INTERVIEW: 'This is a critical period not only for Pakistan, but for the world': PM Shehbaz Sharif

Alaa Thabet , Friday 11 Nov 2022

On the sidelines of the COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, Prime Minister of Pakistan Shehbaz Sharif spoke to Alaa Thabet, the editor-in-chief of Al-Ahram Daily about his country's agenda at the climate conference and bilateral of Pakistani-Egyptian relations among other pertinent issues.

Prime Minister of Pakistan Shehbaz Sharif (L) during an interview with Alaa Thabet, the editor-in-chief of Al-Ahram Daily

Al-Ahram Daily: With the enormous damage and destruction caused by these unprecedented floods, what is the message you will deliver in COP 27 to the international community? And what are the main topics that you will discuss during the coming COP?

PM Shehbaz Sharif: It has been a harrowing year for my people. Pakistan has seen a cascade of climate induced events this year, from heatwaves, drought, forest fires to flash floods, torrential rains and [glacial ice dam flooding]. This is a critical period not only for Pakistan, but for the world. These catastrophic events are a memo from nature to humanity, showcasing how extreme and ruinous climate change events can be. Pakistan’s record breaking floods should be a message to the international community, that this is what the future could look like, and that we cannot win this war alone. What goes on in Pakistan will not stay in Pakistan.

Climate justice is our second message. That we, and the Global South, certainly cannot be expected to compete for finances as part of the global financial structure where those who are developed and resilient stand a better chance in the competition. We need to make this COP matter, with concrete and structured decisions, so as to build a formal mechanism to finance losses. As a country we are not pushing for reparations, as that is an adversarial process, and we see ourselves as part of the solutions that come out of COP27, not the problem. We do understand the need to build common ground on such existential challenges, but we also do not want to be pushed into walking away from our ask for climate justice.

Pakistan will also advocate for enhancing the climate finance pledge made in 2009 as the intensity of the climate crisis, experienced by the most vulnerable and affected countries like Pakistan, has crossed the 1.5 degree mark, and we are hurtling towards a three degree world. The developed countries have not met their commitment of mobilising $100 billion per year by 2020. And we are almost in 2023. We will also be encouraging discussion on simplification of procedures to access climate finance so that climate funds are available with speed and agility for immediate adaptation and resilience needs.

We also stand by our core ask to put adaptation front and center of the COP agenda. So, we will be calling for progress on the formulation of Global Goal on Adaptation (GGA). We are yet to see the promised 50:50 balance in adaptation and mitigation finance. The current financing gap is too high to sustain any real recovery needs of those on the frontlines of carbon damage. This is an opportunity to capitalise the adaptation fund and also introduce transparency in this funding stream for countries that need to build resilience.

We have repeatedly made the moral case for loss and damage compensations in different platforms and how there needs to be a dedicated L&D Finance Facility. We will deliver the same message in COP27. Countries trapped in a crisis of public financing fueled by debt still have to fund climate-disasters on their own.

AD: During the recent meetings of the UN General Assembly, you called for a conference of donors to help Pakistan deal with its losses. Is there any specific date for this conference and what are your expectations concerning its outcome?

SS: We are finalising the dates in consultation with the UN and other bilateral donors. The Government of Pakistan, with the support of its international development partners, released the Post-Disaster Risk Assessment at the end of last month. We hope that the pledges would be in keeping with the assessment of resources required for reconstruction and rehabilitation.

The report calculated the cost of floods at $30 billion in loss and damages. It also calculated that Pakistan would require a minimum $16.3 billion for rehabilitation and reconstruction, which is projected at 1.6 times the budgeted national development expenditure for FY23.

Now, we are formulating a rehabilitation and recovery framework, and we will announce the date for the conference after that.

AD: Besides the climate change portfolio that you will deliver during COP27, what are the other portfolios that you would like to discuss during your visit to Egypt and meeting with President El-Sisi?

SS: I am profoundly grateful to President El-Sisi for his support and solidarity in the wake of climate-induced floods which caused devastation in Pakistan. Pakistan greatly values its relations with the Arab Republic of Egypt. The two countries cherish the deep-rooted bond of historical, cultural and traditional relations over seven decades.

I will address the head of states during the World Leaders Summit, and will also be co-chairing a high-level roundtable with the prime minister of Norway on the theme of “Climate Change and the Sustainability of Vulnerable Communities." I will also be addressing the issue of key protections for vulnerable communities at another high level round table "To Launch the Early Warnings for All" by the World Meteorological Organisation. Pakistan will showcase its climate leadership in both COP27 and 28 as the Chair of the G77 countries and its climate leadership in the Global South.

The significance of COP this year in Egypt is huge because it brings the climate conversation and leadership to the countries that are more vulnerable to climate change than the western countries. The current global crisis of the turbulent global economy and the geopolitical impacts of the war in Ukraine has made the situation more challenging than the previous COPs. I will discuss with President El-Sisi the importance of greater engagement at leadership level, people-to-people contacts and increased institutional linkages. Of course, we will be focusing on further strengthening of Pakistan-Egypt relations, especially how we can further enhance trade and economic interaction between the two countries. 

AD: How do you see the bilateral relations between Egypt and Pakistan? And what are the future prospects for these relations?

SS: Relations between Pakistan and Egypt are based on bonds of common faith and culture and similarity of perception on regional and global issues. Foundation of relations between the two states was laid by the father of our nation, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah who visited Egypt in 1946. Over the past 75 years, our relations have steadily grown and institutional mechanisms have been put in place to foster cooperation in all fields. Pakistan and Egypt will celebrate 75 years of friendship next year in 2023.

