Memories abound as Pakistan says sea travel for Hajj pilgrims to soon resume

A Saudi man looks on as Sudanese pilgrims wait to disembark from a ship after arriving at Jeddah's port on Jan. 3, 2006 for the annual Hajj pilgrimage. (AFP/File)
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Updated 16 November 2020

Memories abound as Pakistan says sea travel for Hajj pilgrims to soon resume

  • The last ship for pilgrims left Karachi for Jeddah in 1994 
  • Preparations underway to resume international travel to Saudi Arabia and Iraq, minister says

KARACHI: Pakistan announced on Saturday that sea travel would soon resume to Jeddah for Hajj and Umrah pilgrims, 26 years after the last ship full of pilgrims sailed from the Karachi port-- bringing back fond memories for some.

In 1994, the MV Shams was the last ship that carried pilgrims to Saudi Arabia for Hajj, amid a boom in air travel that rendered sea trips almost defunct. 

But Pakistan’s federal minister for maritime affairs, Ali Haider Zaidi told Arab News his government has opened the maritime frontiers of Pakistan for sea travel, and would soon resume the ferry service for Hajj and Umrah pilgrims.

“I’m going to start the service for pilgrimage and different destinations of the world, very soon,” Zaidi said.

The policy was approved by the cabinet in September this year, and the minister said he would soon be inviting the private sector to begin ferry services.  

Zaidi said the defense ministry had issued the required No Objection Certificate (NOC) for ferry services to resume, and immigration, customs and other desks-- all required for international travel-- were being set up at the Karachi port in the country’s bustling southern metropolis.

“We will soon see sea travelling to different destinations including Saudi Arabia and Iraq,” the minister said.  

For those who journeyed years ago on one of three ships that sailed for Saudi Arabia until the 90’s-- the Safina Arab, Safina Hujjaj and MV Shams-- Pakistan’s latest announcement brings back memories of a week of journeying on the open water towards Makkah.

“My first journey [to Makkah] was via the sea,” Karachi fisherman Muhammad Ramzan, 90, who travelled by sea for Hajj in 1974, told Arab News.

“I went from Karachi on board Safina Arab. I bought a ticket for Rs. 6000. In air travel, it doesn't take much time. One reaches within three hours. But in those days one would remain at sea for seven days and seven nights before reaching (Jeddah),” he said.




Haji Muhammad Ramzan, a 90 years old fisherman at Karachi's Chashma Goth, speaks to Arab News about his Hajj journey through sea in 1974 on Nov. 13, 2020. (AN photo)

Ramzan said he took his food rations with him and would cook meals for himself and his colleagues. 

“One would get everything on the ship. They would give us food, and prayers would be offered collectively. I would roam the ship like I roam freely here in the city,” he said.

Over two million Muslims from around the world make the journey to Makkah to perform the mandatory Hajj every year, with Pakistanis forming one of the largest nationalities at the holy pilgrimage.

The first ship to set sail from the South Asian, Muslim majority country for Jeddah left in 1952 and the Hajj sea service continued in full swing till the late 70’s.

In recent years, different governments have strived to revive the service but plans have so far failed to materialize. 

Muhammad Saleem Qureshi, 66, a Karachi-based businessman, took the journey to Jeddah via the Safina Hujjaj in 1974, newly married and 20 years old.

“When we started our journey, I was unwell for an hour but as time passed and I woke up the next morning... it was the most beautiful morning of my life,” he said.

“I still remember the twilight. The sun was rising and its rays on the sea made it an amazing scene.” 

“It cannot be explained in words,” he said, and recalled Eid celebrations on the ship on the way home.

“It was strange that we had our Eid on the sea,” he said. “The sailors served us vermicelli with our meals and we greeted each other in the spirit of Eid.” 

For veteran Hajj officials in Karachi, the memories of a camp full of thousands of Hajj pilgrims is laced with nostalgia.

“Here, would be a great and pleasant scene,” Rehan Shafiq, a Hajj official at Karachi’s Hajji camp told Arab News.  

“Pilgrims from different provinces and districts would come and be together, eat their meals together and live like one family,” he said, gesturing at the deserted camp.

“Here, they would be trained for their great Hajj journey.”


