Q: What is Pakistan’s view on North Korea, which is currently promoting its nuclear and missile program?

A: We have condemned their nuclear explosions. We have expressed clear concern over their missile tests. We have urged them to comply with the Security Council resolutions. And we have urged all parties to find a peaceful resolution through dialogue. This is broadly what our position on North Korea is, and on the larger peace and security in the Korean peninsula.

Q: Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, considered to be the father of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb, had reportedly transferred nuclear enrichment technology to Pyongyang in the past. How do you see this report?

A: It was not just him. Obviously, it was a huge cartel which involved citizens of different countries and individuals. It was a big list.

It’s a past and closed transaction — we have moved on. Pakistan is in compliance with all the requirements that various supplier regimes have. We have put in place adequate checks, and we are complying with the safety and security protocols. I think we have moved on, and want the world also to move on, and leave that as a sad episode of the past.

Q: What kind of role does Pakistan want to play in the world?

A: We want to be a force for peace, prosperity and development. We also would like to contribute to promoting regional connectivity in our part of the world. Today we see that the world is drifting apart, and that multilateralism is under a lot of pressure. We would like to use whatever influence we have to move to a place where countries can come together and resolve their issues and disputes through dialogue and consultations.

This interview was conducted by Japan News Deputy Editor Susumu Arai.

■ Profile

Born in 1963, Ambassador Asad Majeed Khan joined Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1988. After choosing Japanese as his career language, he earned his doctorate in international economic and business law from Kyushu University in Fukuoka Prefecture. He served as deputy chief of mission at the Pakistani Embassy in Washington, and additional foreign secretary in charge of the United States. He came to Japan as ambassador in July.Speech

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