KARACHI/ISLAMABAD: More than 200 Pakistani pilgrims were warmly received by their families as they returned to the country’s commercial capital Karachi on Saturday, praising Saudi authorities for managing the annual Muslim pilgrimage exceptionally well.
They also interacted with senior officials of civil aviation authority and religious affairs ministry who were interested to learn about their experiences and Hajj arrangements.
Pakistan began its post-Hajj flight operations on Saturday, as a Saudi airliner brought more than 200 passengers to the capital of southern Sindh province. The flight was followed by yet another Saudi Airline commercial jet to Peshawar. Two Pakistani aircrafts carrying pilgrims also landed at the Islamabad and Faisalabad airports. An Air Blue flight carrying pilgrims from Jeddah will also arrive in Lahore late on Saturday night.
The post-Hajj flight operation will bring back over 200,000 pilgrims from Saudi Arabia through five hundred flights between August 17 and September 15, a civil aviation official, Zaffar Aitemad Siddiqui, told Arab News at the Karachi airport, adding that 107 flights would bring back about 50,000 pilgrims who had started their sacred journey from Karachi.
“We have provided maximum facilities to our pilgrims during their stay in Saudi Arabia and are hopeful that the post-Hajj flight operation will also remain smooth,” Imran Siddique, Ministry of Religious Affairs Spokesman, told Arab News from Makkah.
Three airlines, including Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), Air Blue and Saudi Arabian Airlines, would participate in the Hajj flight operation to cover ten cities, including Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar, Quetta, Multan, Faisalabad, Sukkur, and Sialkot.
“We have launched a special website, www.Hajjinfo.org, for our pilgrims to get complete information about their flight schedule,” he said. “This will help avoid any confusion.”
During the Hajj in Saudi Arabia, the Ministry of Religious Affairs had deployed a total of 187 ministry officials, 469 medical staff, 545 Pakistan Muavineen-e-Hujjaj (helpers) belonging to police and scouts to facilitate the pilgrims.
More than 200,000 Pakistanis have performed Hajj this year, while around 30,000 pilgrims flying from Islamabad international airport benefited from pre-departure immigration facility under the ‘Road to Makkah’ project.
“We have made excellent arrangements to provide ease to the pilgrims and their families who would go to airports to receive their loved ones,” Siddiqui, the civil aviation official, said.
The PIA has already made arrangements for the provision of the holy water to pilgrims at small airports as well, including Sialkot, Faisalabad, Multan, and Quetta. Private airlines have also stocked Zamzam water at all the airports ahead of the arrival of post-Hajj flights.
Meanwhile, pilgrims said they were amazed to see Hajj arrangements in the Kingdom. “I had offered my last Hajj some twenty years ago. This time I saw a different world,” Dr. Shahida Nafees told Arab News.
“Both the Saudi and Pakistani authorities have tried to make this obligation easier for Muslims,” she continued, adding that she hoped the next time she visited the holy cities she would see even better arrangements.
Abdul Hameed Shaikh, 72, said before embarking upon the journey to Makkah and Madinah that he was worried that his poor health since it could make it difficult for him to perform the Hajj. “The authorities took extreme care of all elderly persons and proved that my worries were misplaced,” Shaikh told Arab News.
“It was an excellent experience. I want to thank Saudi and Pakistani authorities for that,” he said.