Pakistan tops list of most Umrah pilgrims in 2019

In this photo, Pakistani Muslims wait to pass security as the first pilgrims for the annual Hajj pilgrimage arrive in Jeddah on July 24, 2017. (AFP)
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Updated 29 December 2019

Pakistan tops list of most Umrah pilgrims in 2019

  • About 495,000 Pakistanis performed Umrah between August 31 and December 26
  • Increase in the number of pilgrims owes to the facilities provided by the Saudi authorities – religious affairs ministry

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan topped the list of countries that sent maximum number of Umrah pilgrims to Saudi Arabia since the beginning of the season on August 31 until December 26, 2019, according to official statistics released by the Kingdom on Friday.

The index showed that 495,270 Pakistanis performed their Umrah during the period, followed by 443,879 Indonesians and 262,887 Indians. Other countries on the list included Malaysia, Egypt, Algeria, Turkey, Bangladesh, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan.

Pakistan’s Religious Affairs Ministry Spokesman Imran Siddiqui told Arab News on Saturday that the Saudi government had always won the hearts of the Pakistani pilgrims through exceptional hospitality.

“This number of 495,270 was achieved in four months, showing the association and passionate love of our people with the two holy mosques,” he said. “Pakistan was the number one country with more than 1.7 million people performing Umrah last year. The trend has continued this year as well, and more people are likely to visit the Kingdom to undertake this spiritual journey in the coming months, especially during Ramadan.”

The spokesperson said that one of the reasons behind the growing number of pilgrims from Pakistan was the strengthening of bilateral relations between the two countries, adding that Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan and Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had brought the two states closer together.

“The Saudi crown prince has given Pakistani pilgrims special facilities, such as the Makkah Route, and such changes have contributed to the increased number of pilgrims,” he said, noting that the Saudis had also digitized everything like visa for Umrah.

“This has reduced the cases of frauds committed by travel agents, especially when it comes to issues like accommodation. Now everything is electronic and they have to show hotel accommodation for visa. The changes have been made under Vision 2030, making things easier for the pilgrims,” Siddiqui said.

The Vision 2030 reforms plan aims to attract more than 30 million Umrah pilgrims and provide them excellent services. Last year, the Saudi Hajj and Umrah Ministry launched a weekly indicator that helps the authorities track the number of pilgrims visiting the Kingdom to enrich their spiritual experience further.

Pakistan's sole PVC resin manufacturer eyes 'big opportunity' to supply construction materials to NEOM

Updated 11 sec ago

Pakistan's sole PVC resin manufacturer eyes 'big opportunity' to supply construction materials to NEOM

  • Engro Polymer and Chemicals Limited says Pakistani manufacturers have already bid to supply PVC material to kingdom
  • Demand for PVC materials to keep booming for at least two years after first phase of construction in NEOM, says EPCL

KARACHI: Engro Polymer and Chemicals Limited (EPCL), Pakistan’s sole manufacturer of PVC resin material, said on Wednesday it is eyeing supply of the product for construction at Saudi Arabia’s planned smart city NEOM which can help it earn $300 million in exports. 

Neom, a $500 billion project, is a key element of the Saudi Vision 2030 plan as part of the kingdom’s mission to diversify away from its oil-dependent economy. The project is estimated to create 380,000 jobs and contribute SAR180 billion to Kingdom’s GDP. Saudi Arabia’s flagship business and tourism development project at the Red Sea coast is expected to see massive construction in the coming months and years. 

Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) resin is the raw material used to manufacture various construction materials. These include PVC pipes, Wood Plastic Composite (WPC) windows and furniture, Stone Plastic Composite (SPC) flooring, and cable insulation. PVC is also used to manufacture medical equipment. 

“A big opportunity is knocking at the door in the form of Neom,” Muhammad Farhan, general manager downstream business and market development at EPCL, told Arab News. Farhan was speaking at a media briefing at the Bin Qasim industrial zone in Pakistan’s southern port city of Karachi. 

