The AP Interview: Pakistani leader details flood devastation

THE UNITED NATIONS — Floods likely worsened by climate change have submerged a third of Pakistan’s territory and left 33 million people scrambling to survive, according to Pakistan’s prime minister, who says he came to the United Nations this year to tell the world that “tomorrow, what a tragedy can befall another country.

In an extensive interview with The Associated Press, Shahbaz Sharif urged world leaders gathered for their annual meeting at the General Assembly to come together and raise resources “to build resilient infrastructure, to build adaptation, so that our future generations may be saved”.

The initial estimate of losses to the economy from the three-month flood disaster is $30 billion, Sharif said, and he asked UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Thursday to hold quickly a donors’ conference. The UN chief agreed, Sharif said.

“Thousands of kilometers of roads have been destroyed, washed away – railway bridges, railways, communications, underpasses, transport. All of this requires funds,” Sharif said. “We need funds to provide livelihoods for our people.”

Sharif, the brother of disgraced former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, took office in April after a week of unrest in Pakistan. He replaced Imran Khan, a cricketer-turned-politician star who was one of the country’s most prominent leaders of the previous generation and retains wide influence. Khan was ousted in a vote of no confidence after 3½ years in office.

While climate change likely increased rainfall by up to 50% at the end of last month in two southern provinces of Pakistan, global warming was not the main cause of the country’s catastrophic floods, according to a new analysis. scientific. Pakistan’s overall vulnerability, including people living in danger, was the main factor.

But human-caused climate change “also plays a very important role here,” lead study author Friederike Otto, a climatologist at Imperial College London, said earlier this month.

Either way, Sharif said the impact on his country is immense. More than 1,600 people died, including hundreds of children. Crops on 4 million acres were washed away. Millions of homes were damaged or completely destroyed, and life savings disappeared in the devastating floods caused by the monsoon rains.

Casting 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”, said the Prime Minister, “a victim of something with which we have nothing to do”.

He echoed the sentiments on Friday afternoon when addressing his fellow leaders in the General Assembly, telling them other places were next. “One thing is very clear,” he said. “What happened in Pakistan will not stay in Pakistan.”

MONEY AND FOOD

Even before the floods started in mid-June, Pakistan was facing serious problems with grain shortages and soaring crude oil prices caused mainly by Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine and the war that followed. Sharif said soaring prices have put importing oil “beyond our capabilities” and – with the damage and destruction wrought by the massive floods – solutions have become “extremely difficult”.

Pakistan may have to import about a million tons of wheat due to the destruction of agricultural land. He said it could come from Russia, but the country is open to other offers. The country also needs fertilizers because the factories involved in their production are closed.

Sharif said the country already has a “very strong and transparent mechanism” to ensure that all aid items are delivered to people in need. Additionally, he said, “I will ensure that every penny is third-party audited through reputable international firms.”

The Pakistani leader said he met senior officials from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank and called for a moratorium on loan repayments and the postponement of other conditions until the flood situation improves.

“They seemed very supportive,” Sharif said, but he stressed that a delay “can have huge consequences” – both for the economy and for the people of Pakistan.

RELATIONS WITH NEIGHBORS

One dimension of grain purchases touches on one of Pakistan’s most existential issues – its relationship with neighboring India.

Would Pakistan consider buying grain from India if needed? Sharif said that notion is hampered by “a legal bottleneck” – Kashmir, the Himalayan territory claimed by the two countries but divided between them. It was at the center of two of India’s four wars with Pakistan and China.

“India is a neighbour, and Pakistan would very much like to live as a peaceful neighbor with India,” Sharif said. “But it has certain preconditions. India must understand that unless and until the burning issue of Kashmir is resolved through peaceful talks…as peaceful neighbours, with sincerity of purpose, we cannot live in peace.

“And it’s a great shame and a great embarrassment,” he said. “Because in our time, we need our resources to feed our people, to educate them, to provide employment opportunities, to provide health opportunities. India cannot afford to spend money to buy ammunition and defense equipment.Pakistan either.

Across Pakistan, to the west, lies Afghanistan – a place that shares geography, strategic interests and significant ethnic heritage with the nation of Sharif. Sharif said his Taliban leaders, who have been in power for a year, have “a golden opportunity to secure peace and progress” for the people by signing on to the Doha deal, which the country’s former government , more internationally oriented, signed in February 2020 with the administration of former US President Donald Trump.

The Taliban must provide equal opportunities, including college education for girls, job opportunities for women, respect for human rights, and for that Afghan assets must be thawed, 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 withdrawal as the Taliban took control of the country in August 2021. The pact stipulated the commitments that the Taliban had to take to prevent terrorism, including obligations to renounce al-Qaeda and to prevent Afghan soil from being used to plan attacks against the United States or its allies as was the case before 9/11 .

If the Taliban signed the deal, Sharif said, “they have to respect it.”

“This is what the law-abiding and peace-loving international community, including myself, expects of them,” he said. “And let’s work together in that direction.”

US-PAKISTAN RELATIONS

Relations between Pakistan and the United States have oscillated between strong and tenuous for more than a generation. After 9/11, the two were allies against extremism even as, according to many, elements within Pakistan’s military and government encouraged it.

Now, former Prime Minister Khan’s anti-American rhetoric in recent years has fueled anger against the United States in Pakistan and created setbacks in relations.

In the interview, Sharif said his government wanted “good, warm relations” with the United States and wanted to work with Biden to “eliminate any kind of misunderstanding and confusion.”

In cautious language that reflected his efforts to balance international and domestic constituencies, he sought to distance himself from Khan’s approach – and to reaffirm and re-establish the kind of connections he said the people he represents would like.

“What the previous government did, in this regard, was totally unjustified, was detrimental to the sovereign interests of Pakistan,” Sharif said. “It was certainly not in line with what ordinary Pakistanis would believe and expect.”

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Edith M. Lederer is the UN’s chief correspondent for the Associated Press and has covered international affairs for more than half a century. For more AP coverage of the United Nations General Assembly, visit (https://apnews.com/hub/united-nations-general-assembly.)(https://apnews.com/hub/united-nations- general-assembly. )

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