UN boss Guterres praises Pakistan, urges world to look 'through a wider frame'

Web Desk
February 16, 2020

UNSG Antonio Guterres said Pakistan was the world's second-biggest host to refugees and 'is a trustworthy and benevolent nation'

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United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres (L) and Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi (R) speak during a joint press conference at the Foreign Ministry in Islamabad, Pakistan, February 16, 2020. AFP/Aamir Qureshi

ISLAMABAD: United Nations Secretary-General (UNSG) Antonio Guterres praised Pakistan during a press conference alongside Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi on Sunday evening and urged the world to step back and look at the country "through a wider frame".

Thanking Prime Minister Imran Khan for his invitation, Guterres said: "It is a pleasure to be back to Pakistan. It is time for the world to step back and look at Pakistan through a wider frame."

Pakistan, he added, was the world's second-biggest host to refugees. "It is a trustworthy and benevolent nation," he said, adding that he was in Islamabad to highlight the same to the world.

"Here in Pakistan, we see solidarity in action," he said. "Despite Pakistan's own challenges, it has protected afghan refugees with the limited support from international community.

"One can imagine how unstable the region might be without Pakistan’s stellar contribution," he noted, stressing, however, that the Afghan refugees should return respectfully to their own country.

To a question on whether the refugees would agree to repatriation, the UNSG said it was "very important to respect the principles". It would be done "through reconstruction [and] making the road map to allow a safe return of Afghans".

"Now, the biggest effort needs to be made in Afghanistan and I support international community to create conditions for the effective repatriation of refugees," he added.

The UN boss said the global body was thankful to Pakistan's peacekeepers. "I am grateful to the UNMOGIP [United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan] in Kashmir," Guterres added.

In response to practical steps on Kashmir on what was stopping the UN to ensure its observers were given a free control, Guterres said: "I have offered my good offices in relation to the dispute. I visited UNMOGIP and we believe it should have complete freedom of movement."

He further noted that he exchanged thoughts with Qureshi on security situation in South Asia and that mediation, as well as talks, were the only solution to regional conflicts. "Pakistan's success has been remarkable and everyone should support Pakistan," he added.

Towards the end, Guterres said he was aware of Pakistan's "important" Afghan peace efforts. "It shows Pakistan's commitment to peace," he noted.

He added that he looked forward to visiting Nankana Sahib and the "rest of my visit".

'Pendulum has swung'

Meanwhile, Qureshi termed his meeting with Guterres as "the most interesting and revolving [one] so far".

"Thank you for being here. You have recognised the contributions Pakistan has made. Your personal efforts and institutional efforts are recognised," the foreign minister said. "We have to agree to a repatriation road map."

Noting that today's world was very challenging, he said Pakistan had always been supportive of the UN's system and that the country had excellent cooperation with it. "I have reiterated our support because we understand how important multilateralism is. We are committed to principles and objectives of UN charter," he said.

"We are also aware there are elements that give preference to unilateralism over multilateralism and that one [such] action was seen on August 5, 2019. We had a very candid discussion on Jammu and Kashmir and shared Pakistan’s concerns" on the matter, Qureshi stated.

"I have also pointed out the increasing ceasefire violations taking place post-August 5. Almost 200 days have gone by and the siege and lock-down continue and fundamental human rights are being denied," he added, expressing gratitude for Guterres' August 8 statement and reiterating the UN’s position on the international dispute.

"As a custodian of the UN charter, we have certain expectations. We discussed the efforts Pakistan has made to facilitate peace process. Today, we are being seen as part of the solution.

"There was a time when Pakistan was seen as part of problem but today the pendulum has swung. I discussed our strategy to achieve SDG [sustainable development goals] targets."

Responding to a reporter's question on the region, Qureshi said: "Pakistan has been sharing its concerns at every possible forum. In fact, today, what Pakistan is saying to the world on India is being endorsed by the world community."

Guterres urges India to respect human rights in Kashmir

Earlier in the day, the UNSG answered questions following a special talk on Sustainable Development and Climate change in Islamabad. He had urged India to respect human rights in Indian occupied Kashmir (IoK).

Guterres told the audience that "the UN has always emphasised on talks between Pakistan and India".

He stated that human rights should not only be respected in Kashmir but should be respected worldwide.

“The UN’s stance on human rights is very clear,” stated the UN chief, adding that he has thrown his support for a dialogue between the two nuclear states "many times".

Pakistan's 'vulnerability due to climate change'

Earlier in his speech, the UN chief said Pakistan, like other developing countries, faced "disproportionate vulnerability" due to climate change but "has contributed little" to it.

“In the past decade, Pakistan has lost some 10,000 lives to climate-related disasters, including 1200 who died due to a terrible heat wave in Karachi in 2015,” stated the UN chief to emphasis the threat the country faces from climate change.

