Interview with H.E. Mr. Iqbal ZAFAR,
Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ambassador
of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan in Romania
Vasile SIMILEANU: Your Excellency,
The world we know has undergone general changes, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic. Our cultural, spiritual, economic and social values are disturbed. How do you see these transformations?
Iqbal ZAFAR: While it is true that the world as we know has indeed undergone significant changes since the onset of COVID-19 pandemic, however, it has also manifested the oneness of humanity. At this juncture, I would rather recall the recent remarks of our Prime Minister at the 75th session of the UN General Assembly where he stated: “In our inter-connected world, no one is safe unless everyone is safe”.
In my assessment, the biggest transformation as a consequence of Coronavirus pandemic is the manner in which we respond to the subsequent economic crisis that the world is confronted with. I would rather underscore that it is about time that the world community joins hands in supporting each other. For instance, as the Coronavirus pandemic unleashed its horrors, it was considered an obvious outcome that the developing countries would need fiscal space to respond to, and recover from this crisis. Our Prime Minister had indicated at the very intial phase of this pandemic that debt relief was one of the best ways to create that fiscal space for developing countries. He even called for a “Global Initiative on Debt Relief” as early as April this year. The lockdown amidst Coronavirus pandemic has hit the developing countries the hardest as well as the poor in all the countries. In my view, therefore, the world community also needs to respond to this challenge.
V.S.: What is your perception as a doctor of this New World?
Iqbal ZAFAR: In my perception, these are one of the most unprecedented times that our humankind is facing at present. However, I would like to underscore that our world has faced similar challenges in the past as well with magnitude much more intense. For instance, during the past century, Spanish Flu infected around 500 million people around the world. Similarly, in the 2009 swine flu pandemic had suspected cases ranging up to 1.4 billion in just around 19 months. However, the positive side of these episodes is that each time, humankind managed to control these pandemics. As a medical doctor myself, I am confident that if we continue to follow precautionary measures in an effective and efficient manner, this pandemic will also taper off very soon in the coming months.
V.S.: Which are Pakistan‘s strategies for adapting to the new challenges posed by the pandemic?
Iqbal ZAFAR: As Coronavirus pandemic hit Pakistan, the Government realized early on that the imposition of a strict lockdown in the manner similar to that of affluent countries would take a very heavy toll on our economy. As a result, we opted for a policy of ‘smart lockdown’. As part of this strategy, while focusing on the virus “hot-spots” we instantly opened up our agricultural and constructions sectors that generate jobs for most of our people. In addition, the Government allocated a massive package of US$ 08 billion for our health services sector as well as in terms of support for the most vulnerable and poorest segments of our society through direct cash payments under the “Ehsaas programme”. All these measures were also coupled with subsidies to small businesses across the country.
By the grace of God Almighty, today, Pakistan’s response is being cited as one of the success stories in controlling and responding to the pandemic. However, I may underscore that the Government remains vigilant and continues to keep an eye on the manner the Coronavirus pandemic is likely to unfold in the future.
V.S.: How are international, cultural, social, economic and tourist relations perceived in the light of developments in the last eight months?
Iqbal ZAFAR: During the last eight months or so, all the segments of our daily lives have got affected by the Coronavirus pandemic. In my view, our social lives are linked up with our financial situation and that is the core which has been hit hardest by the pandemic. To elaborate the severity of the situation, it may be highlighted that the IMF has estimated that developing countries would need over US$ 2.5 trillion to respond to and recover from the financial and economic crisis resulting from Coronavirus pandemic. While the rich countries have generated over ten trillion dollars to finance their own response and recovery, the developing countries cannot be left high and dry. In my understanding, there is a perception among the less affluent that they might be left vulnerable in the aftermath of this pandemic. It is important to dispel this impression.
V.S.: How do you see the world of tomorrow? Can we talk about a reset of world systems?
