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Pakistan-India crossing is a ‘Corridor of Hope’, UN chief says, wraps up visit with call for interfaith dialogue

18 February 2020

UN Secretary-General António Guterres on Tuesday said he had been moved by the show of religious unity he had witnessed in Pakistan after paying visits to a mosque, a gurdwara and Kartarpur Corridor, the visa-free crossing which allows Sikhs to travel between nearby holy sites on each side of the India-Pakistan border.

“This is a very emotional moment. It is wonderful to see interfaith dialogue” said the Secretary-General, on the last leg of his three-day visit to Pakistan, where, since Sunday, he has pressed for climate action, and praised Pakistan’s compassion for hosting Afghan refugees, as well as the South Asian country’s major contributions to UN peacekeeping.

Speaking to the media at the town of Katarpur his stop at the Corridor, the UN chief said: “It is wonderful to see in the same shrine today Sikhs, Muslims, Christians, maybe Hindus — all worshipping in harmony and in peace”.

Kartarpur is a town located in the province of Punjab (Pakistan) on the right bank of Ravi River. It is said to have been founded by the first guru of Sikhism, Guru Nanak in 1504 AD, where he established the first commune. The name means “place of God”.

To facilitate visa-free access to Indian Sikh pilgrims, Kartarpur Corridor was  established in September 2018.

This so-called “Corridor of Peace” was inaugurated on 9 November 2019 on the eve of the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak. The Corridor links Gurdwara Kartarpur Saheb with Gurdwra Dera Baba Nanak, across the border in India.

Echoing this sentiment of  religious unity and tolerance, Mr. Guterres called the Kartarpur Corridor a “corridor of hope.” He also visited a gurdwara, or Sikh Temple, and the Badshahi Mosque in Lahore, he added: “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”.

‘Diversity is a blessing not a threat’

The Secretary General has long advocated the importance of interreligious dialogue and interfaith harmony achieve peaceful societies.

“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” Mr. Guterres told reporters today, stressing that “diversity is a blessing, a richness, not a threat”.

The Secretary General took the opportunity to pay tribute to the contribution of the Sikh community the world over: “I’m a Christian, but I feel very much at home when I am in a Sikh shrine and where I can pray to God here together with the Sikh community.”

UN Photo/Mark Garten | UN Secretary-General António Guterres (centre) meets religious leaders at Badshahi Mosque in Lahore in Punjab province in Pakistan.

UN committed in helping Pakistan to eradicate Polio

Earlier in the day, the Secretary-General visited kindergarten in Lahore where he participated in the first nationwide polio campaign of the year, highlighting the importance of eradicating polio from the country.

At the school, he met Dr. Yasmin Raashiv, Minister of Health for the Punjab Province, along with several health workers. While there, the UN chief appealed to all leaders, including religious and community leaders, to fully support the Government of Pakistan, and other governments around the world, in making sure that polio can one day be fully eradicated.

He also administrated polio drops to three students.

Pakistan, with the help of international agencies and donors, has made strides in the eradication of polio. However, 110 reported cases since January 2019 have caused concerns.

Mr. Guterres later tweeted: “Important gains have been made, but we need a concerted push to eradicate this awful disease.”

UN News/May Yaacoub | UN Secretary-General António Guterres administers the polio vaccine to a kindergarten student on his visit to Lahore, Pakistan, as part of a nationwide vaccination campaign.

UN 75 Dialogue in Lahore

Among his other activities today was a lively discussion with the students at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS).

There, he highlighted the importance of the UN 75 dialogues that will be taking place over teh coming year, noting that for the Organization’s seventy-fifth anniversary, he wanted to reach out and hear from youth.

From January 2020, the UN75 campaign will initiate the dialogues in all settings – from classrooms to boardrooms, parliaments to village halls. The aim is to reach as many people as possible: to listen to their hopes and fears; and learn from their ideas and experiences. Anyone can join the global conversation – physically or online, individually or as a group, in every region of the world.

Mr. Guterres stressed that over the next year, the UN wants to make the voices of young people “count in the ways decisions are made , in which strategies are established, policies are defined and actions are implemented.”

He also stated that the aim is not merely a dialogue during the Organization’s anniversary year, but “to establish within the UN mechanisms of institutional dialogue and institutional participation allowing the youth to have an influence in the way the UN shapes its interventions, decisions and strategies”.

“And why is it so important that young people effectively participate in the way we shape decisions today? The main reason for me is because my generation has failed in many aspects, but they failed essentially, in three basic questions that will determine the future,” said Mr. Guterres, citing failures on climate change, on making globalization work for all, and in making sure that new technologies are a force for good.

Finally, he said: “I believe that the youth must have a fundamental voice, but not only a fundamental voice, a fundamental role in the shaping of our common future. And I want to make the UN75 anniversary the moment in which I will try to talk as little as possible and to listen as much as possible.”

