Pandemic hit to Hajj saddens Pakistan’s senior would-be pilgrims

A handout picture provided by the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah on July 25, 2020, shows a traveler among the first group of arrivals for the annual Hajj pilgrimage, mask-clad due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, walking with his luggage to take a bus from the Red Sea coastal city of Jeddah's King Abdulaziz International Airport. (Ministry of Hajj And Umrah via AFP)
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Updated 28 July 2020

Pandemic hit to Hajj saddens Pakistan’s senior would-be pilgrims

  • Saudi Arabia announced it would bar arrivals from abroad to attend the Hajj this year due to the coronavirus
  • Some 2.5 million Muslims typically visit the holiest sites of Islam in Makkah and Madinah for the week-long pilgrimage

ISLAMABAD/LAHORE: Raja Muhammad Sultan was all set to fulfill his lifelong dream of going to Makkah for Hajj when Saudi Arabia announced it would bar arrivals from abroad this year due to the coronavirus, allowing only a limited number of Saudi citizens and residents to make the pilgrimage with social distancing measures enforced.
Some 2.5 million Muslims each year visit the holiest sites of Islam in Makkah and Madinah for the week-long pilgrimage, due to start on July 28. A once-in-a-lifetime duty for able-bodied Muslims who can afford the cost, it is usually extremely crowded.
Like many Muslims around the world, 79-year-old Sultan, a farmer, laments the restriction to domestic pilgrims this year to curb the spread of COVID-19.

A shopkeeper sits amid items which are sold during the annual Haj pilgirmage season, as he waits for customers along a wholesale market, as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID -19) continues, in Karachi, Pakistan July 7, 2020. (REUTERS)

“I bought Ihram clothes, prayer beads and some other essential items to perform the Hajj, but this coronavirus shattered my lifetime dream,” he told Arab News from his home in Chakwal in Punjab province.
The moment is even sadder for Sultan because he and his wife waited 10 years to be selected for the pilgrimage and she passed away before they could make the journey together.
“My wife passed away last year with her unfulfilled wish,” he said. “I may not survive either.”
Sultan lives with his three sons and eight grandchildren. His fourth son works in Riyadh and the pilgrimage was also a chance to reunite after years of separation.
“My son promised to take me around all the holy places in Makkah and Madinah, but who knows the planning of our creator. He is the best planner,” the farmer said.
Sultan says he will now use the funds deposited for the pilgrimage on community welfare: “I am seeking Allah’s forgiveness and hopefully I’ll have a chance in my lifetime to go for Hajj.”
Rizwanullah Khan, too, will miss Hajj this year, a pilgrimage he had planned with his wife, daughter and son-in-law.
“I lost my senses the day I heard this news,” the 85-year-old man from Lahore said. “I don’t know if I will be able to purify myself and survive until next year, I don’t know.”
“All our preparations were complete. We had arranged Ihram, recited duas and took Hajj training,” said Khan’s son-in-law, Muhammad Akbar.
“Perhaps our prayers were not sincere enough to be answered. It is a great spiritual loss in our lives, great sadness,” he said, adding: “The cancelation is very depressing, but I think it was the right decision, it will save millions of lives.”

Pakistan’s new shipping policy to reduce $5 bln freight bill through localization of vessels

Updated 46 min 10 sec ago

Pakistan’s new shipping policy to reduce $5 bln freight bill through localization of vessels

  • The policy offers tax incentives, low-cost financing to revive the country’s shipping industry
  • Private companies demand open competition for import of petroleum cargo instead of monopolizing it through state-owned corporation

KARACHI: Pakistan’s new shipping policy aims to reduce $5 billion freight bill that the country pays to foreign companies to transport import and export cargoes, officials announced on Friday. 

Federal Minister for Maritime Affairs Ali Haider Zaidi and Adviser to Prime Minister on Commerce and Investment Abdul Razak Dawood unveiled the amended shipping policy in Islamabad that offers incentives to the country’s own vessels by provided them “priority berthing at all Pakistani ports.” 

“This is business-friendly policy,” Zaidi said, adding that it would reduce the freight bill Pakistan paid annually. 

The country nationalized its industries in the 1970s, including the shipping industry by merging all companies with the Pakistan National Shipping Corporation (PNSC). Experts believe that the industry could not be revived after that policy decision. 

“This industry is vital since it operates during emergencies and high risk situation as well as peace time. As we rely on international shipping lines for our trade, we lose foreign exchange which can be saved if we develop our own local shipping industry,” said Zaidi. “It is the need of the hour to revive this industry since we lag way behind our regional competitors like Bangladesh.” 

Abdul Razak Dawood, Pakistan’s de facto commerce minister, hoped that local entrepreneurs would view this as an opportunity and benefit from it. 

“The State Bank of Pakistan will extend loans at three percent markup rate for buying vessels and registering them in the country,” Mahmood Maulvi, adviser to the Ministry of Maritime Affairs, told Arab News. “Refinance will be allowed for purchase of ships and vessels.” 

Under the policy, new shipping companies would be exempted from federal taxes until 2030. 

“No federal taxes (direct and indirect) shall be levied to the detriment of Pakistan Resident Ship Owning companies during the exemption period,” the policy document seen by Arab News read. 

However, the transportation of hydrocarbon cargoes will be the sole responsibility of PNSC. 

The shipping sector stakeholders termed the policy as a “good initiative” and called for its implementation in letter and spirit. 

“It is good that the government has realized that Pakistan pays $5 billion of freight bill to foreign shipping companies,” Aasim Siddiqui, chairman of All Pakistan Shipping Association (APSA) told Arab News. “Our association has been lobbying for the last three years for incentives to be given to private sector since we have the potential to create more employment opportunities by attracting the cargo that is transported by foreign vessels.” 

“But it is not enough to release a focused policy,” he continued. “We also need a robust legal framework for its implementation since an oversight of these incentives is also needed. Besides, it is very important to monitor the policy in consultation with the stakeholders.” 

He demanded that instead of monopolizing the import of petroleum products through the PNSC, the government should invite bids from the private sector. 

“Maybe private companies can give you better rates than the PNSC,” he added.