US president Biden pushes Pakistan for ‘support’ as he announces Afghan exit

Updated 21 min 57 sec ago

US president Biden pushes Pakistan for ‘support’ as he announces Afghan exit

  • President Joe Biden plans to withdraw the remaining 2,500 US troops from Afghanistan by September 11
  • Says will ask countries in the region to support Afghanistan, especially Pakistan, Russia, China, India and Turkey

ISLAMABAD: US Pre­sident Joe Biden warned the Taliban on Wednesday he would hold them accountable in Afghanistan after the exit of United States troops, and pressed nations, including Pakistan, to play a supportive role.
President Joe Biden plans to withdraw the remaining 2,500 US troops from Afghanistan by September 11, 2021, 20 years to the day after the Al-Qaeda attacks that triggered America’s longest war.
The disclosure of the plan came on the same day that the US intelligence community released a gloomy outlook for Afghanistan, forecasting “low” chances of a peace deal this year and warning that its government would struggle to hold the Taliban insurgency at bay if the US-led coalition withdrew support.
Biden’s decision would miss a May 1 deadline for withdrawal agreed to with the Taliban by his predecessor Donald Trump. The insurgents had threatened to resume hostilities against foreign troops if that deadline was missed. But Biden would still be setting a near-term withdrawal date, potentially allaying Taliban concerns.
“We will hold the Taliban accountable for its commitment not to allow any terrorists to threaten the US or its allies from Afghan soil. The Afghan government has made that commitment to us as well,” Biden said in a speech announcing the complete pullout of US troops before September 11. “We will ask other countries in the region to support Afghanistan, especially Pakistan, as well as Russia, China, India and Turkey.”
Notably not naming Iran, Biden said that the countries in the region “have a significant stake in the stable future” of Afghanistan.
On Wednesday, Pakistan army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa spoke to US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken over the phone.
“During the conversation matters of mutual interest, regional security situation including latest developments in Afghan Peace Process and bilateral cooperation in various fields were discussed,” the Pakistani military’s media wing said in a statement.
Bajwa reiterated Pakistan’s support for an Afghan led and Afghan-owned peace process “based on mutual consensus of all stakeholders.”


India, Pakistan held ‘secret talks’ to try to break Kashmir impasse 

Updated 18 min 49 sec ago

India, Pakistan held ‘secret talks’ to try to break Kashmir impasse 

  • Top intelligence officers from India and Pakistan met in Dubai in January 
  • Back channel diplomacy is aimed at a modest roadmap to normalizing ties over the next several months

NEW DELHI: Top intelligence officers from India and Pakistan held secret talks in Dubai in January in a new effort to calm military tension over the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir, people with close knowledge of the matter told Reuters in Delhi.
Ties between the nuclear-armed rivals have been on ice since a suicide bombing of an Indian military convoy in Kashmir in 2019 traced to Pakistan-based militants that led to India sending warplanes to Pakistan.
Later that year, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi withdrew Indian-ruled Kashmir’s autonomy in order to tighten his grip over the territory, provoking outrage in Pakistan and the downgrading of diplomatic ties and suspension of bilateral trade.
But the two governments have re-opened a back channel of diplomacy aimed at a modest roadmap to normalizing ties over the next several months, the people said.
Kashmir has long been a flashpoint between India and Pakistan, both of which claim all of the region but rule only in part.
Officials from India’s Research and Analysis Wing, the external spy agency, and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence traveled to Dubai for a meeting facilitated by the United Arab Emirates government, two people said.
The Indian foreign ministry did not respond to a request for comment. Pakistan’s military, which controls the ISI, also did not respond.
But Ayesha Siddiqa, a top Pakistani defense analyst, said she believed Indian and Pakistan intelligence officials had been meeting for several months in third countries.
“I think there have been meetings in Thailand, in Dubai, in London between the highest level people,” she said.