Iqbal ZAFAR: It again depends on the manner we perceive the issues confron-ting us. In our assessment, as mentioned by our Prime Minister during his recent speech at the UN General Assmebly, the foundations of the existing ‘world order’ including inter-alia the non-use of or threat of unilateral force, self-determination of peoples, the sovereign equality and territorial integrity of States, non-interference in their internal affairs, international cooperation, are being systematically eroded. In addition, the International agreements are also being flouted and new global power rivalries are setting on the stage resulting in new arms race. In parallel to these developments, the global conflicts are proliferating and intensifying, while military occupation and illegal annexations are suppressing the right to self-determination of human beings.
In my assessment, in the above circumstances, the possibility of a reset of world systems is not something to shy away from. However, the best approach towards this resetting of world systems should be cooperation in International relations in accordance with principles of international law rather than confrontation and use of force. We all must have confidence in the strength of multilateralism in this context.
V.S.: How has the Islamic world been affected by this pandemic? What are the perceptions of the people of Pakistan?
Iqbal ZAFAR: The Islamic World has not remained unaffected by the Coronavirus pandemic. As for Pakistanis, following the initial confusion regarding the impact of pandemic, the people of Pakistan are now more aware of the virus and have responded to it in a more mature manner. They have also continued with their regular economic lives despite this pandemic. The Government has put effective SOPs in place and remains vigilant.
V.S.: Diplomatic relations – and not only – have suffered! Education will have to be reorganized! We can no longer talk about tourism… Religious pilgrimages are also much restructured … In this complex context, how will the New World evolve?
Iqbal ZAFAR: I think that we would need to adjust to the new realities of life. The education sector across the world has already largely adjusted to the new requirements by introducing SOPs for reopening of schools. If situation does not permit, there is also a standby option for having online education for students. As for tourism sector and religious pilgrimages, these areas have undoubtedly been affected in an adverse manner and we would have to wait for the complete solution to the pandemic before these areas could revert to their original activity.
V.S.: I will not enter into conspiracy theory! But who are the culprits? Can we talk about a lack of national and global strategies, with all the technical-scientific develop-ments? Are we moving towards a digitalized world, whose infrastructure is incipient?
Iqbal ZAFAR: I think this is a common challenge facing the mankind. I do not think that we should point fingers on anyone in specific. It is time to confront this pandemic through collective actions. Owing to its unique nature, every country has responded to this pandemic through the strategies that it deems are most suited for its conditions.
I agree that we are moving to a digitalized world especially ever since this pandemic has set in. This infrastructure would need some time to mature and develop as we continue to evolve in terms of handling the Coronavirus pandemic.
V.S.: What are Pakistan‘s challenges in the context of regional conflicts? Or during the COVID-19 period did they go secondary? Can we talk about an opening of medical collaborations not only between friends, but also with enemies? In fact, who are Pakistan‘s enemies?
Iqbal ZAFAR: The region of South Asia is facing the challenge of Islamophobia and state sponsored extremism in the region. Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK) is under siege and Kashmiris are living in a condition where all their basic human rights are taken away. A year ago, India stripped the special status of this internationally recognized disputed region and has unsuccessfully tried to change the status of this region despite the fact that several UNSC resolutions are on the record that call for a plebiscite in the region. The international community is obliged to take cognizance of the situation and put pressure on India to put an end to the gross human rights violations taking place in IIOJK and get this dispute resolved in accordance with the UNSC resolutions.
While our Government remain focused on addressing the Coronavirus pandemic and its related economic and financial shocks, we have been kept engaged by Indian transgressions in IIOJK as well as constant ceasefire violations across the LOC. However, in area of public health, within the SAARC framework, we continue to cooperate within the region. Our Prime Minister also offered to India that Pakistan can share our experience of successfully handling the COVID.
Pakistan’s foreign policy is aimed at promoting friendly relations with all its neighbours and there are no exceptions in this regard. However, Pakistan cannot remain ambivalent to its security imperatives either.
V.S.: What are the relations with the EU state, with China, India, Afghanistan and the Islamic states? How is the Shanghai Economic Treaty evolving? We will witness a new approach to One Belt One Road?