“Neom is a $500 billion project that requires massive construction materials including PVC downstream products that are available in Pakistan,” Farhan added. 

“In fact, some of the Pakistani manufacturers have already bid for the supply of material to the kingdom.” 

Farhan said Pakistani manufacturers of PVC products had received overwhelming response from Saudi participants of the Big 5, a mega construction show held in Dubai in December 2022. 

He said Saudis are exploring different options while manufacturers in the kingdom are looking for other manufacturers who can make products for them. 

The EPCL official said the demand for the basic construction material, including cables and pipes, will increase in the first phase of construction at Neom and will keep booming for at least two years. Simultaneously, demand for value-added products for construction on the exterior, including SPC and WPC, will increase.

To take greater advantage of Neom’s lucrative opportunities, Farhan said the government can play a vital role by engaging Saudi authorities and the Trade Development Authority of Pakistan (TDAP). 

“We saw the interest of the Saudi participants in the value-added products – they want to import but they were also looking for investment in the kingdom for manufacturing and as a nation, we have access capacity and by utilizing that capacity we can avail the opportunity,” he added. 

Muhammad Idrees, EPCL’s chief commercial officer, said the country is already exporting PVC resin to Gulf countries UAE. Bahrain, Oman, and Egypt because of the freight advantage. 

“Engro has installed capacity of 300,000-ton resin production while the downstream industry has close to a million-ton capacity,” Idrees said.

“The downstream PVC industry can fully utilize its excess capacity and earn $300 million in terms of export revenue by standardizing and improving the quality of finished products.”

He said the $300 million PVC export potential could materialize within the next three to four years by the value-added industry through the export of surplus volumes and products. 

Idrees said EPCL is collaborating with TDAP to explore global markets to export value-added PVC downstream products. 

“In the last two years, the company exported surplus products worth $48 million to Turkiye and Middle Eastern markets, while import substitution of around $300 million contributed significantly toward solving Pakistan’s balance of payments situation,” he added. 

Mahmood Siddiqui, vice president of manufacturing at EPCL, said the company has invested over $188 million since 2015 in plant expansion and other upgrade projects for higher efficiency, reliability, and diversification of operations.

Pakistan’s per capita PVC consumption stands at 1.2 kg versus a global average of 6.1 kg. Per capita consumption growth, EPCL officials said, would be driven by rising per capita income, increasing urbanization, and robust domestic manufacturing in the coming years. 

However, they said the company was facing challenges of importing equipment for additional plants as commercial banks refuse to open Letters of Credit (LCs) as Pakistan faces a dollar crunch amid a worsening economic crisis. 

Amid decades-high inflation, Pakistan slashes petrol price by Rs8 per liter

Updated 31 May 2023

Amid decades-high inflation, Pakistan slashes petrol price by Rs8 per liter

  • After revision in prices, petrol will now be sold for Rs262 per liter, says finance minister
  • Pakistan slashes prices of high speed diesel, light diesel oil by Rs5 per liter respectively

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Finance Minister Ishaq Dar announced the government’s decision to slash the price of petrol by Rs8 per liter on Wednesday, as Pakistan attempts to provide relief to the masses amid decades-high inflation. 

Inflation increased to a historic high of 36.4 percent in Pakistan in April 2023, the highest since 1964, after the South Asian country hiked fuel and energy prices to revive a $6.5 billion loan program with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). 

To reduce the burden of inflation from the masses, Pakistan slashed the price of petrol by Rs 12 per liter two weeks ago. The South Asian country revises prices of petroleum products fortnightly. 

In a brief video message on Wednesday, the finance minister said that prices of petroleum products had not reduced drastically over the past 15 days nor had the value of the rupee significantly improved against the US dollar. 

“The maximum that we could reduce the petrol price [a fortnight ago] was Rs12 per liter,” Dar said. “Today, by reducing an additional Rs8 per liter, the price of petrol will reduce by Rs20 per liter in total. So, its price will reduce from Rs270 per liter to Rs262 from June 1,” he added. 

