ISLAMABAD: Peaceful resolution of long-standing disputes in South Asia was critical for sustainable peace and long-term prosperity of people, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the foreign minister said.
“We also believe that, while focusing on the Ukrainian conflict, the world must not lose sight of other disputes, protracted conflicts, and situations of foreign occupation, which have the potential to destabilise the entire Asia-Pacific region,” he said on the 29th ASEAN Regional Forum Ministerial meeting in Cambodia on Saturday.
“We strongly condemn and reject illegal and unilateral measures to perpetuate unlawful occupation and to effect demographic changes in occupied territories, in gross violation of UN Security Council resolutions and international law, including the 4th Geneva Convention.”
He was of the view that such actions had vitiated the environment for dialogue. All outstanding disputes could be resolved through dialogue and diplomacy in the interest of regional peace given the right conducive conditions, he added.
Bilawal, who is the son of slain former premier Benazir Bhutto Zardari, congratulated the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) family for coming together in the collective efforts to promote cooperation for stability in Asia Pacific.
“As we gather today for in-person meetings after several months of long-distance diplomacy, our region and the world at large are beset with challenges in multiple domains,” he said, “this is truly an inflection point in history, and the steps we take, or fail to take, would have profound consequences for the future.”
‘Coordinated’ response to health crises
He said the Covid-19 pandemic was unprecedented in terms of its global scale as well as socio-economic impact. The international cooperation that it engendered was also unparalleled.
“Yet, we also saw the unfortunate rise of the phenomenon of vaccine nationalism as countries competed for the same resources to save lives and protect their populations.”
Going forward, he said it would be important to develop mechanisms for a more coordinated response to future health crises, undertake efforts to ensure vaccine equity, and fight future pandemics in a more humane manner.
Covid-19 exacerbated the economic woes of nations from North to South. Supply chains were disrupted, unemployment mounted, growth rates plummeted, and debt burden accumulated, Bilawal added.
“The Debt Service Suspension Initiative was laudable for providing the much-needed relief to developing countries in distress,” he said, “More can, and should, be done for reinforcing the recovery efforts, especially in the global South.”
Climate change - an ‘existential threat’
He called climate change an existential threat and said its impact on sustainable development and human well-being was incalculable.
“As I speak, my country is ravaged by floods caused by unprecedented rains. Dozens of towns and villages have been inundated and thousands have been displaced,” he said, adding that the country feared that the damage to crops would exacerbate food insecurity and inflation that have already reached alarming levels because of the current global trends.
“We need to collectively respond to the threat posed by climate change – by equitably sharing the burden and the responsibility. In order to mitigate its negative impact and to adapt meaningfully, the promised climate finance must be made available to the developing countries.”
“The skyrocketing of fuel and food prices has imposed new costs – from economic to social to political. For citizens, the burden has been increasingly unbearable; for governments, the pressures unsustainable. The volatility of international markets is intensified due to heightened tensions and ongoing military conflict.”
Bilawal stressed that urgent measures were required to contain and reverse these adverse trends.
“The world community must join hands to find collective solutions, particularly those that work for the most gravely impacted nations. They have limited financial capacity and require greater international support, solidarity and cooperation.”
Bilawal says no to confrontation
He said: “The most obvious challenge is evident in the realm of geo-politics. Today, the global environment is in tremendous flux, the international system distinctly fragile and adrift.”
“Great power rivalries have accentuated; bloc politics seems to be returning; new groupings and small configurations are emerging – with potential military dimensions in certain instances.”
Confrontation would not serve anyone’s interest, he opined, adding that it would only result in destabilization and the consequences of such an eventuality would be grave – not just for the protagonists, but for everyone.
“At this defining moment, it is indispensable to avoid unilateral and provocative actions and to proceed with the utmost caution and prudence. Pakistan believes that a recommitment to the fundamental principles of the UN Charter and to effective multilateralism is imperative. Equally imperative is the need to have a coherent vision of a world order based on peaceful coexistence, pacific settlement of disputes, win-win cooperation, and shared prosperity.”
‘Failure of diplomacy’
He expressed concern at the continuation of the Ukrainian conflict and said it reflected the “failure” of diplomacy.
“Cessation of hostilities, continued focus on humanitarian needs, and resumption of sustained dialogue, are essential. However, challenging, the quest for a diplomatic solution in accordance with relevant multilateral agreements, international law, and the provisions of the UN Charter, must continue apace.”
The minister said a peaceful Afghanistan was critical for the region.
“Pakistan has emphasised the importance of inclusivity in governance and respect for the human rights of all Afghans, especially women and girls. There is also a shared expectation that Afghanistan’s soil will not be allowed to be used for terrorism against any country.”
He stressed that Pakistan had called for de-freezing of Afghanistan’s financial assets and de-linking humanitarian assistance from political considerations in order to address the economic and humanitarian challenges.
“Pakistan stands ready to work with ARF partners to strengthen this forum and to develop its linkages with other international platforms for confidence building and conflict prevention. Our aspiration for a Full Dialogue Partnership is a sign of our continued commitment to relations with ASEAN.”
The minister said: “Pakistan will remain a strong partner in all endeavors for peace, stability and development of our region and beyond.”