Pakistani minister urges Hajj, Umrah operators to consider offering ferry services for pilgrims

A handout picture provided by the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah on October 4, 2020, shows Saudis and foreign residents circumambulating the Kaaba (Tawaf) in the Grand Mosque complex in the holy city of Makkah. (AFP)
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Updated 28 June 2021

Pakistani minister urges Hajj, Umrah operators to consider offering ferry services for pilgrims

  • Invites investments in ferry services to transport intending pilgrims to Saudi Arabia
  • Registered tour operators can ‘design and market’ pilgrimage packages on ferries, maritime minister says

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Minister for Maritime Affairs Ali Haider Zaidi urged Hajj and Umrah tour operators on Sunday to make use of the “great opportunity” provided by the government by investing in ferry services and “designing” packages for intending pilgrims traveling to Saudi Arabia.

“Registered tour operators in the country can design & market Hajj/Umrah/Ziarat packages,” Zaidi said in a Twitter post on Sunday, sharing a handout by the Pakistan National Shipping Corporation (PNSC).

Most Pakistani pilgrims travel by plane to Makkah, Saudi Arabia, to perform Umrah or the annual Hajj pilgrimage. 

Zaidi, however, said that by launching a ferry service to the Kingdom, tour operators would be able to provide an alternate mode of transport.

He added that the maritime ministry, in collaboration with the PNSC and the Karachi Port Trust (KPT), was working toward “realizing the potential of Pakistan’s Blue Economy” by promoting business opportunities in the areas of maritime tourism, coastal development, and passenger and cargo ferry services.

“Pakistan holds immense potential for the operation of ferry services from, to and within the country,” the PNSC said in a statement, basing it on the country’s 220 million population and “growing needs for regional and international connectivity.”

“PNSC may extend its expertise in manning, militating, technical operations...and agency services thereby facilitating the investors/operators toward success in their ventures,” it added.

Hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis visited Saudi Arabia every year, mainly for Umrah and Hajj, before the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Kingdom is also home to over 2.5 million Pakistanis, while Saudi Arabia and the UAE remained top contributors to Pakistan’s highest ever remittance inflow in April. 


Pakistan, Qatar to strengthen ties through education, cultural activities 

Updated 9 sec ago

Pakistan, Qatar to strengthen ties through education, cultural activities 

  • Decision reached at meeting between Qatari envoy, Pakistani education minister 
  • The two figures discussed matters pertaining to bilateral relations as well 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan and Qatar on Thursday reiterated their resolve to further strengthen mutual ties through education and cultural activities, the state-run Radio Pakistan reported.

Pakistan and Qatar have strong fraternal ties and collaborated with each other in diverse fields. In October, Pakistan had secured liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports from Qatar to meet its demand during the upcoming winter season. 

“It was decided during a meeting between the Ambassador of Qatar to Pakistan, Shaikh Saoud bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani and Federal Minister for Education and Professional Training Shafqat Mahmood in Islamabad,” the report read. 

“On the occasion, matters pertaining to bilateral relations were also discussed.” 

Islamabad has also been engaged with the Gulf nation on the situation in Afghanistan. In September, Qatar’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani met with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan in Islamabad to discuss the situation in Afghanistan. 

The top Pakistani leader lauded Qatar’s role in support of the Afghan peace process. He also emphasized the importance of enhanced collaboration with the Arab state in diverse areas, including trade and investment, energy and people-to-people linkages. 

The visiting dignitary acknowledged Pakistan’s important role as well as efforts for regional peace and stability. He also underscored Qatar’s commitment to maintain close contact with Pakistan on bilateral and regional matters. 

 

 


Pakistani students work magic to transform campus into Harry Potter’s Hogwarts 

Updated 03 December 2021

Pakistani students work magic to transform campus into Harry Potter’s Hogwarts 

  • Government College University in Lahore has long reminded students of the magical school 
  • Festival is also screening what is believed to be Pakistan’s first fan-made Harry Potter film 

LAHORE: It took more than a wave of a wand, but Pakistani university students transformed their 150-year-old campus into Hogwarts this week as they kicked off a festival celebrating the fictional young wizard Harry Potter. 

With its vast halls and soaring archways, Government College University in the eastern megacity of Lahore has long reminded students of the magical school created by British author J.K. Rowling, several students told AFP. 

This picture taken on November 30, 2021 shows visitors arriving to attend a Harry Potter festival at the Government College University (GCU) campus in Lahore, Pakistan. (AFP)

“I can’t believe I’m in Hogwarts, while being in Lahore of all places,” said an excited Raziah Alam, taking part in the festival. 

“This has been such a fun experience.” 

Dressed in costumes from the “Potterverse” including wands and pointed witch and wizard hats, students welcomed visitors to their version of the Hogwarts “Great Hall,” decorated with broomsticks, bats, and even an area to brew potions. 

This picture taken on November 30, 2021 shows visitors enjoying a Harry Potter festival at the Government College University (GCU) campus in Lahore, Pakistan. (AFP)

The theme music from the Harry Potter films played in the background as students tried out spells, took photos wearing the famous “Sorting Hat,” and dressed up in Hogwarts uniforms. 

“Most of these youngsters grew up at the time when JK Rowling’s work was being presented in the novels and then later on in the films,” Dr. Asghar Zaidi, the university’s vice chancellor and a “Potterhead” himself told AFP. 

He added that when students come to the campus “they see the architecture, it reminds them of Hogwarts.” 

