Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif made a passionate appeal to the world on Friday to undo the ‘climate injustice’ done to countries like Pakistan that make little contribution to global warming and yet face its worst consequences.
In his debut speech as prime minister at the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), the prime minister also offered an olive branch to India, saying peace in the “neighbourhood is necessary for progress and stability in the region.”
“Why are my people paying the price of such high global warming through no fault of their own?” PM Shehbaz asked.
“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 also talked about regional issues, like the Kashmir dispute and Afghanistan, but he remained focused on the sufferings caused by this year’s unprecedented rains and floods.
“As I stand here today to tell the story of my country, Pakistan, my heart and mind have not been able to leave home. No words can describe the shock we are living through or how the face of the country lies transformed,” he said.
He said he came to the UN to “explain first hand” the scale and magnitude of this climate catastrophe that has pushed one-third of the country under water in a super storm that no one has seen in living memory.
“For 40 days and 40 nights a flood of biblical proportions poured down on us, smashing centuries of weather records, challenging everything we knew about disaster, and how to manage it,” the prime minister said.
“Even today, huge swathes of the country are still under water, submerged in an ocean of human suffering. In this ground zero of climate change, 33 million people, including women and children, are now at high risk from health hazards, with 650,000 women giving birth in makeshift tarpaulins.”
The prime minister said Pakistan had “never seen a more stark and devastating example of the impact of Global Warming. Life in Pakistan has changed forever.
“People in Pakistan ask why, why has this happened to them? When global warming rips apart whole families and an entire country at this ferocious speed, it is time to ask why, and time to ask not what can be done but what MUST be done,” said PM Shehbaz while explaining how this calamity had affected hearts and minds in Pakistan.
“The undeniable and inconvenient truth is that this calamity has not been triggered by anything we have done,” he explained. “Our glaciers are melting fast, our forests are burning, and our heatwaves have crossed 53 degrees Celsius, making us the hottest place on the planet.”
The prime minister explained that this year’s deluge was not a solitary incident. “Now, we live through an unprecedented monster monsoon. It is literally a monsoon on steroids, as the UN secretary general described it most befittingly. One thing is very clear: what happened in Pakistan will not stay in Pakistan,” he warned.
Referring to another recent statement by the UN secretary general, he said that hotspots like Pakistan fall in the list of 10 most climate-vulnerable countries, but emit less than one percent of the greenhouse gasses that are burning the planet.
“It is, therefore, entirely reasonable to expect some approximation of justice for this loss and damage, not to mention building back better with resilience.”
Thanking the UN secretary general for visiting the flood-affected areas and those nations which sent help and their representatives to Pakistan, Prime Minister Shehbaz said: “Clearly, the time for talk about actions has passed.”
The prime minister also expressed the fear that once flood subsides, people may forget the victims. “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 said Pakistan’s urgent priority was to ensure rapid economic growth and lift millions out of destitution and hunger.
“We look for peace with all our 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, urging India to end this longstanding dispute by giving the inalienable right of self-determination to the people of held Kashmir.
Referring to India’s illegal and unilateral actions of 5th August 2019, he said India was seeking to turn the Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir into a Hindu-majority territory, through illegal demographic changes.
He said Pakistani people have always stood by their Kashmiri brothers and sisters in complete solidarity, and would continue to do so until their right to self-determination is fully realised in accordance with the relevant UN Security Council resolutions.
“India 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,” he said.
“Pakistan is a partner for peace. We want to have long-lasting and enduring peace with India. I will be most forthcoming and then sit down and talk to my Indian counterpart and pave the way forward for future so that our future generations do not suffer.”
The prime minister said Pakistan would also like to see an Afghanistan which was at peace with itself and the world, and “which respects and nurtures all its citizens, without regard to gender, ethnicity and religion”.
He said that 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.”
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; release Afghanistan’s financial reserves, essential to revive its banking system.
Prime Minister Shehbaz said that Pakistan shared the key concern of the international community regarding the threat posed by the major terrorist groups operating from Afghanistan, but stressed: “They all need to be dealt with comprehensively, with the support of the Afghan authorities.”
Condemning terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, the prime minister told the General Assembly that terrorism did not have a religion. “It is based on dogma, fuelled by poverty, deprivation, injustice and ignorance, and fanned by vested interests”.
He said Pakistan’s armed forces, with the support of its people, had broken the back of terrorism within the country yet it continued to suffer terrorist attacks from across the borders, sponsored and financed by the regional adversary.
Calling Islamophobia a global phenomenon, the prime minister told the General Assembly that since 9/11, suspicion and fear of Muslims and discrimination against them had escalated to epidemic proportions.
He said officially-sponsored campaign of oppression against India’s over 200 million Muslims was the worst manifestation of Islamophobia, who were subjected to discriminatory laws and policies, hijab bans, attacks on mosques, and lynching by Hindu mobs.
Reiterating Pakistan’s deep concerns over the numerous conflicts across the Middle East, including in Syria and Yemen, the prime minister said Pakistan supported all possible efforts to promote their peaceful resolution.
“We call on Israel to put an immediate end to the blatant use of force and flagrant violations of human rights of the Palestinian people,” he said.
“The only just, comprehensive and lasting solution is the acceptance of a viable, independent and contiguous Palestinian State.”
Security Council expansion
The prime minister said that the UN Security Council and the General Assembly must be empowered to play their respective roles under the UN Charter. He favoured UNSC expansion by adding 11 new non-permanent members to make it more representative.
“Adding new permanent members will paralyse the council’s decision-making, enlarge its representational deficit, and create new centres of privilege in violation of the principle of sovereign equality of member States,” he commented.
Calling for the nations to step back from the precipice, he urged the world to restore peace in Europe, avoid a war in Asia and resolve festering conflicts across the world. He added that Pakistan would work with all those committed to the UN Charter’s principles.