UN chief to arrive in Islamabad today

February 16, 2020

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UNITED NATIONS: UN secretary general Antonio Guterres will arrive in Islamabad on Sunday (today) on his first official visit to Pakistan as the world body’s chief.

During his visit, he will speak at an international conference on ‘40 Years of Hosting Afghan Refugees in Pakistan’. He will also meet Prime Minister Imran Khan and other high-level government officials, his spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on Friday.

The two-day conference in Islamabad, starting on Feb 17, would be a recognition of Pakistan’s “tremendous generosity” in hosting millions of refugees from Afghanistan over four decades, the spokesman told the regular noon briefing at UN Headquarters in New York.

The conference, which will be inaugurated by Prime Minister Khan, is being organised by the Government of Pakistan and the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

Senior US officials to attend conference on Afghan refugees tomorrow

Mr Dujarric said the UN chief will also meet Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and speak at an event on sustainable development and climate change. The UN Secretary General will also meet President Arif Alvi on Monday.

On Tuesday, he will visit Lahore where he will meet students and attend an event on Pakistan’s polio vaccination campaign. He will also travel to Kartarpur to visit the Sikh holy site of Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib.

He will return to New York on Wednesday.

Replying to a question, the spokesman said the UN chief will not be visiting the disputed Kashmir region during this trip.

Earlier, the spokesman was asked whether the situation in India-held Kashmir and the resulting Indo-Pakistan tensions will be discussed during the secretary general’s talks with the Pakistani leadership.

“Well, I have no doubt that the secretary general and the prime minister will discuss a host of issues,” Mr Dujarric replied. “What issues are raised obviously also depends on what issues the prime minister brings up,” he added.

“The position of the United Nations on this [Kashmir] region is governed by the Charter of the United Nations and applicable Security Council resolutions,” he said.

“The secretary general recalled the 1972 Agreement on bilateral relations between India and Pakistan, also known as the Shimla agreement,” the statement said, adding “which states that the final status of Jammu and Kashmir is to be settled by peaceful means”.

The secretary general has previously said he was “concerned over reports of restrictions on the Indian-side of Kashmir, which could exacerbate the human rights situation in the region”, and called on “all parties to refrain from taking steps that could affect the status of Jammu and Kashmir”. The UN chief has also repeatedly asserted that his good offices are available only if both sides ask for it. While Pakistan welcomed his offer, India rejected it.

Anwar Iqbal in Washington adds: Three senior officials will represent the United States at the international conference on Afghan refugees in Islamabad, said an official announcement.

Acting Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration Carol Thompson O’Connell will be in Islamabad from February 14-21. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad and Deputy Assistant Secretary Nancy Izzo Jackson with the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs will also join the delegation.

In Washington, the State Department said that Ms O’Connell “will recognise Pakistan’s role in hosting millions of Afghan refugees fleeing violence and persecution in their home country over the past 40 years”.

She will also “underscore America’s leadership and commitment to assisting refugees and displaced persons in the region and recognize the role of international organisation and non-governmental organisation partners in providing critical humanitarian aid to those in need”.

The conference on Afghan refugees assumed a new significance this week when US officials announced that the Trump administration and the Afghan Taliban have agreed to the first step of a peace deal.

A senior Trump administration official told journalists on Friday that this understanding was a major milestone towards ending a war that has gone on for more than 18 years and was the first concrete result of months of US-Taliban talks, held in Doha, Qatar.

The official said that US and Taliban representatives have agreed to a reduction in violence over an initial seven-day period, which would begin “very soon” and would hopefully lead to more concrete results.

A settlement in Afghanistan would automatically raise the question of resettling millions of Afghan refugees in their homeland — a gigantic task which cannot be accomplished without massive international support.

Published in Dawn, February 16th, 2020