UNITED NATIONS (TBEN) – According to the Pakistani prime minister, who says he came to the United Nations this year to tell the world that “tomorrow this tragedy may fall on another country.”
In an extensive interview with The The Bharat Express News, Shahbaz Sharif urged world leaders gathered for their annual General Assembly meeting to come together and raise resources “to build a resilient infrastructure, to build adaptation, so that our future generations are saved.”
The first estimate of losses to the economy from the three-month flood disaster is $30 billion, Sharif said, and he asked UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Thursday to hold a quick donor conference. The UN chief agreed, Sharif said.
“Thousands of miles of roads have been destroyed, washed away – railway bridges, railway lines, communications, underpasses, transportation. All this requires money,” Sharif said. “We need money to support our people.”
Sharif, brother of disgraced former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, took office in April after a week of unrest in Pakistan. He replaced Imran Khan, a cricketer turned politician who was one of the country’s most prominent leaders of the past generation and retains wide influence. Khan was ousted in a vote of no confidence after 3½ years in office.
While climate change likely caused up to 50% more rain in two provinces in southern Pakistan at the end of last month, global warming was not the biggest cause of the country’s catastrophic flooding, according to a new scientific analysis. Pakistan’s overall vulnerability, including people at risk, was the main factor.
But human-induced climate change “plays a really important role here too,” said senior author Friederike Otto, a climate scientist at Imperial College of London, earlier this month.
Be that as it may, Sharif said the impact on his country is huge. More than 1,600 people have died, including hundreds of children. Crops on 4 million hectares have been washed away. Millions of homes have been damaged or completely destroyed, and life-saving resources have been lost in the devastating floods caused by monsoon rains.
Depicting Pakistan as a victim of climate change exacerbated by actions by other countries, Sharif said Pakistan is responsible for less than 1% of the carbon emissions causing global warming. “We are,” said the Prime Minister, “a victim of something we have nothing to do with.”
He echoed the sentiments Friday afternoon when he addressed fellow leaders at the General Assembly and told them other places were next. “One thing is very clear,” he said. “What happened in Pakistan will not stay in Pakistan.”
MONEY AND FOOD
Even before the floods started in mid-June, Pakistan faced serious problems from grain shortages and skyrocketing crude oil prices, mainly caused by Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine and the war that followed. Sharif said skyrocketing prices have pushed oil imports “beyond our capacity” and – with the damage and destruction from the massive flooding – solutions have become “extremely difficult”.
Pakistan may need to import about a million tons of wheat due to the destruction of farmland. He said it could come from Russia, but the country is open to other offers. The country also needs fertilizer as factories involved in production are closed.
Sharif said the country “already has a very robust, transparent mechanism” to ensure that all relief supplies are delivered to those in need. In addition, he said, “I will make sure every penny is checked by a third party through international reputable companies.”
The Pakistani leader said he had met with top officials from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank and requested a moratorium on loan repayments and postponement of other terms until the flood situation improves.
“They sounded very supportive,” Sharif said, but stressed that delaying “could have major consequences” – both for the economy and for the Pakistani people.
RELATIONSHIPS WITH NEIGHBORS
One aspect of the grain purchase ties into one of Pakistan’s most existential problems: its relationship with neighboring India.
Would Pakistan consider buying grain from India if necessary? Sharif said the idea is hampered by “a legal bottleneck” – Kashmir, the Himalayan region claimed by both countries but divided between them. It was the center of two of the four wars India has fought with Pakistan and China.
“India is a neighbor and Pakistan would very much like to live as a peaceful neighbor with India,” Sharif said. “But there are certain conditions attached to it. India must understand that we will not be able to live in peace unless and until the burning question of Kashmir is resolved through peaceful talks… as peaceful neighbours, with the sincere intentions.
“And that’s a great shame and shame,” he said. “Because in this day and age we need our resources to feed, educate, provide jobs and health opportunities to our people. India cannot afford to spend money on buying ammunition and defense equipment. Pakistan can also not.”
On the other side of Pakistan, to the west, is Afghanistan – a place that shares geography, strategic interests and much ethnic heritage with the land of Sharif. Sharif said the Taliban rulers, who have been in power for a year, have “a golden opportunity to ensure peace and progress” for the people by adhering to the Doha agreement, which the previous more internationally-oriented government of the country signed with the administration of former US President Donald Trump in February 2020.
The Taliban must provide equal opportunities, including education for girls through college, employment opportunities for women, respect for human rights, and that requires the thawing of Afghan assets, the prime minister said.
The Doha agreement called on the United States to withdraw its troops, which current President Joe Biden did in a chaotic withdrawal when the Taliban took over the country in August 2021. The pact set out commitments the Taliban had to make to prevent terrorism, including obligations to renounce al-Qaida and prevent Afghan land from being used to plan attacks on the US or its allies as it was before 9/11.
If the Taliban signed the agreement, Sharif said, “they must respect it.”
“This is what the law-abiding, peace-loving international community, including myself, expects of them,” he said. “And let’s work in that direction together.”
Relations between Pakistan and the United States have fluctuated between strong and weak for more than a generation. After 9/11, the two allies opposed extremism, although, many argued, elements within the Pakistani military and government encouraged it.
Today, former Prime Minister Khan’s anti-US rhetoric has fueled anger at the United States in Pakistan in recent years and caused some setbacks in the ties.
In the interview, Sharif said his administration wants “good, warm relations” with the United States and will work with Biden to “eliminate any misunderstanding and confusion.”
In careful language that reflected his efforts to balance international and domestic constituencies, he sought to distance himself from Khan’s approach — affirming and restoring the kind of ties he said the people he represents would want.
“What the previous government did in this regard was highly inappropriate, was detrimental to Pakistan’s sovereign interests,” Sharif said. “It was definitely not in line with what ordinary Pakistanis would believe and expect.”
Edith M. Lederer is the UN’s chief correspondent for The The Bharat Express News and has covered international affairs for more than half a century. For more TBEN coverage of the UN General Assembly, visit (https://apnews.com/hub/united-nations-general-assembly.)(https://apnews.com/hub/united-nations-general assembly. )