NEW YORK: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif Friday made an urgent appeal to the rich nations for “substantial” debt relief, as the catastrophic floods exacerbated by climate change had displaced millions of people across Pakistan.
In an interview with Bloomberg Television here, he said Pakistan had high debt obligations in the next two months. Shehbaz said his government had just signed an agreement with the International Monetary Fund with “very tough conditionalities” that included taxes on petroleum and electricity.
“We have spoken to the European leaders and other leaders to help us in the Paris Club to get us moratorium,” Sharif said, referring to the group of rich creditor nations. “Unless we get substantial relief, how can the world expect from us to stand on our own feet? It is simply impossible,” he added. He noted a “yawning gap” between what Pakistan was asking for and what was available, warning that the nation was facing the imminent threat of epidemics and other dangers.
“God forbid this happens, all hell will break loose,” he said. Shehbaz said he had spoken to the IMF and World Bank about immediate debt relief and would begin talks with China after the Paris Club.
He said floods in Pakistan, already reeling from depleted currency reserves and the highest inflation in decades, had affected 33 million people. The prime minister urged the international community to help out Pakistan considering its damages due to climate-induced disaster, with 1,500 deaths, including 400 children.
He pointed out that Pakistan fell victim to the climate change despite its less than one percent contribution to carbon emissions. “Today, it is Pakistan [suffering] and tomorrow any other country could be hit by the climate change,” he said.
To a question, he said Pakistan was in touch with energy-rich Russia regarding discussions over gas supplies as well as wheat imports after expected production losses due to the floods.
“Things will not come back to normal,” he said, stressing the need for assistance by other countries to help Pakistan rebuild its infrastructure as floods had inundated one-third of the land. “I need to put our economy back on the track. I need to put our millions of people back in the rooms, busy again with the ordinary life in agriculture, in industry and getting jobs back,” he said.
“Time is running, and we’re racing against time,” he added. “Please help us avoiding this disaster.” Shehbaz urged his countrymen back home to rise above their political differences and join hands in extending assistance to the flood-hit people.
“This is the real spirit of service to help our brothers and sisters in need by burying our differences,” he said. About prospects of improvement in relations with India, he said Pakistan believed that only peace could guarantee sustainable prosperity in South Asia. Peace, he said, could help the countries divert their resources towards the development of their people.
The prime minister, however, linked the improvement of ties with India with negotiations regarding the resolution of Kashmir dispute according to the aspirations of its people. Meanwhile, addressing the 77th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) session, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said Pakistan was willing to make peace with all its neighbouring countries, including India.
Pakistan wants “long-term” peace with India that is only possible through a “just and lasting” solution to the Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK).
“India must take credible steps to create an enabling environment for constructive engagement,” said the PM, adding that 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 forthwith, the process of demographic change.”
The prime minister said Kashmiris were facing extrajudicial killings, incarceration, custodial torture and death at the hands of Indian forces. He continued to say that India was seeking to turn Kashmir — a Muslim-majority region — into a Hindu-majority territory.
Hoping that the world body and UN Secretary-General António Guterres will play their role in urging India to implement the UN resolutions, Shehbaz said Pakistan will stand by Kashmiris “until their right to self-determination is fully realised in accordance with the relevant UN Security Council resolutions.”
Shehbaz also met with US President Joe Biden and thanked him for his sympathy and solidarity for the flood-hit people of Pakistan. During the meeting, held on the sidelines of the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly, the US president expressed condolences over hundreds of deaths and sympathised with the bereaved families, a PM Office press release issued on Friday said.
The prime minister particularly thanked the US president for his message to the international community for support to the flood-affected Pakistan. He also expressed gratitude to the US government and people over the visit of the USAID’s head to Pakistan as well as for sending the relief goods for flood survivors.
The US president resolved to continue supporting Pakistan amidst the difficult humanitarian situation, the press release added. Shehbaz also met with the UN Secretary General António Guterres and emphasized Pakistan’s extreme vulnerability to climate changes despite its minimal contribution to the global carbon emissions.
The meeting took place on the sidelines of the 77th Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).
The prime minister appreciated the secretary-general’s timely visit, affirming strong solidarity with Pakistan in the wake of floods. He thanked the secretary general’s strong push to mobilise international support and assistance for the affected people and also emphasized the need for concrete international action to mitigate the impacts of climate change on developing countries.
The secretary general committed to do everything possible to mobilise support for Pakistan. He said Pakistan deserved full and massive support from the international community.
The prime minister added that as the current Chair of the Group of 77 and China, Pakistan would work towards a common position on ways to secure accelerated implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals and environmental agreements and commitments.
He expressed gratitude for the support extended by the secretary general and the deputy secretary general in this area.
In the regional context, the prime minister highlighted the dire human rights situation in the Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir and expressed the hope that the secretary general will use his good offices to facilitate a just and peaceful solution to the dispute in accordance with the relevant Security Council resolutions.
The prime minster reaffirmed the importance attached by Pakistan to a peaceful, stable, and prosperous Afghanistan and stressed the need for the international community to work together to promote shared objectives.
Shehbaz also met with his Japanese counterpart Fumio Kishida and discussed matters of mutual interest. According to the Prime Minister’s Office, the meeting was held on the sidelines of the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly.