Pakistan PM raises Kashmir issue at UN General Assembly and calls for flood aid

Country expects 'justice' for loss and damage caused by impact of global warming, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif tells world leaders

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Pakistan's Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif appealed for a peaceful end to the dispute over Kashmir and deplored regional instability, invoking the perennial themes of the country's UN addresses after dedicating the first half of his speech on Friday to the ravages of recent floods.

The flood-induced devastation, which Mr Sharif described in biblical terms, means it is incumbent on Pakistan to “ensure rapid economic growth and lift millions out of poverty and hunger”, he said.

Mr Sharif asked for international support for the rebuilding effort. He said that since countries like Pakistan have emitted less than 1 per cent of the greenhouse gas emissions that have contributed to the planet’s rapid warming, it was “entirely reasonable” for his country to expect “some approximation of justice for this loss and damage, not to mention building back better with resilience and strength”.

But in order to do so, Pakistan needs a “stable external environment”, hinged on a resolution of the decades-long dispute over Jammu and Kashmir, Mr Sharif said.

Pakistan's Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif addresses the 77th UN General Assembly, in New York.  Reuters

“At the heart of this long-standing dispute lies the denial of the inalienable right of the Kashmiri people to self-determination,” he said, outlining what he called India’s “relentless campaign of repression” and “serial brutalisation” of Kashmiris.

Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan and has been claimed by both since they won independence from Britain 75 years ago.

Mr Sharif accused India of its own colonial ambitions by trying to change Kashmir’s demographics from majority Muslim to majority Hindu. While he described Islamophobia as “a global phenomenon”, he specifically accused India’s Hindu nationalist government of engaging in “the worst manifestation of Islamophobia”.

India — which has said Kashmir is an internal matter and one of law and order — is scheduled to speak at the General Assembly on Saturday. Rights groups have accused Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s governing party of looking the other way and sometimes enabling hate speech against Muslims. Mr Modi’s party denies the accusations, but India’s Muslims say attacks against them and their faith have increased sharply.

The two South Asian nations lobbed barbs past one another later in the night, each invoking the right of reply. An Indian diplomat shot back at Mr Sharif by accusing the prime minister of seeking to “obfuscate misdeeds in his own country and to justify actions against India that the world considers unacceptable”.

During his afternoon speech, Mr Sharif also spoke at length about regional instability and terrorism — of which he called Pakistan “the principal victim”.

He presented a marked contrast from his flashy yet conservative predecessor, Imran Khan, who dedicated much of last year’s speech to accusing the US of victimising Pakistan. Mr Khan was ousted in April after losing a no-confidence vote.

Dressed in a sober business suit instead of Mr Khan’s favoured waistcoat-and-salwar-kameez combination, Mr Sharif did not once mention the US by name.

Mr Sharif’s speech also represented a departure from last year, when Mr Khan expressed optimism about the then-incipient Taliban rule in Afghanistan and exhorted the General Assembly not to isolate the new government. A year later, no UN member state has recognised the Taliban government.

“Pakistan would also like to see an Afghanistan which is at peace with itself and the world, and which respects and nurtures all its citizens, without regard to gender, ethnicity and religion,” he said, avoiding direct mention of its current government.

Above all, he echoed a fear common to countries that typically do not dominate the global discourse: “My real worry is about the next stage of this challenge, when the cameras would have gone or left this august assembly and the story just shifts away to conflicts like Ukraine,” he said of the post-flooding recovery. “My question is, will we be left alone, high and dry?”

— Agencies contributed to this report

Updated: September 24, 2022, 6:23 AM