Guterres told the audience that the Indus valley was vulnerable to flooding and coastal communities “face the prospect of being swamped by rising sea levels”. He also mentioned that Pakistan faces a locust emergency due to climate disruption.

“Global warming is leading to global swarming but the biggest worry for Pakistan is water,” stated the UN chief. He further said this was true for all the people of Central, South and East Asia, who rely on water from the Himalayas.

To highlight the threat, the UN chief spoke about the threat Pakistan’s agricultural sector faces due to water scarcity as it contributes towards 75% of Pakistan’s exports and produce 90% of the nation's food supply.

“They [farmer] depend on rainfall and irrigation from rivers fared by mountain glaciers,” stated the UN chief. He said 80% of Pakistan's water use is for agriculture which was under threat.

“Pakistan is one of the 15 most water-stressed countries in the world,” said the UN chief.

To highlight the gravity of the situation, Guterres told the audience that due to rising temperatures and melting glaciers “Pakistan’s goals for reducing poverty and guaranteeing food security” were also at risk.

However, he said Pakistan was not alone as the same story was “mirrored across the globe”. He spoke about the droughts in the Horn of Africa and the wild in US and Australia to highlight the global problem.

The UN chief stated that was he was constantly urging global leaders to act on climate change before it gets too late.

He deplored that after the success of Paris conference, the momentum against climate change had slowed and accepted that COP25 in Madrid was a “disappointment”.

In his speech, the UN secretary general commended Prime Minister Imran Khan for highlighting climate change in his speech at the UN General Assembly last year in September. He also congratulated Pakistan on becoming the co-chair of the green climate funds.

“I also welcome the initiatives such as the 10 billion tsunami campaign and the government clean and green Pakistan movement,” stated Guterres. The UN chief also shared that he was “extremely impressed” when he got to know that Islamabad had banned the use of plastic bags.

Pakistan’s embrace of SDGs lauded

While talking about Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the UN chief appreciated Pakistan for "embracing SDGs from the start".

The UN chief shared that by all UN member states five years ago accepted to implement the SDGS. He shared that the goals were “interlinked to end poverty in all forms and build societies that we will be proud to pass down to future generations .“

“Back in 2016 Pakistan was among the first nations to integrate the SDGs into its national development agenda, and recognise them as national development goals,” said Guterres while appreciating Pakistan.

He also lauded Pakistan for launching the National SDG framework in 2018 “to prioritise and localise the global goals throughout the country”.

The UN secretary general also accepted that poverty reduction was at the heart of Pakistan’s goal to leave no one behind.

“The national poverty alleviation programme titled Ehassas or compassion has been launched to expand social protection safety nets and support human development,” noted the UN chief. He also highlighted the Kamyab Jawan programme, which aims to create 10 million jobs in five years.

“The nation is seeing success in bringing down neo-natal mortality thanks in large part to lady health workers programme, which has brought a significant increase in skilled births attendance,” noted the UN chief.

However, the UN secretary general noted that the pace of change in Pakistan and elsewhere was not “fast enough”.

“In Pakistan you are grappling with major challenges relating to HIV and polio and environmental degradation as well as providing education and jobs in what is one of the youngest countries in the world, and globally the story is similar,” stated Guterres.

The UN chief told the audience that the world’s collective efforts were not approaching the scale required to achieve the SDGs by 2030.

“In fact, by some estimates we get to halve our goals at the current pace,” shared the Secretary General Guterres.

Guterres lauds Pakistan’s hospitality

Guterres also expressed gratitude towards the people and government of Pakistan over their heartfelt hospitality of the Afghan refugees of war.

The UN secretary-general made the remarks while meeting a delegation of Afghan refugees in Islamabad today. Representatives from Afghanistan, Yemen and Tajikistan were part of the delegation.

Speaking on the occasion, the UN chief said Pakistan was one of the largest refugee-hosting nations in the world. He added that 2.7 million refugees were residing in Pakistan with 2.4 million registered refugees affected by the Afghan war.

The secretary-general expressed gratitude to people and government of Pakistan over their heartfelt hospitality.

Guterres who arrived in Islamabad earlier today for a four-day visit will address the international conference on Afghan refugees titled “40 Years of Afghan Refugees Presence in Pakistan: A New Partnership for Solidarity.

The conference would be a recognition of Pakistan's "tremendous generosity" in hosting millions of refugees from Afghanistan over four decades, the UN chief’s spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told the regular noon briefing in New York. The conference will be inaugurated by Prime Minister Khan and is being organised by the Government of Pakistan and the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

Pakistan is one of the largest refugee-hosting nations in the world, home to an estimated 2.4 million registered and undocumented people who have fled Afghanistan, some as far back as the Soviet invasion of 1979.

Many live in camps, while others have built lives for themselves in Pakistan's cities, paying rent and contributing to the economy.

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