The Secretary-General wrapped up his time at the university by listening to the gathered students and exchanging views with them on issues such as human rights and climate change, and also about the important role of the UN.

THE SECRETARY-GENERAL REMARKS AT JOINT PRESS BRIEFING WITH THE FOREIGN MINISTER OF PAKISTAN AND THE UN HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR REFUGEES Islamabad, 17 February 2020

I’ll have a very brief message. First to express my deep gratitude and appreciation for the generosity and hospitality of the Pakistanis, for having received for 40 years millions of Afghan refugees.

In a world where so many borders are closed; in a world where so many refugees are rejected or stigmatized, Pakistan has not only opened its border, but the Pakistanis have opened the doors of their houses, and they have opened their hearts to support Afghan refugees. Pakistan has provided the world with a global public good supporting Afghan refugees and it’s time for the international community to assume its responsibilities, and to support Pakistan very meaningfully in this generous hospitality towards Afghan refugees and support Afghan refugees in their, obviously, difficult situation.

Second message: paying tribute to the resilience and the courage of Afghans; Afghan refugees, Afghans displaced, Afghans very dramatic conditions in their own country and to say that it’s time for Afghans to have a chance for peace. It’s time for Afghans to have a chance for development of their own country.

And the [third] message is that there is an opportunity for peace we cannot miss. We have not the right to miss this opportunity. No Afghan will forgive us if this opportunity is not seized. It is absolutely essential that all Afghan leaders and all members of the international community do everything possible to make peace become a reality.

I’m very encouraged by the strong commitment of Pakistan to peace in Afghanistan. And it’s also very important that the whole international community, once peace is achieved decides to invest massively, in fact, 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; to return and face a new and prosperous life and for peace in the region to be consolidated forever.

I want to once again express my great gratitude for the wonderful hospitality I’m enjoying here in Pakistan, and for the excellent opportunities that were given to me to participate in so many events, in which Pakistan is contributing so positively, not only for the support to Afghan refugees, but for peace and for international cooperation and support of the UN in these very important moments that we are living together.

Question: Thank you. This is [Madina], representing GTV network. The question is to the Secretary-General of the U.N. Repatriation of Afghan refugees back to Afghanistan is linked with the peace and stability in Afghanistan, and our foreign minister has rightly talked about a roadmap. So, the question is, who will push forward the peace and reconciliation process? What roles United Nations can play, although Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad held many rounds of talks with Afghan Taliban, but we don’t see any progress in the peace and reconciliation process. So peace is deeply linked with the repatriation of Afghan refugees. And if peace is not there, definitely it’s not possible to send refugees back; and connected to this Pakistan faces threats of terrorism from across the border. So there are safe havens of the terrorists operating very easily on Afghan territory. What message, Excellency, you will give to the Afghan leadership on this? Thank you

Secretary-General: First of all, as I mentioned in my intervention, the UN is ready to participate in any of the peace talks that will take place in namely, in the Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process of reconciliation. And those peace talks, of course, will need the assistance of different organizations. The U.N. is totally at the disposal of the Afghans and totally at the disposal of the other actors in order to participate in the peace process and to help to consolidate it.

On the other hand, it is clear that peace among the key Afghan actors is an absolute must in order to fight terrorism effectively, because it is in the context of conflict, that terrorism can spread, and terrorism can prevail. And so, we believe that if peace is established, if all key actors of Afghanistan come together, then it will be possible to isolate terrorist groups. And it will be possible to have a meaningful international support in order to neutralize any terrorist activities in Afghanistan. And the UN Office of counterterrorism is entirely at the disposal of Afghanistan to support that process.

Question: This is Samira Khan, and I am representing [inaudible] News. Secretary-General, first part of my question is for you. Most of the times that we observed that, apart from all the political turmoil within Afghanistan and some of the time in Pakistan as well, the onus, according to the majority, the onus comes on the Afghan government as well, if they have to act responsibly towards the all the political acts of that are happening in Pakistan as well. So most of the times it is the political statements that are the cause and that are the reason for ruining and destabilizing the entire process, and it makes Pakistan feel to reverse and to strictly go through the entire process of repatriation and to make it as soon as possible.

So don’t you think that the political government in Afghanistan should also act responsibly towards making things easy for Pakistan and making things easy for Afghan refugees in Pakistan as well. And, Mr. Foreign Minister, my second part addresses you that when we talk about keeping refugees, Afghan refugees in Pakistan for more time, and we keep on giving them deadlines. So what is our economic condition right now to have them for another five years or 10 years? Do we have any plan on hard paper to share with you and so the donors can come forward, and they also take part in that and to shed some responsibilities and burden of Pakistani government in that regard? Thank you so much.

Secretary-General: My answer is very simple. I think it’s high time for donors to see Pakistan as an essential partner in the protection and assistance of refugees and to see Pakistan as an essential partner in the construction of the peace in Afghanistan. And to correspond to that by a very strong support to Pakistan, in the context of the global solution of all the problems we have been discussing today.