Dar also announced a reduction in the price of high speed diesel by Rs5 per liter and light diesel oil by Rs5 per liter. The price of kerosene oil will remain unchanged, he added.  

The finance minister said after the latest price reduction, high speed diesel, kerosene, and light diesel oil would cost Rs253, Rs164.07, and Rs147.68 per liter respectively.

Pakistan also slashed its oil imports by almost half last month, reducing it by 48 percent to 1.07 million tons during April 2023 as compared to 2.05 million tons during April 2022, a research report by Pakistan’s largest securities brokerage company, Arif Habib Limited, said. 

British Army chief calls on Pakistani counterpart, discusses regional security issues

Updated 31 May 2023

British Army chief calls on Pakistani counterpart, discusses regional security issues

  • British Army chief arrived in Pakistan this week to discuss military cooperation in response to climate-related disasters
  • General Nicholas Sanders lays floral wreath at Martyrs’ Monument, acknowledges Pakistan Army’s sacrifices against militancy

ISLAMABAD: British Army chief General Nicholas Yardley Monrad Sanders called on Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Syed Asim Munir on Wednesday to discuss regional security issues at the General Headquarters (GHQ) in Rawalpindi, the Pakistani military said. 

Sanders arrived in Pakistan on a five-day visit on Monday to discuss military cooperation in response to climate-related challenges, with the UK High Commission in Islamabad saying his visit is part of a long-standing military cooperation agreement between the two countries.

Pakistan and UK’s militaries cooperate frequently, with many Pakistani officers undertaking training at the UK’s Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, the Advance Command and Staff Course, and the Royal College of Defense Studies. 

During his visit, Sanders laid a floral wreath at the Yadgar-e-Shuhuda (Marters’ Memorial) while a Pakistan Army contingent gave him a guard-of-honor. 

“During the meeting, regional security issues and matters of mutual interest were discussed,” the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said. 

“The visiting dignitary acknowledged the sacrifices and achievements of the Pakistan Army in the fight against terrorism and efforts for bringing peace and stability to the region,” the military’s media wing added. 

Earlier, Sanders also met General Sahir Shamshad Mirza, Pakistan’s chairman joint chiefs of staff committee at the Joint Staff Headquarters in Rawalpindi, the ISPR said. 

Pakistani neuroscientist in US prison being subjected to ‘worst monitoring’— senator

Updated 31 May 2023

Pakistani neuroscientist in US prison being subjected to ‘worst monitoring’— senator

  • Dr. Aafia Siddiqui has been in a high-security American prison on terrorism charges for nearly two decades
  • Pakistani senator who arranged Siddiqui’s meeting with sister says even her visits to bathroom being monitored

KARACHI: Pakistani neuroscientist Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, who has been in a high-security US prison on terrorism charges for nearly two decades, is suffering from the “worst monitoring” with security keeping a check even on her visits to the bathroom, Pakistani Senator Mushtaq Ahmed Khan said on Wednesday. 

Siddiqui gained international attention after she was arrested in 2003 and was later convicted by a US court for attempting to kill US military personnel in Afghanistan and was sentenced to 86 years in prison. The US also suspected her of having connections to Al-Qaeda.

Senator Khan helped arrange an emotional meeting between Siddiqui and her sister Dr. Fowzia Siddiqui after 20 years in Houston. Khan said the meeting took place under strict surveillance and limitations where they weren’t even allowed to hug each other. 

“She is facing the worst type of monitoring, as six people accompany her round the clock,” Khan told Arab News over the phone from Houston. “Everything, even if she goes to the bathroom, is being monitored.” 

“She has been chained and put on a list of dangerous inmates,” Khan added. 

Earlier, Khan took to Twitter to share details about the meeting, saying that it lasted for two-and-a-half hours. 

