Pakistan conducts balloting for Hajj 2020 amid coronavirus pandemic

In this file photo, Muslim pilgrims circumambulate around Kaaba at the Grand Mosque in Makkah on Aug. 13, 2019. (AFP)
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Updated 15 March 2020

Pakistan conducts balloting for Hajj 2020 amid coronavirus pandemic

  • Religious affairs minister hopes the viral disease will subside by the time of Hajj
  • Islamabad requested Saudi authorities for expansion of Makkah Route project to facilitate maximum pilgrims

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Thursday announced the names of successful Hajj applicants who will perform their pilgrimage on government scheme this year amid coronavirus pandemic, promising all necessary safety and precautionary measures to protect them from any contagious disease.
The names of these individuals were chosen through lucky draw.
“We are well aware of the coronavirus disease and hopefully it will subside by the time the Hajj begins,” Federal Minister for Religious Affairs, Pir Noor-ul-Haq Qadri, said while conducting the balloting in Islamabad.
Hajj is an annual pilgrimage to Makkah which is one of the holiest sites for Muslims. It is a mandatory religious duty for physically fit and financially secured adult Muslims to undertake this journey at least once in their lifetime. This year the annual pilgrimage will be performed in the last week of July.
About 179,210 Pakistani pilgrims are expected to perform Hajj this year. According to the government Hajj policy, 60 percent (107,526) pilgrims will be allocated to the government Hajj scheme while the other 40 percent (71,684) will perform their religious duty with the help of private tour operators.
The government received 149,330 Hajj applications to be included in the balloting process.
The minister said he was in touch with the Saudi Ministry of Hajj to arrange the “best possible” accommodation, transportation and food facilities for pilgrims during their stay in Makkah and Madinah.
“Please refrain from spreading panic and rumors about coronavirus… We will screen and vaccinate all Hajj pilgrims as per the guidelines of the WHO [World Health Organization],” he said.
So far, 21 coronavirus infections have been confirmed in Pakistan, with one patient reported to be out of danger and discharged last week.
The government has been struggling to stem the spread of the virus in the country by raising awareness among the public and screening all inbound travelers at airports and land routes.
Though the number of new coronavirus infections dropped to a single-digit in China, COVID-19 virus has spread to more than 115 countries across the globe. The virus has killed 4,749 people and infected more than 129,000 globally, resulting in widespread panic and closure of museums, parks, religious sites and public areas in several countries across the world.
Keeping the coronavirus threat aside, the government has requested all successful Hajj applicants to submit their passports and a medical certificate to complete other formalities like air tickets.
Pakistan was included in Saudi Arabia’s flagship Makkah Route project last year under which customs and pre-departure immigration of around 20,000 pilgrims was completed at the Islamabad International Airport.
The minister said that his government had requested the Saudi authorities to expand the project to at least four other airports of Pakistan, including Peshawar, Karachi, Lahore and Quetta, to facilitate pilgrims.
“We are hopeful to get a positive response from the Saudi authorities soon,” he added.


Pakistan seeks Arab creditors, China to convert $7.7 bn into long term loans — Hafeez Shaikh

Updated 02 June 2020

Pakistan seeks Arab creditors, China to convert $7.7 bn into long term loans — Hafeez Shaikh

  • Pakistan received $3 billion BoP support from Saudi Arabia, $2 billion from the UAE and $2.2 from China
  • Conversion of short term deposit will provide long term financial stability to the country, say experts

KARACHI: Pakistan is in talks with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and China to extend the tenure of their $7.7 billion short term deposits, a move that will ensure long term forex stability of the South Asian nation, Dr. Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, the prime minister’s adviser on finance and revenue, told Arab News in an exclusive interview.
“Last year, when Pakistan was going through the worst balance of payment (BoP) crisis in our history, we were provided financial support by our brotherly countries,” Shaikh said on Monday.
Pakistan’s friendly countries were approached by the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan soon after assuming the office in 2018 as the country’s current account deficit reached $20 billion.
Responding to Pakistan’s call, Saudi Arabia deposited $3 billion while the UAE and China deposited $2 billion and $2.2 billion, respectively. Qatar also contributed by depositing $0.5 billion with Pakistan’s central bank.
“The $7.7 billion secured from the bilateral arrangements provided the much needed balance of payment support to Pakistan,” he added.
“These are short term deposits placed with the central bank in Pakistan at concessional rates,” the PM’s adviser said, adding: “We are in talks with our development partners to move these deposits toward longer tenors.”
Economists say these deposits provided a lifeline to the country’s economy that had higher imports and lower exports.
“The balance of payment support oxygenated the country’s economy that was much need for its survival. The support helped Pakistan not to default on its foreign payment obligations,” Muzzamil Aslam, senior economist, who is familiar with the developments, told Arab News.
Pakistan’s current account deficit (CAD) was $20 billion in 2018 which declined to $13.43 billion during the last fiscal year. Its further decline is also projected for the current fiscal year (2019-20).
“CAD is projected to decline to $4b [or 1.7 percent of the GDP] in the current fiscal year, compared to $20b when the government took office in 2018,” Shaikh said.
The major balance of payment support came from Saudi Arabia which provided $6 billion in financial assistance to Pakistan, with $3 billion in foreign currency support and $3 billion worth of oil on deferred payments. The agreement was signed during the visit of Prime Minister Imran Khan to the Kingdom in October 2018.
Economists say when Pakistan approached the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for the bailout program, the United States had expressed concerns that the money could be used to pay off debts, especially those taken from China.
“After we started getting the IMF assistance, the fund imposed a condition during the first review of the program to roll over these loans instead of paying them back. This was because the US had misgivings that Pakistan will pay the Chinese debt with the IMF money,” Aslam said.
However, the IMF acknowledged in April that “Bilateral creditors have maintained their exposure in line with debt sustainability objectives of the EFF [Extended Fund Facility].”
China maintained their exposure by renewing $2 billion bilateral deposits in March. Saudi Arabia also refinanced $3 billion BoP support loans that matured in November-January, while the UAE rolled over $1 billion BoP support loans in March. The oil facility with Saudi Arabia – worth $3.2 billion – was activated in August 2019 and has also been providing support to the balance of payments, according to the IMF documents.
Instead of frequent rollovers now, the government wants to convert these short term deposits into long tenors. “The IMF is behind this strategy,” Aslam informed. “The conversion will impact the status of these deposits in a way that loan rates will be decided in line with the international benchmark which may be LIBOR+2-3 percent.”
Economists say the conversion of these deposits will positively impact the economy of the country since Pakistan will get some breathing space and an opportunity to improve its overall financial condition. “It will provide long term forex stability. Otherwise, we will be under pressure to pay back $7.7 billion,” Aslam said.