Int’l support for Pakistan has been minimal, says UN chief at Afghan refugee summit

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United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres said on Monday that the world “must recognise that international support for Pakistan has been minimal compared to its own national efforts” for Afghan refugees

He was
addressing a conference jointly organised by the Pakistan government and UN
High Commissioner for Refugees titled 40 years of Afghan Refugees Presence in
Pakistan: A New Partnership for Solidarity in Islamabad. “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, US Special Envoy for
Afghan Reconciliation Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, Afghanistan Second Vice
President Sarwar Danish, Prime Minister Imran Khan, Foreign Minister Shah
Mahmood Qureshi as well as other ministers and senior officials from around
twenty countries were present on the occasion.

“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 inline 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 thereinhe 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, written 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 impact 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 to pursue 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.

No militant safe havens in Pakistan: PM Imran

Addressing
the conference, Prime Minister Imran Khan said that Pakistan is
“celebrating” 40 years hosting Afghan refugees. “I say
celebrating because there are not many instances in the world where refugees
have conducted themselves with such honour and the hosts in spite of economic
challenges especially in the last 20 years have wonderfully kept their relation
with Afghan refugees.”

“Let
me just point out a pleasant side effect of the situation is that  after watching cricket in Pakistan for so
many years  Afghanistan now has an
international cricket team,” the prime minister, a former World Cup
winning cricket captain, said. “Generosity has nothing to do with the bank
balance,” the prime minister said while linking Pakistan’s hosting of the
Afghan refugees with the Muslims of Makkah seeking refuge in Madinah. He said
that a lesson Islam teaches us is about brotherhood and uniting human beings.

Responding
to an earlier speech by Afghan Second Vice President Sarwar Danish in which he
accused Pakistan of allowing the Taliban to recruit new fighters from Afghan
refugee camps in Pakistan; Prime Minister Imran said that there are no militant
safe havens in Pakistan. “That may have been true after 9/11. However,
Pakistan does not have any militant sanctuaries now.

“Whatever
the situation might have been in the past, right now, I can tell you… there
is one thing we want: peace in Afghanistan.” While Pakistan cannot “completely
guarantee” that no Taliban are hiding among the estimated 2.7 million Afghans
living in Pakistan, the premier said his government had “done all it
can” to prevent attacks in Afghanistan, including by building a border
fence.

The prime
minister said that Islamophobia became prevalent after 9/11 because terrorism
and Islam were equated with each other. “Which led to sufferings of Muslim
refugees across the world.” Bringing the UN chief’s attention to India and
the situation in Indian-occupied Kashmir, Prime Minister Imran said:
“Nationalist parties all over the world are now gaining traction by blaming
another human community for their problems. And in India, two pieces of
legislation actually targeting Muslims have been introduced which will have
future problems for our country, because it could have a huge refugee
problem.”

‘Afghan refugees seek a global commitment
to the peace process’

Earlier,
Minister for Foreign Affairs Shah Mahmood Qureshi said that Afghan refugees are
seeking greater global commitment to the Afghan peace process. “Even today
we continue to host three million registered and unregistered Afghan
refugees,” Qureshi said while adding that these efforts are based on the
Islamic principles of hospitality for compassionate crowds.

“Today,
Afghan refugees worldwide are looking for sustainable reintegration in
Afghanistan,” he added. “A joint support platform by Pakistan, Iran
and the UNHCR was formed with the aim to promote and support refugee return and
enhance the capacity of sustainable reintegration of Afghan refugees within
their society,” Qureshi said.

‘For the past 40 years Pakistan has stood
with its Afghan brothers’

Addressing
the conference earlier, Commissioner Grandi said that while Afghan refugees
wait for the opportunity to go back home they deserve the chance to build
homes, educate their children and to move freely. “The Islamic Republic of
Pakistan was, for 22 long year, the largest host of Afghan refugees. The recent
measure of allowing Afghan refugees to hold bank accounts is a welcome step
which will help in better economic integration for them,” Grandi said.
“For the last 40 years, as we have heard, the people of Pakistan have stood
with their Afghan neighbours. Through the early days of upheaval and
displacement, when a third of the population fled the country in just a few
years. [Pakistan also stood with the people of Afghanistan] Through moments of
hope when they returned back home seeking stability.

“Pakistan
has been with Afghanistan through hardships and times of renewed conflict and
uncertainty. And through years of efforts to rebuild a fractured nation,”
he said while concluding that a lot of effort still needs to be made in order
to successfully execute the Afghan peace process.

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