“Dr. Fouzia was not allowed to hug or shake hands with Aafia. Dr. Fowzia was also not allowed to show Dr. Aafia pictures of her children. [The meeting took place] in one of the prison rooms where there was a thick glass wall in the middle and they could see each other through it,” Khan wrote. 

Fowzia Siddiqui has been tirelessly campaigning for her sister’s freedom for years. Her efforts also gained global recognition after numerous human rights organizations and individuals raised their voices in support of her cause.

The Pakistani senator informed that her health had also deteriorated in captivity, adding she had developed hearing impairment after suffering an injury to her head.

Khan said the overall situation was alarming, though it had now become possible for people to meet the Pakistani scientist in prison.

“It is necessary now for the people to raise their voice and force the [Pakistani] rulers to take up the issue of Aafia’s release with the American government,” he added.

Khan will also meet Siddiqui in prison on Thursday. He will accompany Dr. Fowzia Siddiqui and Clive Stafford-Smith, a British attorney who works on civil rights issues and helped Guantanamo detainees in the past.

A statement issued by Afia Movement, a campaign that demands freedom for the jailed neuroscientist, said Siddiqui’s sister was not even allowed to share pictures of her nephew and niece with her sister.

“Dr. Fowzia was stopped from sharing photos of Afia’s son and daughter with her. Both children are now above twenty years,” the statement reads.

“Afia informed her sister about incidents that happened to her and her children in 2003,” the statement reads, adding the children were “permanently frozen” during their “kidnapping in Karachi.” 

The statement added that Siddiqui had been weeping silently in the car following her meeting with Fowzia Siddiqui. Despite it being very upsetting, Smith said it was an honor to be present in the meeting between the two sisters. 

“The importance of this meeting is that how can we bring Afia home after getting out of his hell,” Smith said.

Smith earlier tweeted about the emotional reunion of the two sisters, describing the interaction as “tough 2.5 hours” for Fowzia Siddiqui.

“I miss my family every day,” he quoted the Pakistani scientist as saying in a graphic that accompanied his social media post. “My mother, my father, you [my sister], my children, I think of them all the time.”

Last year in July, the two sisters lost their mother, though Khan said Aafia Siddiqui was still not aware of the tragic development.

Pakistan’s foreign minister departs for Jordan to attend royal wedding

Updated 31 May 2023

Pakistan’s foreign minister departs for Jordan to attend royal wedding

  • Several heads of state are expected to attend royal wedding of Jordanian crown prince
  • From Jordan, FM Bhutto Zardari will travel to Iran from June 5-6, says foreign ministry

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari departed for Jordan on Wednesday afternoon to attend the royal wedding of Jordanian crown prince and Saudi citizen Rajwa Khalid Al-Saif, the foreign ministry confirmed.

Jordan kicked off festivities on Wednesday for Crown Prince Al-Hussein bin Abdullah II’s wedding with Al-Saif. The two-day celebrations would include a royal feast hosted by King Abdullah II at the Royal Hashemite Court, with 4,000 people from across Jordan attending the event.

The marriage ceremony is expected to take place on Thursday at Zahran Palace in Amman while the reception would take place at Al-Husseiniya Palace with international heads of state and the Jordanian royal family in attendance. 

“Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari is traveling this afternoon to Jordan and Iraq,” the spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) said in a statement. “In the first leg of the visit, Foreign Minister will travel to Jordan to attend the royal wedding.”

MoFA said the foreign minister would then travel to Iraq from June 5-6 where Bhutto Zardari will meet the Iraqi leadership and hold a detailed meeting with his Iraqi counterpart. 

“Important agreements will also be signed during the visit,” MoFA said, adding that the foreign minister was invited to Iraq by the Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Iraq, Dr. Fuad Hussein. 

Meanwhile, the royal wedding between the Jordanian crown prince and the Saudi national has drawn interest from local, regional, and international media, Jordanian news agency Petra reported.

Several television networks will be broadcasting the ceremony on Thursday.