Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Friday highlighted the devastation Pakistan has witnessed due to the recent catastrophic floods and called for “building a wall” against the menace of climate change.
“I have never before seen this kind of devastation,” the prime minister said, as he addressed the Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s (SCO) Council of Heads of State (CHS) meeting in Samarkand.
In his speech, he also highlighted that abandoning Afghanistan this time around would be a “big mistake”.
On the floods, he said stagnant water is causing a rise in waterborne diseases, such as malaria, he highlighted as he thanked SCO members for extending their support during this time of need.
The prime minister said Pakistan would eventually overcome this crisis as he estimated the damage to be in the “billions of dollars”.
“But […] these devastating floods in Pakistan are most definitely climate change-induced […] Cloud outbursts, unprecedented rains combined with hill torrents, all of this put together made Pakistan look like a sea of water.”
We are going to stand on our own feet but will this be the last time a country is going to fall victim to this devastation, he asked as he appealed to the SCO to “build a wall” against the menace of climate change.
But that can only be achieved through a well-thought-out and sustainable plan, he said. “Our carbon emission is less than one per cent. Yet nature had this in store for us.”
“Let’s make a plan to save our future generations,” he said.
‘Big mistake to ignore Afghanistan this time around’
PM Shehbaz said that it would be a “big mistake to ignore Afghanistan this time around”, highlighting that peace in Pakistan and Afghanistan was interlinked.
Shehbaz had arrived in the historic city of Samarkand on a two-day visit on Thursday. Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto, Finance Minister Miftah Ismail, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif are among the officials part of the Pakistani delegation.
On the second day of his visit, the prime minister attended the close-format CHS meeting at the Congress Centre where participants were welcomed by Uzbekistan President Shavkat Mirziyoyev.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Uzbekistan President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev, Tajikistan President Emomali Rahmon, Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi were also in attendance.
At the outset of his address, the premier deviated from the text of his speech as he talked about Afghanistan. “As you know Pakistan is a neighbouring country of Afghanistan, and peace in Afghanistan will ensure peace in Pakistan,” he said.
“In other words, what is good for Afghanistan, is good for Pakistan and vice versa.”
He went on to say that the world would have to work together to support all “good initiatives” in Afghanistan. “Therefore, it will be a big mistake if we ignore Afghanistan this time around.”
It is Pakistan’s opinion that strengthening Afghanistan in the security and counterterrorism domain should run parallel to the SCO’s socio-economic support to the Afghan people, he said.
PM Shehbaz said the international community must support efforts to build a sustainable Afghan economy. “Unfreezing Afghanistan’s financial assets remains a crucial need in this regard.”
For their part, Afghan authorities would do well to build a future based on inclusiveness and respect for human rights for all citizens, especially women and minorities, including effective steps against terrorism, he said.
Highlighting Pakistan’s fight against terrorism, he urged the SCO states to join hands and “fight this menace of extremism, separatism and terrorism and wipe it from the face of this earth”.
He concluded his speech by reaffirming Pakistan’s “strong and unwavering commitment” in advancing the objectives of the SCO.
‘Successful talks’ with Xi, Putin
Meanwhile, the Chinese foreign ministry issued a statement, elucidating the conversation between PM Shehbaz and President Xi Jinping as they met on the sidelines of the SCO.
During the meeting, Xi pointed out that China and Pakistan were close neighbors “linked by mountains and rivers and with a shared future”.
The two countries have all along stood with each other through thick and thin. No matter how the international situation evolves, China and Pakistan are always each other’s trustworthy strategic partners, he added.
The statement said China will work with Pakistan to advance its all-weather strategic cooperative partnership and accelerate the building of a closer community with a shared future between the two countries in the new era.
President Xi stressed that the two sides must continue to firmly support each other, foster stronger synergy between their development strategies, and harness the role of the Joint Cooperation Committee of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) to ensure smooth construction and operation of major projects.
“It is important to expand cooperation in such areas as industry, agriculture, science, technology and social welfare to create new impetus for the CPEC’s development.”
It added that China hopes Pakistan will provide “solid protection for the security of Chinese citizens and institutions in Pakistan as well as the lawful rights and interests of Chinese businesses”.
