Islamabad lauds Saudi’s decision to cancel repeat Umrah fees

Pakistani pilgrims breeze through immigration counters at Prince Mohammed bin Abdul Aziz International Airport in Madinah as part of the “Makkah Route” initiative on July 5, 2019. (SPA)
Updated 10 September 2019
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Islamabad lauds Saudi’s decision to cancel repeat Umrah fees

  • Pakistanis top list of nationalities to perform Umrah this year
  • Move will facilitate pilgrims traveling from the country, official says

ISLAMABAD: The spokesman for Pakistan’s Ministry of Religious Affairs (MRA) welcomed Saudi Arabia’s decision to do away with charges for any Pakistani seeking to perform Umrah more than once.
Speaking to Arab News on Tuesday, Imran Siddiqui also thanked King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for issuing a royal decree to restructure Hajj, visit, and transit visas.
“Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan had requested Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman to look into the matter [following which the] Minister of Religious Affairs, Noor ul Haq Qadri, had also discussed the matter with his Saudi counterpart during Hajj this year,” Siddiqui told Arab News.
According to the Saudi minister for Hajj and Umrah, Dr. Mohammad Salih Bentin, the royal decree is part of the leadership’s initiative “to facilitate the arrival of Muslims from all over the world for Hajj and Umrah.”
Siddiqui said that the move would facilitate several Pakistani nationals who top the list of pilgrims performing Umrah and would increase the “number of Pakistani pilgrims who want to go for the pilgrimage.”
“This year alone, more than 1.6 million Pakistanis performed Umrah,” he said.
Dr. Bentin added that the initiative reflects the Kingdom’s readiness to receive the increasing number of pilgrims which is apparent from the investments in huge infrastructure projects and the development of services in Makkah and Madinah.
The decree supports efforts to achieve one of the most important objectives of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 reform plan, which hopes to facilitate 30 million Umrah pilgrims by then.


PM Khan ‘will try to raise conscience of the world,’ at UN — spokesperson

Updated 17 September 2019
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PM Khan ‘will try to raise conscience of the world,’ at UN — spokesperson

  • There will be a planned protest outside UN offices after PM Khan speech at UNGA, says spokesman
  • President of Azad Kashmir, political leaders expect Khan will stress human rights violations in Kashmir

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Foreign Office Spokesperson, Dr. Muhammad Faisal, told Arab News that Prime Minister Imran Khan would make efforts to ‘raise the conscience’ of world leaders against a continuing curfew in Indian-administered Kashmir, at his speech at the UN General Assembly (UNGA) session on September 27 in New York.
On Aug. 5, India flooded the Kashmir valley with troops, imposed a communications lockdown and abrogated a historic clause in its constitution that gave partial autonomy to the Muslim-majority region. Pakistan and India have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir, which both own in part but claim in full. 
In response to India’s abrogation, Pakistan has downgraded diplomatic ties, suspended bilateral trade and made appeals to the UN and international community to condemn the move as a violation of international law.
“We are not expecting that India will lift the clampdown after this speech, but we will try to raise the conscience of world leaders” the spokesperson said and added that the UNGA was not a decision-making forum, but that there would be a large protest outside UN offices.
“On the sidelines, the PM will also meet contact group on Jammu and Kashmir on September 25,” he said.
Referring to “multiple reports” by human rights organizations, Dr. Faisal said the Prime Minister would demand that major global players take note of human rights abuses in Indian-administered Kashmir.
“PM Khan...will demand from international community to take notice of grave human rights violations there which are mentioned in multiple reports by different human rights organizations including UNHRC,” Dr. Faisal told Arab News.
In a letter to the UN Security Council dated Aug. 13, Pakistan had asked for an urgent meeting on Jammu and Kashmir, and it had taken the matter up during its meeting on Aug. 16.
President of Azad Kashmir, Sardar Masood Khan, told Arab News that even though the Prime Minister had raised the Kashmir issue at the UN before, the “aggressive” actions of India had made even graver human rights violations to address, as well as the potential of a bigger conflict erupting in the region.
“When Pakistani PM will speak, he will challenge the international community to act and avert this war started by India, which could turn into a bigger conflict that can be disastrous for the whole region,” Khan said.
A senior leader of the opposition and a parliamentarian from PML-N, Ahsan Iqbal, told Arab News that India’s abrogation and curfew in Kashmir was a “human rights catastrophe,” which should be powerfully highlighted by Imran Khan during his UNGA address.
“He should also ask world community to play active role to compel India to lift the curfew immediately,” he said. 
The UN Security Council adopted several resolutions in 1948 and in the 1950s on the dispute between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, including one which says a plebiscite should be held to determine the future of Muslim Kashmir.
A former foreign secretary who has also served as Pakistani High Commissioner to India, Salman Bashir, said that many world leaders and multilateral forums had raised serious concerns about the worsening human rights situation in Kashmir, which Prime Minister Khan could use to his advantage to put pressure on the Indian government.
“He should also highlight Pakistan’s efforts for peace and stability in the region, especially Afghanistan,” Bashir told Arab News.
India upholds that the abrogation of the constitutional clause that rescinded the autonomy of Kashmir is New Delhi’s internal matter.