’IT IS FRAUGHT’
Such meetings have taken place in the past too, especially during times of crises but never been publicly acknowledged.
“There is a lot that can still go wrong, it is fraught,” said one of the people in Delhi. “That is why nobody is talking it up in public, we don’t even have a name for this, it’s not a peace process. You can call it a re-engagement,” one of them said.
Both countries have reasons to seek a rapprochement. India has been locked in a border stand-off with China since last year and does not want the military stretched on the Pakistan front.
China-ally Pakistan, mired in economic difficulties and on an IMF bailout program, can ill-afford heightened tensions on the Kashmir border for a prolonged period, experts say. It also has to stabilize the Afghan border on its west as the United States withdraws.
“It’s better for India and Pakistan to talk than not talk, and even better that it should be done quietly than in a glare of publicity,” said Myra MacDonald, a former Reuters journalist who has just published a book on India, Pakistan and war on the frontiers of Kashmir.
.”..But I don’t see it going very far beyond a basic management of tensions, possibly to tide both countries over a difficult period — Pakistan needs to address the fall-out of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, while India has to confront a far more volatile situation on its disputed frontier with China.”

DIALLING DOWN THE RHETORIC
Following the January meeting, India and Pakistan announced they would stop cross-border shooting along the Line of Control (LoC) dividing Kashmir which has left dozens of civilians dead and many others maimed. That cease-fire is holding, military officials in both countries said.
Both sides have also signalled plans to hold elections on their sides of Kashmir this year as part of efforts to bring normalcy to a region riven by decades of bloodshed.
The two have also agreed to dial down their rhetoric, the people Reuters spoke to said.
This would include Pakistan dropping its loud objections to Modi abrogating Kashmir’s autonomy in August 2019, while Delhi in turn would refrain from blaming Pakistan for all violence on its side of the Line of Control.
These details have not been previously reported. India has long blamed Pakistan for the revolt in Kashmir, an allegation denied by Pakistan.
“There is a recognition there will be attacks inside Kashmir, there has been discussions as to how to deal with it and not let this effort derailed by the next attack,” one of the people said.
There is as yet, however, no grand plan to resolve the 74-year-old Kashmir dispute. Rather both sides are trying to reduce tensions to pave the way for a broad engagement, all the people Reuters spoke to said.
“Pakistan is transiting from a geo-strategic domain to a geo-economic domain,” Raoof Hasan, special assistant to Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, told Reuters.
“Peace, both within and around with its neighbors, is a key constituent to facilitate that.” 


India, Pakistan held ‘secret talks’ to try to break Kashmir impasse 

Updated 14 April 2021

India, Pakistan held ‘secret talks’ to try to break Kashmir impasse 

  • Top intelligence officers from India and Pakistan met in Dubai in January 
  • Back channel diplomacy is aimed at a modest roadmap to normalizing ties over the next several months

NEW DELHI: Top intelligence officers from India and Pakistan held secret talks in Dubai in January in a new effort to calm military tension over the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir, people with close knowledge of the matter told Reuters in Delhi.
Ties between the nuclear-armed rivals have been on ice since a suicide bombing of an Indian military convoy in Kashmir in 2019 traced to Pakistan-based militants that led to India sending warplanes to Pakistan.
Later that year, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi withdrew Indian-ruled Kashmir’s autonomy in order to tighten his grip over the territory, provoking outrage in Pakistan and the downgrading of diplomatic ties and suspension of bilateral trade.
But the two governments have re-opened a back channel of diplomacy aimed at a modest roadmap to normalizing ties over the next several months, the people said.
Kashmir has long been a flashpoint between India and Pakistan, both of which claim all of the region but rule only in part.
Officials from India’s Research and Analysis Wing, the external spy agency, and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence traveled to Dubai for a meeting facilitated by the United Arab Emirates government, two people said.
The Indian foreign ministry did not respond to a request for comment. Pakistan’s military, which controls the ISI, also did not respond.
But Ayesha Siddiqa, a top Pakistani defense analyst, said she believed Indian and Pakistan intelligence officials had been meeting for several months in third countries.
“I think there have been meetings in Thailand, in Dubai, in London between the highest level people,” she said.

