In his life and death, Nakamura’s campaign for peace in Afghanistan
Dr. Tetsu Nakamura, a Japanese doctor who dedicated his life to improving lives in war torn Afghanistan, was killed in a brutal attack on Dec. 4 as he was on his way to his workplace in Jalalabad, capital of the Nangarhar province. Three of his bodyguards, the driver and one of his colleagues were also killed in the attack.
No one has yet claimed responsibility and the Taliban have announced they had nothing to do with the brutal assault on one of Afghanistan’s greatest benefactors.
Nakamura was a legend in his lifetime. For over three decades he worked relentlessly in the service of Afghans -- first by treating people with leprosy and then by turning his attention to improving the canal irrigation systems in Eastern Afghanistan. Over one million people in the Nangarhar region benefited from the improved irrigation systems that he helped introduce.
His death caused an uproar of protests across Afghanistan, particularly in the Nangarhar area. Many believe they have lost their most dedicated humanitarian activist, one who epitomized selfless service to humanity and to those in distress.
Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed his shock over the death of Nakamura. President Ghani and many Afghan leaders expressed their revulsion and indignation over the tragic killing of the legendary activist who had campaigned for peace and progress. The UN mission in Afghanistan issued a statement condemning the attack on a person who had generated such love and affection among millions of Afghans. There was an outpouring of sympathy for the great humanist and benefactor of the Afghan nation.
Nakamura was a medical doctor from southwestern Japan who moved to Peshawar in 1984 and began to provide treatment to patients suffering from leprosy –both Afghan refugees and the local population. Soon, he moved to Afghanistan and established as many as ten clinics across the country under the auspices of an NGO that he established called ‘Peace Medical Services.’
Nakamura was a courageous individual who believed in what he used to say: that befriending people was the best safeguard to continue his noble mission.
Rustam Shah Mohmand
Having rendered invaluable services to those needing free treatment and suffering from leprosy, Nakamura realized that hundreds of thousands of poor farmers faced the problem of inadequate irrigation water which was ruining their crops and affecting livelihoods. He began to consider what could be done to alleviate the suffering of those who depended on their farm produce for survival.
Nakamura borrowed Japanese technology in digging canals and making small dams and undertook the task of laying down a sound, workable system of building irrigation channels to convert arid land into fertile valleys. With unmatched dedication, and disregarding threats to the lives of foreigners, he launched his project of providing canal water to farm land in the Nangarhar province. The vast desert known as Gamber was converted into a lush green forest and productive wheat farm land. This conversion from desert to farm land with a supply of water on a regular basis, changed the entire complexion of the area and of its people.
For his services to humanity, Nakamura won the Ramon Magsaysay Award — widely regarded as the equivalent of an Asian Nobel Prize. He was also honored by the Afghan Government when President Ghani conferred honorary Afghan citizenship on him for his services to impoverished Afghans.
All these years that he lived in Afghanistan, the country confronted an insurgency. Millions of people had left the country to seek refuge. Security was a major issue. It is remarkable that despite it all, Nakamura stayed. He continued his humanitarian work in an environment that could not have more unconducive, he faced danger, confronted challenges and ignored threats to his life.
In a country where institutions and systems did not function, where the hazards to his life were constant, where technical expertise was not forthcoming, where government support was lacking and where the burden of work was enormous, Nakamura excelled by rare devotion to his work. He was a courageous individual who believed in what he used to say: that befriending people was the best safeguard to continue his noble mission.
Afghans used to call him Murad Kaka or Uncle Murad out of love and respect. Perhaps no other humanitarian aid worker has aroused such deep love, affection and respect from such a wide range of people across the country.
Nakamura will be greatly missed. He will be remembered for years to come as one of the greatest and most motivated crusaders in the path of peace and in service of humanity. His life and achievements will remain a beacon for many not only in Afghanistan, but also across the world.
– Rustam Shah Mohmand is a specialist of Afghanistan and Central Asian Affairs. He has served as Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan and also held position of Chief Commissioner Refugees for a decade.