DUSHANBE (Tajikistan): Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday called upon the regional countries to “resist any drift towards bloc politics” and stressed pursuing the approach of peaceful coexistence. “Peaceful coexistence and cooperation – not confrontation, should be the main drivers of global politics,” he said in his address at the 20th Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Council of Heads of State meeting, held in the capital of Tajikistan. The summit gathered the Presidents of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Iran, leaders of observer states, foreign ministers, and heads of international and regional organizations. Vladimir Norov, SCO Secretary-General and Jumakhon Giyasov, Director Executive Committee of SCO Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure were also present. Prime Minister said addressing the threats to international and regional peace and security was a vital interest for SCO. He said the fight against terror would not be won if such threats and challenges were ignored, with state terrorism being the biggest one, perpetrated against people living under foreign occupation in disputed territories. “In some cases, such extremist and bigoted ideologies have ascended to capture the state power in so-called democracies,” he said. Imran Khan said Pakistan believed that faithfully implementing UN Security Council resolutions for peaceful settlement of outstanding disputes was a necessary condition for peace, and indispensable for creating an environment of cooperation. The Prime Minister said “associating one religion with terrorism has enabled far-right, populist and supremacist groups around the world to propagate, multiply and accumulate influence.” “For decades Pakistan has suffered from terrorism that was planned, supported, financed and orchestrated by state entities from across our border.” Outside the active zones of conflict, no other country has suffered more than Pakistan, Imran Khan said,. “We have suffered over 80,000 casualties and economic losses in excess of U.S. $150 billion.” “Yet, our resolve remains strong. We will continue to be a reliable and willing partner of the international community in the fight against terrorism and extremism,” Khan told the top gathering of the regional countries. The Prime Minister said unilateral and illegal measures to change the status of disputed territories in violation of Security Council resolutions run counter to this objective. Such measures, he said, must be condemned and opposed firmly for being in violation of the SCO Charter and its well-established principles of inter-state relations. AFGHANISTAN Imran Khan Afghanistan was, rightfully, the focus of attention in view of the recent developments. He said the sudden change of the previous government which surprised everyone; the takeover by the Taliban, and the full withdrawal of foreign forces, has established a new reality in Afghanistan. He said it was a matter of relief that all this happened without bloodshed, without civil war, and without mass exodus of refugees. “It is now in the international community’s collective interest to ensure that there is no renewed conflict in Afghanistan and the security situation is stabilized.” Prime Minister Imran Khan stressing equally urgent priorities to prevent a humanitarian crisis and an economic meltdown in Afghanistan said “We must remember that the previous government depended heavily on foreign aid and its removal could lead to economic collapse,” and added, “this is a moment to stand by the Afghan people, firmly and unequivocally.” Imran Khan commended the UN Secretary-General and UN agencies for leading from the front in mobilizing international support for the immediately needed humanitarian assistance. He said apart from helping in the international evacuation efforts, Pakistan has extended all possible support in the provision and facilitation of humanitarian relief. “We believe positive engagement of the international community with Afghanistan is extremely important … There is a rare opportunity to finally end the 40 years of war in Afghanistan; this moment should not be squandered,” Imran Khan stressed. He said it would be unwise at this critical juncture to spread negativity, or indulge in mischievous propaganda, as some spoilers have sought to do, and pointed that it would only serve to undermine the prospects for peace, to the detriment of the Afghan people. He said the Taliban, on their part, must fulfil the pledges made above all for an inclusive political structure where all ethnic groups are represented. This, he pointed was vital for Afghanistan’s stability and also important to ensure respect for the rights of all Afghans, and ensure that Afghanistan is never again a safe haven for terrorists. As a country that has continuously suffered from the spill-over of conflict and instability in Afghanistan, and borne the burden of nearly four million refugees for 40 years, Pakistan has an abiding interest in a peaceful and stable Afghanistan. Imran Khan said the history of Afghanistan bears witness to the fact that the country values its sovereignty and cannot be controlled from the outside. “We will continue to support a stable, sovereign and prosperous Afghanistan.” COVID-19 Prime Minister Imran Khan said the Covid-19 pandemic afflicted the world in unprecedented ways and said in sheer human suffering, the cost just cannot be calculated. He pointed that a staggering 4.6 million have lost their lives; 223 million have been infected, public health systems overwhelmed, economies worldwide faced downturns and recessions. He said the poor were hit the hardest everywhere – whether living in the impoverished South or the affluent North and for the first time in 20 years, the world saw a rise in absolute poverty. Imran Khan shared with the regional leaders how Pakistan, adopted a calibrated strategy of ‘smart lockdowns’ – with simultaneous focus on saving lives, securing livelihoods, and stimulating the economy, and described it as “a very difficult road to navigate.” He said Pakistan’s social protection programme Ehsaas (compassion) helped millions of families to survive. “I also launched a ‘Global Initiative for Debt Relief’ to help create fiscal space for the developing countries to mitigate the negative effects of the pandemic and achieve sustainable development,” Khan said. He described the advent of the Covid19 vaccine in a relatively short time as a miracle of science