UN chief Antonio Guterres lauds Pakistan’s ‘resilience, commitment for Afghans’ despite minimal international support
ISLAMABAD: United Nations Secretary General (UNSG) Antonio Guterres on Monday lauded Pakistan’s “remarkable resilience and commitment for the Afghan brothers” despite of minimal international support.
In his address to a conference titled 40 years of Afghan Refugees Presence in Pakistan: A New Partnership for Solidarity in Islamabad, organised jointly by the Pakistan government and UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Mr Guterres affirmed that the United Nations favours repatriation of Afghan refugees.
“We have come together to recognise a remarkable story of solidarity and compassion. It is important to do so because it is a story that spans over decades,” he said.
UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi, ministers and senior officials from 20 countries, participated in the conference.
“The story of Pakistan and Afghan refugees is a story of compassion to be celebrated for many reasons, one of which is that such compassion is missing from much of the world,” said the UN chief.
“For 40 years, the people of Afghanistan have faced many crises, for 40 years the people of Pakistan have responded with solidarity. This generosity now spans across decades and generations and this is the world’s largest protracted refugee situation in recorded history.
“This is also a story close to my heart. In my previous life, as the UN human rights commissioner, Pakistan was a familiar destination. During most of my time at the post, Pakistan was the number one refugee-hosting nation in the world.
“For more than three out of every four years since 1979, either Pakistan or Iran have ranked as the top refugee-hosting country. And even though major conflicts have since erupted in other parts of the world and the refugee population has soared, Pakistan is still today the world’s second largest refugee hosting country in the world.
“On every visit here, I have been struck by their resilience, exceptional generosity and compassion. I not only saw compassion in words but in deeds.
“The generous spirit is fully in-line with what I regard as the best description for refugee protection is found in Surah Al-Tawbah of the Holy Quran and I quote: “And if anyone seeks your protection then grant him protection so therein he can hear the words of God. Then escort him where he can be secure.”
“This protection should be accorded to believers and non-believers alike – in a remarkable example of tolerance, many centuries before the 1951 convention that defines in a modern concept refugees and the protection they deserve.
“I saw that compassion play out in real time in Pakistan and it was grounded in vision. We have seen many innovative policies introduced here: bio-metric registration, access to the national education system, healthcare and inclusion in the economy. And in spite of the many challenges that Pakistan faced, the commencement of these initiatives has made a big difference. Indeed many [of these practices] have been recognised as a global model of good practices.
“Some of these policies have inspired elements of the global compact on refugees. we have been proud to work with you to support Pakistan host communities of Afghan refugees. However, we must recognise that international support for Pakistan has been minimal compared to your own national efforts.
“As we look to the challenges ahead, the global community should step up. As we have marked 40 unbroken years of solidarity, but we also despair at the 40 broken years of hostility.
“The Afghan conflict drags on and on and we see deep impact of the protracted nature of conflict, poverty and forced displacement. We know the solution lies in Afghanistan and I hope the signals of a possible passageway of peace will lead to a better future for the people of Afghanistan.
“I see with us Ambassador Khalilzad and I want to strongly encourage (pursuing) the way for peace. The Afghan people can count on the United Nations to support the efforts for peace. We don’t seek protagonism, we are here only to serve.
The Afghan people need and deserve peace and prosperity and full respect of their human rights,” Guterres said.
Importantly, in Azad Kashmir, a protest rally was held in Muzaffarabad, demanding the United Nations to conduct the promised plebiscite and stop human rights violations in occupied Kashmir.
Speaking on the occasion, the leader of International Forum for Justice and Human Rights, Mushtaqul Islam said the protest was aimed to draw the attention of Mr Antonio Guterres towards the deteriorating human rights situation in occupied Kashmir.
The UN chief is on a four-day visit to Pakistan to attend an international conference on Afghan refugees.
While addressing a joint press conference with Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi yesterday, Guterres said: “One of the main purposes of my visit is to spotlight the real Pakistan, with all its possibilities and potential.”
The two-day conference in Islamabad, starting on February 17, is a recognition of Pakistan’s “tremendous generosity” in hosting millions of refugees from Afghanistan over four decades, his spokesman Stephane Dujarric had said during a regular noon briefing at the UN Headquarters in New York on Friday.
Mr Guterres also met Prime Minister Imran and other high-level government officials, his spokesman said. The UN Secretary General will also meet President Arif Alvi today.
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.
Responding to a question, the spokesman said the UN chief will not be visiting the disputed Kashmir region during this trip.
He is set to return to New York on Wednesday.