Pakistan to start Hajj flights from July 4 – official spokesman

“Hajj flights from Pakistan to Saudi Arabia will be operational from July 4,” Imran Siddique, MRA spokesman said. (AFP/File)
Updated 20 June 2019
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Pakistan to start Hajj flights from July 4 – official spokesman

  • Ministry of Religious Affairs says measures in place to make project a success
  • Move part of Saudi’s ambitious initiative to facilitate pilgrims from all over the world

ISLAMABAD: Preparations to make Saudi Arabia’s ‘Road to Makkah’ project a success are underway and in its final stages at major airports, officials at Pakistan’s Ministry of Religious Affairs told Arab News on Wednesday.
“Hajj flights from Pakistan to Saudi Arabia will be operational from July 4,” Imran Siddique, MRA spokesman said, adding that the officials are in talks with the Saudi government “through the foreign office to finalize all matters.”
He added that the MRA is doing everything in its capacity to facilitate Hajj pilgrims from Pakistan.
On Monday, Pakistan’s Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan had said that the government was intent on making the project – which 
is aimed at facilitating Hajj pilgrims from across the Muslim world – a success.
During Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s visit to Pakistan in February this year, Prime Minister Imran Khan had requested Saudi Arabia to include Pakistan in the project, following which Saudi authorities had said that all pilgrims traveling from Pakistan would be able to clear immigration at local airports in Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore, and Peshawar.
“The aviation division has inculcated five major airports in the country to store Zamzam water for Hajj pilgrims this year,” Khan said, adding that the initiative was “as per the instructions of the Ministry of Religious Affairs to the Islamabad International Airport.”
Khan added that ample space had been allocated at several airports for the storage of Zamzam holy water which would be brought from Saudi Arabia and distributed among pilgrims on their return from Hajj this year. 
“These airports include Islamabad, Quetta, Faislabad, Sukkar and Rahim Yar Khan,” he said. 
In April this year, a Saudi delegation comprising officials from the Kingdom’s immigration and passport departments visited Pakistan to evaluate facilities for pilgrims at the major airports.
As part of the Road to Makkah initiative, the Hajj quota for Pakistani pilgrims has been increased from 184,210 to 200,000 this year. This year Saudi Arabia has also agreed, in principle, to provide e-visas to Pakistanis performing Hajj.


Taliban says its fighters will join Afghan security forces after US troops leave

Updated 23 July 2019
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Taliban says its fighters will join Afghan security forces after US troops leave

  • Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen says Taliban will be part of any future government in Kabul
  • Possibility of a peace deal in the next month, even before Eid on August 11, Shaheen says

ISLAMABAD: Taliban political spokesman Suhail Shaheen said on Tuesday thousands of Taliban fighters would become part of the Afghan army and other security forces after US and other foreign troops left Afghanistan following a peace deal with the United States. 
The United States and the Taliban are close to an agreement to end an 18-year-long Afghan civil war. The deal is expected to be centered on a US pledge to withdraw troops in exchange for a Taliban promise not to let Afghanistan be used as a base for terrorism, officials say.
US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad will travel to Afghanistan and Qatar from July 22 – August 1 to restart talks with the Taliban in Doha.
“We have agreed that the army will stay as an institution,” the Taliban spokesman told Arab News via telephone when asked about the fate of thousands of Taliban fighters after the peace deal. “The army is required and will remain as a base, as a foundation but reforms are needed.”
He said participants at Moscow’s intra-Afghan conference this month had also called for reforms in Afghan security institutions, adding that future intra-Afghan meetings would decide how reforms would be introduced.
“Yes of course they (Taliban) will be part of the security system. They have rendered huge sacrifices for the liberation of the country,” Shaheen said.
To another question about whether the Taliban would be part of any future political system and the government, the Taliban spokesman answered in the affirmative adding: “But they will not be the part of the present administration. There will be a new system and a new government and we will definitely be part of that.”
When asked if the Taliban could become a political party when foreign troops withdrew, Shaheen said: “Our leadership will decide about the future policy. Our top priority is to end the occupation and second, to establish an Islamic government and we will take Afghans into confidence. Our leaders will decide as to how would we work.”
He said the Taliban would allow women the right to education, jobs and business under Islamic principles, adding that they would have to observe the Islamic veil.
“There had been no curbs on women education during our previous government. But we had been in the state of war that time and had no financial resources and the priority had been to maintain security as there had been anarchy and chaotic situation that time. But we want the world to help us and we will establish good relations with the world and to solve all our problems under an Islamic system,” Shaheen said.
He said the Taliban neither recognized the present system in Kabul nor the constitution in its present form.
“We recognize the constitution as a necessity and want another constitution,” Shaheen said. “We think other institutions are also necessary but we do not recognize the present institutions and that is why we are holding intra-Afghan conferences to discuss how the constitution and institutions should be.”
When asked if the Taliban recognized the present democratic system, Shaheen said: “We believe in an Islamic system.” 
He said there was a possibility the Taliban and the United Sates could “conclude certain final points” in the possible peace deal within a month and even before the Muslim festival of Eid, likely to be celebrated in Afghanistan on Aug. 11.
“I am hopeful we will reach an agreement before Eid,” he said.
To a question about US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s statement that he hoped to have a peace deal by September 1, Shaheen said he was hopeful an agreement could materialize even before that as “we want to end bloodshed and destruction in our country.”
“The ball is in their (US) court,” Shaheen said. “They should come up with a reasonable offer.”