The statement said the two sides needed to enhance communication and collaboration within the United Nations, the SCO and other multilateral platforms “to voice the developing countries’ rightful opposition to bloc confrontation and commitment to multilateralism”.
PM Shehbaz, according to the statement, expressed appreciation to the Chinese side for its timely and valuable support as Pakistan has been affected by the flooding.
He noted that President Xi was a leader of “strategic foresight”, saying China had secured “great achievements in its development and made important contributions to peace and development in the region and the wider world”.
Pakistan is firmly committed to the one-China policy, and firmly supports China’s position on issues concerning its core interests including Taiwan, Xinjiang and Hong Kong, the statement added.
The PM assured the Chinese president that Pakistan will make its best efforts to protect the security of Chinese citizens and institutions in Pakistan, continue its active participation in the Belt and Road cooperation and make CPEC a model of mutually beneficial cooperation.
Later, the relevant departments of the two countries also signed documents on cooperation in railway, e-commerce and other areas of mutual interest.
Separately, the Prime Minister’s Office also tweeted about the bilateral meeting, saying the Chinese president described PM Shehbaz as “a person of pragmatism and efficiency” and a leader with “a longstanding commitment to China-Pakistan friendship”.
In a tweet later in the day, the defence minister said that PM Shehbaz had “very successful” talks with Putin and Xi.
“Both of them have officially invited Shehbaz Sharif to visit their countries. The prime minister has accepted both invitations. There will be a visit to China in November 2022,” the defence minister confirmed.
Pakistan, Azerbaijan express resolve to enhance bilateral cooperation
Earlier in the day, PM Shehbaz met Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev and discussed issues of bilateral interest. The meeting, held on the sidelines of SCO, focused on ways to strengthen the relationship between the two countries in diverse fields.
During the meeting, the premier underlined the importance of unlocking the existing potential in the relationship between the two countries by boosting bilateral engagement in the fields of trade, investment, agriculture, information technology, and tourism, according to a Radio Pakistan report.
“Shehbaz expressed his gratitude to Azerbaijan for its support and solidarity with Pakistan as well as the provision of generous financial assistance for the flood-affected people and highlighted that the massive natural disaster caused by climate change called for urgent action by the international community to address this global threat.”
He went on to say that Pakistan and Azerbaijan had exemplary relations, deeply embedded in common history, faith, and culture.
Furthermore, Shehbaz reaffirmed Pakistan’s principled support to Azerbaijan on Nagorno-Karabakh and congratulated his counterpart on the historic success in the liberation of its occupied territories, the report stated.
“He also expressed condolences on the recent martyrdom of 71 Azeri servicemen in an unprovoked attack by Armenia and reiterated support for Azerbaijan’s right to self-defence in accordance with international law and in the protection of its territorial integrity,” it added.
Afterwards, the premier visited the mausoleum of Imam Bukhari. The PML-N’s Twitter account tweeted several photographs of PM Shehbaz — who changed into a sky blue shalwar kameez — visiting the tomb and offering Fateha.
Later, Prime Minister Shehbaz was seen off at the Samarkand airport his Uzbek counterpart, Abdullah Aripov on the conclusion of this two-day visit to Uzbekistan.
He concluded his trip by saying he was leaving Samarkand on a “satisfactory note”.
“There is now a renewed awareness about the potent threat of climate change,” he tweeted.
“SCO countries understand it is capable of reversing all our material development & pushing us backward by decades. All the more reason for a united front.”
‘Long but productive day in Samarkand’
On Thursday, the premier met several leaders including Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Turkiye’s Tayyip Erdogan and Iran’s Ebrahim Raisi. In a tweet on the conclusion of the first day, he said that the meetings were focused on enhancing trade and investment.
“I explained the flood ravages due to climate change. Food and energy shortages present a real challenge to our shared development agenda,” he added.
The prime minister was scheduled to hold meetings with SCO leaders on the sidelines of the event.
However, Foreign Office Spokesman Asim Iftikhar earlier told Dawn that PM Shehbaz had no plans to meet his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi.
An official, when contacted, said though a brief courtesy meeting between the two was possible, they would not be holding talks as none of the two sides had sought a meeting.