Iqbal ZAFAR: Pakistan has cordial and friendly relations with all the EU Member States. Pakistan and the EU concluded a Strategic Engagement Plan (SEP) in 2019 which was signed during Romania’s EU Presidency. It will provide the framework for further cooperation and stronger ties between the two sides in the coming years.
Pakistan’s relations with China are marked by friendship and cordiality. Pakistan and China are “All-Weather Strategic Co-operative Partners” and remain fully committed to promoting peace, stability, and development in the region. Pakistan remains committed to “One China policy” and stands firmly behind China on core issues of its national interest.
As regards India, I would like to reiterate the words of our Prime Minister at the recent UN General Assembly session that the one country in the world today where, the state sponsors Islamophobia, is India. The reason behind this is RSS ideology inspired by Nazis and fascists that rules India today. This mindset believes that India is exclusive for Hindus and others are not equal citizens. The secularism of Gandhi and Nehru has been replaced by the dream of creating a Hindu Rashtra by subjugating, even cleansing India’s 200 million Muslims and other minorities.
The Hindutva ideology is set to marginalize almost 300 million human beings – Muslims, Christians and Sikhs. This is unprecedented in history and does not augur well for the future of India as we all know that marginalization of human beings leads to radicalization.
Over the last 72 years, India has continued with its illegal occupation of the Jammu and Kashmir against the wishes of the Kashmiri people, and in blatant violation of the resolutions of the Security Council and indeed its own commitments. On 5th August 2019, India illegally and unilaterally sought to change the status of the occupied territories and deployed additional troops, bringing the total number to 900,000, to impose a military siege on 8 million Kashmiri. All Kashmiri political leaders were incarcerated; around 13,000 Kashmiri youth were abducted and thousands tortured; a complete curfew was imposed, accompanied by a total communications blackout.
The international community should investigate these grave violations and prosecute the Indian civil and military personnel involved in state terrorism and serious crimes against humanity, being perpetrated, with complete impunity. The UN Security Council must prevent a disastrous conflict and secure the implementation of its own resolutions. India needs to rescind the measures it has instituted since 5 August 2019, end its military siege and other gross human rights violations, and agree to resolve the Jammu & Kashmir dispute in accordance with the relevant UN Security Council resolutions and the wishes of the Kashmiri people.
Pakistan greatly values its association with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Over the years, SCO has evolved as an important regional forum. Pakistan remains committed to the Shanghai Spirit and the central role of the United Nations in maintaining international peace and security and advancing global development. SCO’s vision of regional connectivity and economic integration is very relevant in terms of bringing its Member States closer. In this context, the importance of China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) cannot be understated.
In Afghanistan, Pakistan desires for peace and a political solution. Government of Pakistan has consistently maintained over the past two decades that there is no military solution to the conflict in Afghanistan. The only way forward was and is a political settlement which involves the full spectrum of Afghanistan’s political actors. Pakistan facilitated the process that culminated in the U.S.-Taliban Peace Agreement on 29 February 2020. There is now a need for the Afghan leaders to seize this historic opportunity for achieving reconciliation and restoring peace in their war-torn country.
As concerns the new approach to One Belt One Road Initiative, Pakistan believes that BRI and SCO complement each other through enhancing regional connectivity, promoting trade and deepening people-to-people exchanges.
As regards the Muslims world, Pakistan has historical and brotherly relations with all the Member States of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and continues to engage with them for promotion of peace and stability across the world.
V.S.: What are the current priorities of Pakistan?
Iqbal ZAFAR: The current priorities for Pakistan can be divided into two areas: domestic and regional. As for domestic domain, Pakistan’s priority remains economic and social development of the country. At the regional / international front, Pakistan remains committed to bringing peace and stability in the region.
V.S.: How do you appreciate the relations with Romania in a multilateral plan?
Iqbal ZAFAR: We have close relations with Romania and both sides are working to convert the significant political goodwill that exists between the two countries into tangible economic and trade engagement. Pakistan and Romania have worked closely in various international organizations and have traditionally supported each other’s candidature on reciprocal basis at the UN and other multilateral fora.
V.S.: Your Excellency,
Thank you and good luck in your mission in Romania!