Japanese aid 'hero' shot dead in eastern Afghanistan after four decades of dedication

Japanese doctor Tetsu Nakamura poses with Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani. - via REUTERSJapanese doctor Tetsu Nakamura poses with Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani. - via REUTERS
Japanese doctor Tetsu Nakamura poses with Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani. – via REUTERS

When the Japanese humanitarian Dr Tetsu Nakamura was awarded Asia’s equivalent of the Nobel prize for his aid to Afghanistan and Pakistan, he vowed to continue sharing “life’s joys and sorrows with the local people”.

After four decades of devotion which seen him recently awarded honorary Afghan citizenship, he was yesterday shot dead in a killing triggering an outpouring of grief from his adoptive country, with many declaring him a hero.

The 73-year-old head of a Japanese aid charity was among six people killed when their vehicle was ambushed by unknown gunmen in the eastern border province of Nangarhar.

The attack was the latest killing of aid workers in a country where attacks on humanitarians are increasingly common as the conflict worsens and the civilian death toll mounts.

“We feel ashamed, Dr Nakamura. You have dedicated your life for Afghanistan, but we were not able to protect you,” said Rahmatullah Nabil, a former head of the Afghan spy agency.

A broken window of the attacked vehicle that was carrying Japanese doctor Tetsu Nakamura is seen in Jalalabad, Afghanistan December 4, 2019.REUTERS/Parwiz TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - Credit: ReutersA broken window of the attacked vehicle that was carrying Japanese doctor Tetsu Nakamura is seen in Jalalabad, Afghanistan December 4, 2019.REUTERS/Parwiz TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - Credit: Reuters
Tetsu Nakamura died alongside five colleagues when their vehicle was shot up by motorbike-riding gunmen in Jalalabad Credit: Reuters

Dr Nakamura led Peace Japan Medical Services which had been involved in rebuilding Afghan irrigation and agriculture in the east of the country.

“I am shocked that he had to die in this way,” Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, told a news conference in Tokyo.

“He risked his life in a dangerous environment to do various work, and the people of Afghanistan were very grateful to him,” he said.

Dr Nakamura had worked first in Pakistan and then in Afghanistan since the early 1980s. Originally from Fukuoka in Japan, he practised medicine in his homeland, but as a young doctor was drawn to mountaineering in the rugged borderlands of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

There he found people in dire medical need and beyond the reach of modern treatment. He quickly volunteered and at first treated leprosy sufferers in a Peshawar hospital and later set up clinics treating those affected by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. He latterly turned his attention to improving irrigation and water supplies.

In 2003, he was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award, widely considered to be the Asian equivalent of the Nobel peace prize. His citation praised his “his passionate commitment to ease the pain of war, disease, and calamity among refugees and the mountain poor”.

Zia Shinwari a colleague from Jalalabad, told the Telegraph Dr Nakamura had fallen in love with the country. “His whole life was to bring smiles to the faces of hopeless and helpless Afghans. He rehabilitated thousands of acres of agricultural land. Whenever he visited those lands he felt so proud and satisfied.”

The United Nations called the killing “a senseless act of violence against a man who dedicated much of his life to helping most vulnerable Afghans”. The Afghan government called it a “heinous act and a cowardly attack on one of Afghanistan’s greatest friends.”

There was no immediate claim of responsibility. The Taliban denied any involvement. Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef a former Taliban official, said Dr Nakamura’s killing was “an effort to push back progress in Afghanistan”. Nangarhar has been a stronghold of the Afghan branch of Islamic State group.

Afghan intelligence officers, who blame Pakistan for the Taliban-led insurgency, suggested Dr Nakamura may have been a victim of cross-border water tensions for his irrigation schemes along the Kunar river, but gave no evidence for their accusations.

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