Question: This is [inaudible] from [inaudible] Television. My question is to the Secretary-General and Foreign Minister can also comment too. Mr. Secretary, you have been visiting Pakistan a number of times as head of the UNHCR. Please tell me from the core of your heart, what is the future of Afghan youngsters who were born in Pakistan and brought up in Pakistan? Don’t you think they have a very confused future because they are most Pakistani, half at least if not full. Thank you.

Secretary-General: As I always say, and I believe it’s UNHCR’s doctrine, the preferred solution for refugees is always voluntary repatriation in safety and dignity. In all massive return processes in the world, there is always a group of people that, in between got integrated in the society which they leave, because they get married, because they have other kinds of links.

And let’s not forget that beyond the refugee phenomenon, there is a migration phenomena in this region. And I believe it will be very important for the governments of Pakistan and Iran and Afghanistan, also to establish a very meaningful cooperation in relation to migration, in order to be able to address situations like the ones that you mentioned, not with the nature and character of refugee protection, but with the nature and character of the movements of population that take place everywhere in the world. But doing it, you know, in a way in which the cooperation among governments allow it to occur orderly, and in a way that takes into account the interests of the people and the interests of the states involved.

Question: Malik, editor of the Delhi Metro Watch. Today’s topic is the refugees summit in Islamabad, but the main focus is on Afghan refugees. As a student of journalism, I have known that Pakistan has a rich history to host the refugees from 1947, from India to 1948, from Kashmir to until now, we are hosting a lot of refugees from Kashmir. And in East Pakistan, we are also to, why this part is missing? And one innocent question. Last year, in this month of February, India attacked Pakistan and destroyed our trees and innocent forestry crew. Is the U.N. going to take action against the brutality action against the environment, because UN is very silent when their humanity is dying in Kashmir. My question is that the trees and crew have no bias in the world.

Secretary-General: The opportunity yesterday in the press conference that was related essentially to those issues to fully respond to that question. I will repeat the main principles. First main principle, every problem that exists in the world must be solved with diplomacy and dialogue. Every situation in which there is conflict must deserve de-escalation, and de-escalation both military and verbally. And as I said, my good offices are available provided that all parties want to accept them. And, sir, in all these situations, it’s absolutely essential that human rights and fundamental freedoms are fully respected. And that takes place there and everywhere in the world.

Question: First of all, my question is to Mr. Foreign Minister, to you. Do[es] Pakistan want to send back Afghan refugees to their own homeland. If yes, the message has been conveyed to foreign authorities or a foreign government? And my second question is, Mr. Secretary-General, now, reportedly, that India has denied your mediation role, so what options are left for you on the Kashmir issue? Thank you.

Secretary-General: In these circumstances, obviously, we have the role of advocacy that we maintain. And that is the role of the Human Rights High-Commissioner that has been several times quite effective in this regard.

Question: My question is for the U.N. Secretary-General. Mr. Secretary-General, last year, India ordered the status of Kashmir. This dispute is very much on the agenda of the world body. How is the U.N. dealing with India on this count? And the second part of my question. How would you facilitate the repatriation of refugees since we have the history that whenever we have been sending them to come back again. Thank you.

 

Moderator: Mr. Secretary-General, concluding remarks.

Secretary-General: I had the occasion to say yesterday that in all circumstances, Security Council resolutions need to be respected and that we need to have full respect for the human rights of the people involved.

The United Nations Secretary-General will be visiting Pakistan next week

New York/Islamabad, 10 February 2020: We are pleased to announce that the United Nations Secretary-General will be visiting Pakistan next week, where he will speak at the International Conference on 40 Years of Hosting Afghan Refugees in Pakistan, which is being organized by the Government of Pakistan and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).  He will also hold meetings with high-level Pakistani officials.

The Secretary-General will arrive in Islamabad on Sunday, and he will hold bilateral meetings with the Prime Minister Imran Khan and Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Hussain Qureshi that day and speak at an event on sustainable development and climate change.

On Monday, the Secretary-General will speak at the International Conference, along with High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi, and will participate in a high-level panel discussion and other events at that conference.  The Secretary-General, the High Commissioner and the Foreign Minister will also speak to the press. The Secretary-General will also meet with the President of Pakistan, Arif Alvi, on Monday.

The Secretary-General will be in Lahore on Tuesday, where he will meet with students and attend an event on Pakistan’s polio vaccination campaign.

He will also travel to Kartarpur to visit a holy site, Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib. The Secretary-General will return to New York on Wednesday the 19th.

United Nations Youth Champions for Disarmament

The United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (ODA) has launched the United Nations Youth Champions for Disarmament training programme. It is looking for 10 young persons (ages 18 – 24) motivated to use their talents to help raise awareness and promote change for a more peaceful and secure world. https://www.un.org/disarmam…/youth-champions-for-disarmament

The application deadline is 15 March 2020.