In a wide-ranging interview with The Associated Press, Shahbaz Sharif called on world leaders gathered at their annual meeting at the General Assembly to come together and raise resources “to build resilient infrastructure, to build adaptation, to save our future generations.” .
The initial estimate of losses to the economy as a result of the three-month flood disaster is $30 billion, Sharif said, calling on UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Thursday to hold a donor conference quickly. The UN chief agreed, Sharif said.
“Thousands of kilometers of roads have been destroyed, washed away: railway bridges, railways, communications, underpasses, transportation. All of this requires funding,” Sharif said. “We need funds to provide livelihoods for our people.”
Sharif, the brother of ousted former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, took office in April after a week of turmoil in Pakistan. He replaced Imran Khan, a cricket star turned politician, who was one of the country’s most high-profile leaders of the last generation and retains wide influence. Khan was ousted in a motion of no confidence after three and a half years in office.
While climate change likely increased rainfall by up to 50% late last month in two southern Pakistani provinces, global warming was not the main cause of the country’s catastrophic flooding, according to a new scientific analysis. The general vulnerability of Pakistan, including people living in danger, was the main factor.
But human-caused climate change “also plays a very important role here,” says the study’s lead author, Friederike Otto, a climate scientist at Imperial College London. she told her earlier this month.
Whatever the case, Sharif said the impact on his country is immense. More than 1,600 people have died, including hundreds of children. Crops on 4 million acres have been wiped out. Millions of houses have been damaged or completely destroyed, and life savings have been wiped out in devastating floods from monsoon rains.
Framing Pakistan as a victim of climate change made worse by the actions of other nations, Sharif said Pakistan is responsible for less than 1% of the carbon emissions that cause global warming. “We are,” the prime minister said, “a victim of something we have nothing to do with.”
He echoed the sentiments on Friday afternoon when he addressed other leaders in the General Assembly, telling them that the next venues would be elsewhere. “One thing is very clear,” he said. “What happened in Pakistan will not stay in Pakistan.”
Even before the floods began in mid-June, Pakistan was facing serious challenges from grain shortages and soaring oil prices caused mainly by the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24 and the war that followed. Sharif said skyrocketing prices have put importing oil “beyond our ability” and, with the damage and destruction from massive flooding, solutions have become “extremely difficult.”
Pakistan may have to import around 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 because the factories involved in its production are closed.
Sharif said the country has “a very robust and transparent mechanism already in place” to ensure that all relief items are delivered to people in need. Furthermore, he said, “I will ensure third-party auditing of every penny through reputable international companies.”
The Pakistani leader said he has met with senior officials from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank and called for a moratorium on loan payments and deferral of other conditions until the flood situation improves.
“They sounded very understanding,” Sharif said, but stressed that a delay “can have enormous consequences” both for the economy and for the Pakistani people.
One dimension of grain purchases touches on one of Pakistan’s most existential problems: its relationship with neighboring India.
Would Pakistan consider buying grain from India if necessary? Sharif said that notion is hampered by “a legal bottleneck”: Kashmir, the Himalayan territory claimed by both countries but divided between them. It has been at the center of two of the four wars that 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 that has certain prerequisites. India has to understand that unless and until the hot issue of Kashmir is resolved through peaceful talks… as peaceful neighbours, with sincerity of purpose, we cannot live in peace.”
“And that is a huge shame and disgrace,” he said. “Because today, we need our resources to feed our people, educate them, provide job opportunities, provide health opportunities. India cannot afford to spend money on the purchase of ammunition and defense equipment. Neither does Pakistan.
On the other side of Pakistan, to the west, is Afghanistan, a place that shares geography, strategic interests and a great ethnic heritage with Sharif’s nation. Sharif said his Taliban rulers, who have been in power for a year, have “a golden opportunity to secure peace and progress” for the people by joining the Doha Agreement, which the previous more international-minded government of the nation signed in February 2020 with the administration of former US President Donald Trump.
The Taliban must provide equal opportunities, including education through university for girls, job opportunities for women, respect for human rights, and therefore Afghan assets must be unfrozen, the prime minister said.
The Doha Agreement called for the United States to withdraw its forces, which current President Joe Biden did in a chaotic retreat as the Taliban took over the country in August 2021. The pact stipulated commitments the Taliban were expected to make to prevent the terrorism, including obligations to renounce al-Qaida and prevent Afghan soil from being used to plot attacks against the US or its allies as was the case before 9/11.
If the Taliban signed the deal, Sharif said, “they must respect it.”
“This is what the peace-loving and law-abiding international community, including myself, expect of them,” he said. “And let’s work together in that direction.”
Relations between Pakistan and the United States have wavered between strong and tenuous for more than a generation. After 9/11, the two were allies against extremism even as, many said, elements within the Pakistani military and government were promoting it.
Today, former Prime Minister Khan’s anti-American rhetoric in recent years has fueled anger against the United States in Pakistan and created some hiccups in relations.
In the interview, Sharif said his administration wants “good and warm relations” with the United States and wants to work with Biden to “eliminate any kind of 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 and reaffirm and restore the kind of ties he said the people he represents would want.
“What the previous government did, in this regard, was totally unnecessary, it 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 chief UN correspondent for The Associated Press and has been covering international affairs for more than half a century. For more AP coverage of the UN General Assembly, visit (https://apnews.com/hub/united-nations-general-assembly.)(https://apnews.com/hub/united-nations- general-assembly). )
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