’IT IS FRAUGHT’
Such meetings have taken place in the past too, especially during times of crises but never been publicly acknowledged.
“There is a lot that can still go wrong, it is fraught,” said one of the people in Delhi. “That is why nobody is talking it up in public, we don’t even have a name for this, it’s not a peace process. You can call it a re-engagement,” one of them said.
Both countries have reasons to seek a rapprochement. India has been locked in a border stand-off with China since last year and does not want the military stretched on the Pakistan front.
China-ally Pakistan, mired in economic difficulties and on an IMF bailout program, can ill-afford heightened tensions on the Kashmir border for a prolonged period, experts say. It also has to stabilize the Afghan border on its west as the United States withdraws.
“It’s better for India and Pakistan to talk than not talk, and even better that it should be done quietly than in a glare of publicity,” said Myra MacDonald, a former Reuters journalist who has just published a book on India, Pakistan and war on the frontiers of Kashmir.
.”..But I don’t see it going very far beyond a basic management of tensions, possibly to tide both countries over a difficult period — Pakistan needs to address the fall-out of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, while India has to confront a far more volatile situation on its disputed frontier with China.”

DIALLING DOWN THE RHETORIC
Following the January meeting, India and Pakistan announced they would stop cross-border shooting along the Line of Control (LoC) dividing Kashmir which has left dozens of civilians dead and many others maimed. That cease-fire is holding, military officials in both countries said.
Both sides have also signalled plans to hold elections on their sides of Kashmir this year as part of efforts to bring normalcy to a region riven by decades of bloodshed.
The two have also agreed to dial down their rhetoric, the people Reuters spoke to said.
This would include Pakistan dropping its loud objections to Modi abrogating Kashmir’s autonomy in August 2019, while Delhi in turn would refrain from blaming Pakistan for all violence on its side of the Line of Control.
These details have not been previously reported. India has long blamed Pakistan for the revolt in Kashmir, an allegation denied by Pakistan.
“There is a recognition there will be attacks inside Kashmir, there has been discussions as to how to deal with it and not let this effort derailed by the next attack,” one of the people said.
There is as yet, however, no grand plan to resolve the 74-year-old Kashmir dispute. Rather both sides are trying to reduce tensions to pave the way for a broad engagement, all the people Reuters spoke to said.
“Pakistan is transiting from a geo-strategic domain to a geo-economic domain,” Raoof Hasan, special assistant to Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, told Reuters.
“Peace, both within and around with its neighbors, is a key constituent to facilitate that.” 


Babar hits 122 as Pakistan defeat South Africa by nine wickets

Updated 14 April 2021

Babar hits 122 as Pakistan defeat South Africa by nine wickets

  • He aslo dethroned Virat Kohli as the world’s top batsman in one-day cricket
  • Pakistan took a 2-1 lead in the four-match series

Centurion, South Africa: Pakistan captain Babar Azam gave a batting masterclass to lead Pakistan to a nine-wicket win in the third Twenty20 international against South Africa at SuperSport Park in Centurion on Wednesday.

Babar hit 122, his first T20 international century, as Pakistan chased down a challenging target of 204 with two overs to spare.

Babar, who earlier Wednesday dethroned Indian maestro Virat Kohli as the world’s top batsman in one-day cricket, hit 15 fours and four sixes in an exhibition of superb timing and placement before he was out with only seven runs needed.

Mohammad Rizwan scored an unbeaten 73 in a Pakistan record first wicket partnership of 197.

Pakistan took a 2-1 lead in the four-match series.


Pakistan bowl in third T20 international against South Africa 

Updated 14 April 2021

Pakistan bowl in third T20 international against South Africa 

  • Batsman Fakhar Zaman recovered from illness and is back on the pitch
  • The four-match series is tied at 1-1 

Centurion, South Africa: Pakistan won the toss and decided to bowl in the third Twenty20 international against South Africa at SuperSport Park in Centurion on Wednesday.
The four-match series is tied at 1-1.
Leading batsman Rassie van der Dussen had recovered from a quad muscle injury and replaced the inexperienced Wihan Lubbe that won the second match in Johannesburg by six wickets on Monday.
Pakistan made three changes. Hard-hitting batsman Fakhar Zaman had recovered from illness and replaced Sharjeel Khan, while batsman Asif Ali came in for leg-spinner Usman Qadir in what captain Babar Azam said was a move to strengthen the middle-order batting.
Haris Rauf replaced fellow fast bowler Mohammad Hasnain.
South African captain Heinrich Klaasen said he would also have chosen to bowl if he had won the toss.
“It looks a good wicket. If there is anything in it, it will be up front,” he said.