Pakistan bearing brunt of climate crisis, PM tells UNGA

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Urges global leaders to ‘act now’ on climate change; Criticises India’s serial brutalisation of Kashmiris ; Asks UN to take ‘concrete measures’ against Islamophobia

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, in his address to the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York on Friday, highlighted Pakistan’s plight due to the flooding crisis caused by global climate change, and urged global leaders to come together and “act now” before it’s too late.

At the outset of his speech, the prime minister said the purpose of his speech was to explain the scale and magnitude of the climate catastrophe that has put one third of Pakistan in a situation that “no one had seen in living memory”.

“For 40 days and 40 nights, biblical flood poured on us. Even today, huge swathes of the country are still underwater. 33 million people including women, and children are at high risk of health hazards. More than 1,500 of my people have gone from the world including 400 children. Far more are in peril.”

He noted that Pakistan had never seen such a devastating example of global warming. “Life in Pakistan has changed forever.”

The premier said people in the country were asking for reasons for the destruction caused. “The undeniable truth is that the calamity has not been triggered by anything we have done,” he said.

“It is time to ask why… time to ask what must be done. Our forests are burning. More heatwaves are coming. We had a monster monsoon. It was the monsoon on steroids as was described by the UN secretary-general. Pakistan emits less than 1 per cent of greenhouse gases.”

The prime minister said the impact on the health and wealth of Pakistan was beyond calculation at this point.

“So my real worry, is about the next stage of this challenge. When the cameras leave, and the story just shifts away to conflicts like the Ukraine, my question is, will we be left alone, to cope with a crisis we did not create?” he asked.

He stated that the future was “dimmed by new fragility, lost homes, decimated livelihoods, deluged croplands, permanent food insecurity and exposure to uncertain futures”.

“Some 11 million people will be pushed further below the poverty line, while others will drift to cramped urban shelters, leaving little room for climate-smart rebuilding.”

The prime minister detailed the measures taken by his government, saying: “We have mobilized all available resources towards the national relief effort, and repurposed all budget priorities including development funds, to the rescue and first-order needs of millions.”

The premier said the country’s manpower and resources were totally overwhelmed. “The question to raise here though is quite a simple one. Why are my people paying the price of such high global warming through no fault of their own?”

“Nature has unleashed her fury on Pakistan without looking at our carbon footprint, which is next to nothing. Our actions did not contribute to this,” he reiterated.

The PM said the dual costs of global inaction and climate injustice were having a crippling effect on both our treasury and our people.“

“It is high time we took a pause from the preoccupations of the 20th century to return to the challenges of the 21st. The entire definition of national security has changed today, and unless the leaders of the world come together to act now behind minimum agreed agenda, there will be no earth to fight wars over. Nature will be fighting back, and for that humanity is no match.”

He said Pakistan’s urgent priority right now was to ensure rapid economic growth and lift millions out of destitution and hunger. To enable any such policy momentum, he said, Pakistan needed a stable external environment.

Talking about the regional situation, PM Shehbaz said Pakistan was seeking peace with all its neighbours, including India. “Sustainable peace and stability in South Asia, however, remains contingent upon a just and lasting solution of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute.”

He said India’s illegal and unilateral actions of 5th August 2019, to change the internationally recognised “disputed” status of Jammu and Kashmir undermined the prospects of peace and inflamed regional tensions.

India’s relentless campaign of repression against Kashmiris has continued to grow in scale and intensity, he said, adding New Delhi had ramped up its military deployments in occupied Jammu and Kashmir to 900,000 troops, thus making it the most militarised zone in the world.

“The serial brutalisation of Kashmiris takes many forms: extrajudicial killings, incarceration, custodial torture and death, indiscriminate use of force, deliberate targeting of Kashmiri youth with pellet guns, and ‘collective punishments’ imposed on entire communities.”

The premier said India was trying to turn the Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir into a Hindu-majority territory, through illegal demographic changes.

“Millions of fake “domicile certificates” have been issued to non-Kashmiris; Kashmiri land and properties are being seized; electoral districts have been gerrymandered; and over 2.5m non-Kashmiri illegal voters fraudulently registered. All this is in blatant violation of Security Council resolutions and international law,” he rued.

For our part, he said, the Pakistani people had always stood by its “Kashmiri brothers and sisters” in complete solidarity, and will continue to do so until their right to self-determination was fully realized in accordance with the relevant UN Security Council resolutions.

While apprising the session of Pakistan’s “consistent commitment to peace in South Asia”, he said India must take credible steps to create enabling environment for constructive engagement.

“It should demonstrate its sincerity and willingness, to walk the path of peace and dialogue by reversing its illegal steps of 15 August 2019, and ending forth-with, the process of demographic change.”

Discussing the Afghanistan’s situation, the premier said the neighbouring country was facing a unique challenge. “Around 30 million Afghans are left without a functional economy and banking system that allows ordinary Afghans to make a living to be able to build a better future.”

He said Pakistan was working to encourage respect for the rights of Afghan girls and women to education and work.

Yet, at this point, isolating the Afghan Interim Government could aggravate the suffering of the Afghan people, who are already destitute, he stressed.

He maintained that Pakistan had a vital stake in peace and stability in Afghanistan. “We must avoid another civil war, rising terrorism, drug trafficking or new refugees — which none of Afghanistan’s neighbours are in a position to accommodate.”

He urged the international community to respond in a positive way to the UN secretary-general’s appeal for $4.2 billion in humanitarian and economic assistance to Afghanistan and release the country’s financial reserves, essential to revive its banking system.

The prime minister said that Pakistan shared the key concern of the international community regarding “the threat posed by the major terrorist groups operating from Afghanistan, especially ISIL-K and TTP as well as Al-Qaida, ETIM and IMU”.

“They all need to be dealt with comprehensively, with the support and cooperation of the Interim Afghan authorities,” he said, while urging the international community that, in turn, it should address Afghanistan’s “dire humanitarian needs”.

He highlighted that Pakistan was the principal victim of terrorism. “Over the last two decades, we have suffered more than 80,000 casualties and over $150 billion in economic losses due to terrorist attacks.”

He, however, added that the country’s armed forces had broken the back of terrorism within Pakistan. Yet, we continue to suffer terrorist attacks from across our borders, sponsored and financed by our regional adversary, he added.

The premier also discussed Islamophobia, saying it was a “global phenomenon”. “Since 9/11, suspicion and fear of Muslims and discrimination against them have escalated to epidemic proportions,” he said.

The officially sponsored campaign of oppression against India’s over 200 million Muslims is the worst manifestation of Islamophobia, he said, as he detailed that they were subjected to discriminatory laws and policies, hijab bans, attacks on mosques, and lynchings by Hindu mobs.

“I am particularly concerned by the calls for ‘genocide’ against India’s Muslims by some extremist groups.”

He recalled that the UNGA had earlier this year adopted a landmark resolution, introduced by Pakistan on behalf of the OIC, designating 15 March as the International Day to Combat Islamophobia.

It is my sincere hope that this should lead to concrete measures by the UN and Member States to combat Islamophobia and promote interfaith harmony, he said.

He called upon the nations of the world to take a step back from the precipice. “We must restore peace in Europe, avoid a war in Asia and resolve festering conflicts across the world. We must revive the vision which created the United Nations, a vision which is often blurred by national interests and hegemonic designs,” the premier noted.

 

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