KATAS: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Wednesday inaugurated the restoration of an ancient Hindu temple complex in Punjab, a symbolic gesture that may appeal to the Muslim nation's minority communities and soften the country's image abroad.
Sharif's visit to the 900-year-old Katas Raj temples, one of the holiest sites in South Asia for Hindus, comes at a time when relations with country's Hindu-majority neighbour India are at a low ebb and show few signs of improving.
"In my personal view, we are all are equal - Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Christians - and people belonging to other religions; we are all one," PM Nawaz said after a Hindu ritual was performed at the temples, located in the village of Katas some 110km south of the Islamabad.
At the ceremony, attended by senior Christian, Sikh and Hindu leaders, Nawaz chastised hardline scholars who use "strange interpretations" of Islam to preach hate against other religions. "I believe this is not lawful.
No one should try to teach this sort of lesson, nor should anyone heed such lessons," the PM said.
We want minorities to lead their lives in harmony: PM Nawaz
Critics say the government has not done enough to tackle hardline religious groups inside Pakistan, including some with militant links, and accuse members of the ruling PML-N of maintaining links with sectarian hardliners.
Elections next year
Political analysts say prime minister's visit to the Katas Raj temples was part of an effort to reach out to minority groups ahead of a general election scheduled for 2018, and would also appeal to more liberal, urban voters in the country.
Non-Muslims make up only about three per cent of the 190 million population, but they are clustered and their votes could swing some seats in the provinces of Punjab and Sindh.
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