UN chief hails interfaith harmony in Pakistan

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres poses for a photograph while visiting the holy Sikh temple Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur, Pakistan February 18, 2020.

Antonio Guterres visits Kartarpur Corridor, Badshahi Mosque in Lahore.The UN chief, who is on a four-day visit to Pakistan, hailed Islamabad’s efforts for interfaith harmony as he visited Tuesday the Kartarpur corridor, a visa-free border crossing with India.

“I was honoured to visit Pakistan’s newly opened Kartarpur Corridor – a corridor of hope, connecting two key Sikh pilgrimage sites,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres tweeted following his visit to the revered site, where he was welcomed by Pakistan’s Religious Affairs Minister Noorul Haq Qadri, among other Pakistani officials. “This is a welcome symbol of interfaith harmony.”

Speaking to reporters in the eastern city of Lahore, Guterres said: “Kartarpur corridor is a practical example of Pakistan’s desire for peace and inter-faith harmony… it will promote tolerance.”

He also visited Kartarpur Sahib gurdwara, the Sikh place of worship, in Punjab’s Narowal district. It is one of the holiest places for the Sikh community as Baba Guru Nanak, the religion’s founder, spent the last 18 years of his life here.

“It is wonderful to see the Sikh shrine and Sikhs, Muslims, Hindus and Christians praying together in peace… this is the best symbol in the world…” he said. “It is necessary to say that religion unites us with peace and the best symbol is this shrine.”

The Kartarpur border connects Pakistan’s northeastern Narowal city to India’s eastern Gurdaspur district.

The corridor opened last November, just days before the 550th birth anniversary of the Sikhism’s founder. It can accommodate up to 5,000 pilgrims per day, with plans to double the capacity and remove the compulsion of carrying a passport.

Besides meeting leaders of the Sikh faith, the UN head visited Badshahi Mosque, a Mughal era mosque in the Punjab capital.

Earlier in the day, Guterres had an interactive session with students at the Lahore University of Management Sciences, where he spoke of reforming the UN Security Council where only five members enjoy veto powers.

“We have been trying to reform the Security Council for decades but things aren’t moving,” he said.

The UNSG also met students dressed in traditional attire at a kindergarten school in Lahore during the first nationwide polio campaign of the year, and vaccinated 3 students with the polio vaccine.

“My appeal to all leaders is 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 said.

Commenting on Pakistan’s polio eradication efforts, he said in a tweet: “I commend the brave polio vaccine workers — mostly women — working to stamp out polio in Pakistan. Important gains have been made, but we need a concerted push to eradicate this awful disease.”

More than 39 million children across the country are set to be vaccinated during the ongoing campaign.