and said “we believe science should continue to guide the world’s efforts as it combats the pandemic.” He however said the attempts to politicize the question of virus origin should be avoided as it was divisive at a time when the world needs to unite. He urged that the vaccine be made available to everyone on an equitable basis, and as a global public good. CLIMATE CHANGE Prime Minister Imran Khan took the opportunity to speak on his favourite topic of Climate change and termed it yet another existential threat that the planet earth faces. He said Pakistan’s contribution to global emissions was negligible, yet it was among the 10 most vulnerable countries and therefore addressing the issue was a key priority of his government. “We have taken a number of flagship initiatives to mitigate its adverse impacts, including the 10 Billion Tree Tsunami project. “Our initiatives for ‘Clean and Green Pakistan’ not only aim to protect nature and restore eco-systems but also expand eco-tourism and create thousands of new jobs for our youth. “We are also committed to shifting our energy mix towards a clean and low carbon trajectory and are targeting 60 percent of our energy to be clean by 2030.”‘ Imran Khan said Pakistan continues to work with the international community towards comprehensive implementation of the Paris Agreement and mobilization of enhanced international climate finance to achieve shared objectives. REGIONAL CONNECTIVITY The Prime Minister said sustainable peace and stability in Afghanistan would also help realize Pakistan’s vision of an inter-connected, prosperous and economically vibrant region. He said Pakistan has shifted its focus from geo-politics to geo-economics. “Our new economic security paradigm has three central pillars: peace, development partnerships, and connectivity.” He said Pakistan’s geostrategic location as a natural bridge connecting Central Asia with South Asia finds its manifestation through the platform of SCO. Imran Khan pointed that Pakistan offers the shortest route to the sea for many of our partners in Central Asia. “I commend the initiative by the President of Uzbekistan to host the International Conference on Central Asia-South Asia Connectivity in Tashkent last July.” He was optimistic that the web of rail, road, sea and air links across the SCO region would usher in a new era of enhanced trade, energy flows, and people-to-people exchanges, and added that this connectivity would contribute significantly to progress and prosperity in the region and beyond. These trans-regional linkages will be reinforced by the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the flagship project of BRI, which he added was making steady progress. SCO: Imran Khan termed the 20th anniversary of SCO an important juncture to reflect its journey so far and guided by the “Shanghai Spirit”, the organization had steadily grown in size and stature. He said that today, SCO cumulatively represented 44 per cent of the world’s population, 25 per cent of global landmass, and 20 per cent of the global GDP. He said impressive progress has been made in strengthening SCO’s normative and institutional basis, and in developing practical cooperation on SCO’s twin planks of security and socio-economic development. The Prime Minister also proposed a five-point way forward on the SCO: One, “We must reaffirm our complete support for effective multilateralism and the purposes and principles of the UN Charter, including equality and sovereignty of states, respect for territorial integrity, non-aggression, non-use or threat of force, and peoples’ right for self-determination. Two, “We must strengthen our collective endeavors to mitigate the adverse economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, including through the SCO Joint Advisory measures. Three, “We must chart out a coordinated SCO approach towards stabilizing the situation in Afghanistan — including through enhanced engagement to address our common concerns and safeguard our shared interests, steps to provide humanitarian support and ensure economic stability, and measures to enable Afghanistan to become a reliable partner in peace and prosperity. Four, “We must advance the agenda of regional connectivity. In this regard, taking the process forward, Pakistan would like to host a conference on the theme “Transport Connectivity for Regional Prosperity” in a virtual mode in 2022. Five, “We must, recognizing the immense potential of our youth, explore all possible avenues for their increased interface and empowerment. Pakistan would like to host a conference on “Youth Empowerment through Digital Economy” in 2022.” The Prime Minister addressed President Raisi of Iran as “my brother” and congratulated the country on admission to SCO as full member. He also congratulated Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Qatar on joining as new Dialogue Partners. He congratulated Secretary General Norov on the successful completion of his term and welcomed Ambassador Zhang Ming as the new Secretary-General. He congratulated President Shavkat Mirziyoyev on Uzbekistan’s Chair of SCO for 2021-2022 and assured him of Pakistan’s full support. Earlier on his arrival at Nauroz palace – the venue of the SCO meeting, the prime minister was warmly received by Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rahmon. At the welcome ceremony, PM Imran Khan and other participating leaders of SCO member states had a group photograph with President Emomali, the head of the host country. Foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Information Minister Chaudhry Fawad Hussain, National Security Adviser Dr Moeed Yusuf and Foreign Secretary Sohail Mahmood attended the session. The SCO, an eight-member permanent inter-governmental trans-regional Organization, was established in Shanghai on 15 June 2001. Pakistan became an SCO Observer in 2005 and a full member in June 2017 during Astana SCO-CHS Summit. Russia, China, India, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic and Tajikistan are other SCO members. The SCO also has four Observer states (Iran, Mongolia, Belarus and Afghanistan) and six Dialogue Partners (Azerbaijan, Armenia, Cambodia, Nepal, Turkey and Sri Lanka). The Prime Minister’s visit is part of Pakistan’s deepened engagement with Central Asia through ‘Vision Central Asia’ policy, having revitalized focus in five key areas of political ties, trade and investment, energy and connectivity, security and defence, and people-to-people contacts.