Going forward, we would like to increase the frequency of high-level political engagements to further deepen cooperation in all aspects of bilateral ties. We also intend to translate the mutual goodwill and respect that exist between the two countries into a more robust commercial cooperation. Our bilateral trade has been on a steady upward trajectory and we want to keep that momentum to take our bilateral trade volume to $1 billion by 2025. Pakistan offers opportunities for Egyptian companies to invest in its Specialised Economic Zones (SEZ) as well as explore possibilities of cooperation between the Gwadar Port Authority and the Suez Economic Zones.

AD:  How do you see the bilateral relations between Egypt and Pakistan? In the education field, especially with Al-Azhar University?

SS: There is huge potential for collaboration amongst the leading Pakistani and Egyptian Universities for the advancement of higher education and research. Our higher education institutions can start teaching Arabic in Pakistani institutions and Urdu in Egyptian educational institutions respectively. We should encourage twinning programs amongst our universities as well as joint research and exchange of teaching staff and students. I would particularly mention Al-Azhar University which is a great seat of learning and we should explore opportunities for collaboration in the field of medical sciences and study of languages and theology with Al-Azhar.

AD: What is your strategy to deal with the consequences of the international economic crisis on the Pakistani economy?

SS: The global economy continues to face multiple challenges including the Russian-Ukraine conflict, rising inflation, especially food and energy prices and the shocks of the COVID-19 pandemic. A key factor slowing global growth is the generalised tightening of monetary policy, driven by the greater-than-expected overshoot of inflation targets.

Due to unfavourable global developments, increase in inflation in Pakistan is unprecedented, mainly due to global factors. Though Pakistan’s economy grew by about six percent during 2021-22, the unprecedented climate change induced floods changed the whole scenario. In this huge challenge, our agriculture sector has been particularly hard hit by the destruction brought on by the floods, and due to forward linkages, this impact will also be transferred to the industries and services sectors. The disastrous effects of flood have affected all sectors of the economy and the overall outlook of the economy is likely to decrease the projected growth of five percent in FY2023. 

However, most of these challenges are addressed through our bold steps through fiscal measures. The government has introduced regulatory measures to ease demand pressures. Together with these measures and expected support from the IMF and other friendly countries, we would be able to meet the challenges. Moreover, we have recently announced an incentives package for our farmers to facilitate them in terms of seeds, fertilizers, credit and agricultural machinery. We hope that we will be able to turn around our agriculture sector in the coming months thus achieving economic growth and controlling food inflation.

Our government has a vision for a prosperous and progressive Pakistan by focusing on accelerating growth and investment, improving the business-enabling environment, using CPEC opportunities, establishing Special Economic Zones, and Regulatory Reforms initiatives to spur industrialisation in the country.

AD: What are the measures of your government to preserve the stability and security of the country?

SS: We have a robust system in place to maintain law and order situation, both at the federal and the provincial level. An active check is being exercised on the organisations which are involved in terrorist or sectarian related activities. Our Counter Terrorism Departments (CTDs) are carrying out intelligence-based operations against the terrorist outfits and their hideouts. Similarly, financing of the terrorist organisations has been choked by rigorously implementing the Anti-Money Laundering/Combating the Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) regime.

AD: How do you see the current relations between your country and Afghanistan, post-Taliban takeover?

SS: Pakistan wishes to see a peaceful, stable and connected Afghanistan. The well-being and prosperity of the brotherly Afghan people has been the bedrock of our policy towards Afghanistan. This continues to be the guiding principle of our engagement with the Interim Afghan Government (IAG). We believe that constructive engagement of the international community with the IAG is imperative to stave-off the humanitarian crisis, avert an economic meltdown and ensure that Afghanistan is on the road to sustainable growth and development.

AD: What is the new anti-terrorism strategy that your government is adopting?

SS: Safety of our citizens lies at the core of the National Security Policy 2022-26 which is currently under implementation. It aims to leverage the symbiotic relationship among human, economic and military security. The policy addresses the issues that incubate the extremist environment and vulnerabilities existent in the society. Moreover, keeping in view the evolving dynamics of terrorism and extremism, the National Action Plan (NAP) 2014 was revised in 2021. Under this policy, there is no tolerance for any kind of militancy and no militant or armed gangs are allowed to operate. Immediate action is taken against spread of terrorism through media.  Under the NAP, prosecution departments are being strengthened while a comprehensive reform of the criminal justice system is under way.

AD: Is there a new approach concerning the relationship with the regional powers, especially China?

SS: It is a principle of Pakistan’s foreign policy to develop and maintain friendly ties with all countries in the world. Good relations with our neighbours is a key tenet of our foreign policy. We also believe in engaging with the international community to pursue global peace and stability as well as to promote peace, development and security through concerted efforts.

Pakistan maintains relations with all countries on principles of equality and shared benefits. We do not see our relations with any single country as a zero-sum, which is why Pakistan and China’s partnership is multifaceted, covering the entire spectrum of inter-state relations. Our relationship espouses values of mutual respect and understanding which has led to unparalleled growth in our ties. We are committed to tenets of dialogue and diplomacy to resolve regional and international issues and contribute to international peace and stability. Pakistan desires peaceful coexistence with all countries to maximise our development and connectivity potential.

Our bilateral friendships are aimed at creating an enabling environment for peace and regional and international cooperation. We would like to further strengthen these partnerships in all spheres.

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