United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres paid his first official visit as Secretary-General to Pakistan from 16 to 19 February, arriving from New York on Sunday, 16 February, for official meetings in advance of his participation in the International Conference on 40 Years of Hosting Afghan Refugees.
Upon his arrival in Islamabad on Sunday, the Secretary-General met at the outset with three members of different generations of Afghan refugees, to hear from them how they have managed to live in Pakistan over the past four decades and their concerns about returning to their home country.
He then traveled to the new premises of the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP), which he inaugurated, and met with the Group’s Force Commander and personnel.
The Secretary-General then attended an event where he spoke on the importance of sustainable development and climate change.
He told the audience that, for more than 10 years as High Commissioner for Refugees, he had come many times to Pakistan, adding that in those 10 years, he developed a love affair with the Pakistani people and with Pakistan itself. And that love affair, Mr. Guterres said, came from the extraordinary generosity and solidarity that the Pakistani people have shown, hosting millions of Afghan refugees, sharing with them its own resources, independently of the enormous impact on the economy and on society.
He said in his remarks that the climate crisis is perhaps the gravest current obstacle to global peace, stability and prosperity.
The Secretary-General expressed his dismay that after the success of the Paris conference in 2015, our momentum on climate change has stalled. He said that our planet is burning, but too many decision makers continue to fiddle. The only answer is decisive climate action — by Governments, businesses and investors, mayors and governors, and citizens everywhere. (See Press Release SG/SM/19973.)
In a press conference with the Foreign Minister, the Secretary-General said that his visit aims to recognize Pakistan’s outstanding generosity and solidarity over many decades and to highlight its place in confronting some of the biggest global challenges our world faces today. He added that he was grateful for the work of UNMOGIP and that he was happy that he inaugurated the new premises of their headquarters.
On Monday morning, the Secretary-General spoke at the International Conference on 40 Years of Hosting Afghan Refugees, and he called the Afghan refugees’ experience in Pakistan a remarkable story of solidarity and compassion.
The Secretary-General said that he hoped that the signals of a possible pathway for peace will lead to a better future for the people of Afghanistan. At the same time, he said about the refugees, Afghanistan and its people cannot be abandoned.
Now is the time for the international community to act and deliver. Our ability to succeed, he said, will be a litmus test for the Global Compact on Refugees — its promise of greater responsibility-sharing with countries that have shouldered the burden until now. (See Press Release SG/SM/19974.)
He said in a press appearance with High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi and Foreign Minister Qureshi that he was very encouraged by the strong commitment of Pakistan to peace in Afghanistan. And it's also very important, he added, that the whole international community, once peace is achieved, decides to invest massively in Afghanistan, to allow for the country to be able to develop itself, and to create the conditions of prosperity that are needed for Afghans to return.
Following the conference, the Secretary-General met with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, and he informed the Prime Minister that he continues to follow the situation in Jammu and Kashmir with concern and appeals for maximum restraint and full respect for human rights. The Secretary-General reiterated his readiness to exercise his good offices if both sides agree.
Later in the afternoon, the Secretary-General spoke at the Centre for International Peace and Stability in Islamabad — located at the National University of Science and Technology — which he described as one of the most important institutions in the world that supports peacekeeping activities in an extremely competent and professional way.
He spoke at the Centre about Pakistan’s contribution to United Nations peacekeeping, saying that Pakistan is one of the most consistent and reliable contributors to United Nations peace efforts around the world.
The Secretary-General said that, since the first Pakistani deployment to the Congo — as it was referred — in 1960, Pakistan has contributed more than 150,000 personnel to 41 peacekeeping missions in 23 countries, while 157 Pakistani military, police and civilian personnel have paid the ultimate price while serving under the United Nations flag.
He discussed the recent Action for Peacekeeping initiative, saying that the success of the initiative depends on all peacekeeping stakeholders upholding their commitments. He said that the United Nations Secretariat has made progress across key areas of the declaration, including measures to reinforce the security and performance of our peacekeepers. These have resulted in improved casualty evacuation procedures and a decline in peacekeeper fatalities from malicious acts, from 59 in 2017 to 28 in 2019. (See Press Release SG/SM/19975.)
In the evening, the Secretary-General travelled to Rawalpindi and met a range of senior Pakistani officials, including the Chief of Army Staff and key parliamentarians.
The Secretary-General met in the evening with President Arif Alvi, whom he thanked for Pakistan’s support to the United Nations. The Secretary-General reiterated the United Nations commitment to support the country’s efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. They exchanged views on regional developments.
Later that evening, the Secretary-General traveled to Lahore.
The Secretary-General spoke at the Lahore University of Management Sciences on Tuesday morning, saying that, as we celebrate the seventy-fifth anniversary of the United Nations, he wants to reach out and hear from youth. He said that with the United Nations seventy-fifth anniversary, we want to make the voices of young people count in the ways that policies are defined and actions are implemented, and he listened to the students gathered at the University. (See Press Release SG/SM/19979.)
After that, the Secretary-General met with polio workers as he visited a kindergarten school in Lahore during the first nationwide polio campaign of the year. He gave three students the polio vaccine. He said he appealed to all leaders, including religious and community leaders, to fully support the Government of Pakistan, and other Governments around the world, to make sure that we will be able to fully eradicate polio.
He tweeted: “Important gains have been made, but we need a concerted push to eradicate this awful disease.”
The Secretary-General finished his official visit by visiting the Kartarpur Corridor, which allows Sikhs to travel between nearby holy sites on each side of the India-Pakistan border.
The Secretary-General visited a gurdwara, or Sikh Temple, in the Pakistani town of Kartarpur and said he was honoured to visit the Kartarpur Corridor between the countries, which he called “a corridor of hope”.
He told press after his visit: “When we see so many parts of the world fighting in the name of religion, it’s necessary to say that religions unite us for peace and the best symbol is this shrine.”
He added: “This is the best symbol that we can give for a world in peace and for a world in which there is mutual respect and there is the acceptance of what is different — recognizing that diversity is a blessing, is a richness, not a threat.”
He then departed from Pakistan for New York City, where he arrived later on Wednesday, 19 February.