This picture taken on November 30, 2021 shows Asghar Zaidi, the vice chancellor of the Government College University (GCU), speaking during a Harry Potter festival at the Government College University (GCU) campus in Lahore, Pakistan. (AFP)

“I think the magic is coming through the inspiration it is bringing about to our other students,” he added proudly. 

The festival is also screening what is believed to be Pakistan’s first fan-made Harry Potter film. 

Titled “The Last Follower and the Resurrection of Voldemort,” the film was made and acted by students and comes with special effects, spells and a gripping storyline. 

This picture taken on November 30, 2021 shows a visitor enjoying a Harry Potter festival at the Government College University (GCU) campus in Lahore, Pakistan. (AFP)

“We really thought it would be a crazy idea to change the building, put some mountains around it, create some characters that can go with it,” the film’s director and cinematographer Waleed Akram told AFP. 

He said he was pleased with the film’s reception among students. 

Since the release of the first Harry Potter novel in 1997, the books have found immense popularity, including in Pakistan. 

They have sold over 500 million copies worldwide, in addition to the famous film franchise. 


Pakistani president ratifies bill allowing use of electronic voting machines 

Updated 03 December 2021

Pakistani president ratifies bill allowing use of electronic voting machines 

  • Last month, a joint parliamentary sitting sanctioned use of EVMs for next general elections in the country 
  • Government has been pushing for use of technology but opposition accuses it of trying to manipulate system 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani President Arif Alvi on Thursday signed the Election (Amendment) Bill, 2021 that allows the use of electronic voting machines (EVMs) in the country, Pakistani state-run APP news agency reported. 

Last month, a joint parliamentary sitting sanctioned the use of EVMs for the next general elections, though opposition factions resisted the move and vowed to challenge it in the country’s top court. 

The government has lately pushed for the use of technology to make future Pakistani elections fairer and more transparent, but opposition parties accuse it of trying to manipulate the voting system by introducing technology, which has not been tested in Pakistan before. 

Alvi, however, asked critics not to be afraid of a “simple” electronic voting machine (EVM), which he said would help hold a fair election and bring an end to poll rigging. 

“People will have to trust it. It involves no advancement. It is too simple. The country achieves progress by adopting new things,” the president said, addressing a ceremony wherein he signed the bill into law. 

The bill also provides for the right of vote to overseas Pakistanis. 

EVMs will ensure holding a fair election that has long been desired in Pakistan as every election followed controversies and rigging allegations, which also impacted credibility of respective governments, according to Alvi. 

These machines would help print votes on the spot, instead of printing ballot papers at the press. They would help do away with the practice of printing extra ballot papers that used to be sold out later, kidnapping of presiding officers, and confusion in vote count. 

He said the voter would cast their vote by touching the EVM screen, instead of stamping the ballot paper. “The process is the same. Then what is the resistance for?” 

While the machine would use an in-built calculator to count votes, manual counting would also be available for skeptics, the president said, adding that the Ministry of Science and Technology was not a manufacturer of EVMs, it rather made a prototype for experiment. 

It would be the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to select the EVM based on the required specifications, he explained. 

About Internet-voting (I-voting) for overseas Pakistanis, Alvi recounted the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) legal and political struggle for voting right to Pakistani expatriates. He said physical voting for expatriates was not possible due to multiple complications. 

The countries, which had rejected EVMs, had their own better systems in place, according to the president. Contrarily, Pakistan needed it owing to weaknesses in its system. 

EVMs would help alleviate confusion caused by post-election rigging allegations and bring about a strong government to support democracy, he said. 

“Don’t worry, the nation will be convinced,” the president remarked. “Just like this one, the country will make progress in other fields too.” 


Pakistan says UAE biggest trade partner in MENA region with $8 billion volume 

Updated 35 min 2 sec ago

Pakistan says UAE biggest trade partner in MENA region with $8 billion volume 

  • Pakistani foreign minister felicitates the Gulf state on its 50th National Day 
  • Shah Mahmood Qureshi says UAE's progress is result of visionary leadership 

ISLAMABAD: The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has been the biggest trade partner of Pakistan in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region with a trade volume of more than $8 billion, the Pakistani foreign minister said on Thursday, congratulating the Gulf state on its 50th National Day. 

The statement came during a grand reception hosted by UAE Ambassador to Pakistan Hamad Obaid Al-Zaabi in Islamabad, which marked five decades of the UAE’s formal nationalization and the start of the unification of the Emirates. 

The UAE was formally established on December 2, 1971 after an agreement was reached between rulers of the six Emirates, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Umm Al Quwain, Fujairah and Ajman. The seventh, Ras al Khaimah, acceded to the new federation the following year. Since their unification, the seven Emirates have forged a distinct national identity.  

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said Islamabad and the UAE had excellent fraternal relations, underpinned by a shared heritage and multifaceted cooperation. Economic and trade ties between Pakistan and UAE were an important part of this bilateral relationship and had been growing steadily, he added.  

Pakistani ministers, politicians, Emirati officials, foreign diplomats and journalists celebrate 50th National Day of the United Arab Emirates in Islamabad, Pakistan on December 2, 2021. (AN Photo) 

“With bilateral trade of over $8 billion, UAE remains Pakistan’s largest trading partner in the Middle East and North Africa Region, while the UAE is also among the largest foreign investors in Pakistan,” he said.  

“We have also been working closely at international fora. We congratulate the UAE on its election to the United Nations Security Council for the term 2022-23 and for hosting COP-28.”  

Qureshi extended heartiest felicitations from the people and the Government of Pakistan and said the Emirates’ tremendous progress was a result of its visionary leadership.  

“The tremendous progress achieved by the UAE would not have been possible without the visionary leadership of the its founding father, His Highness Late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan,” Qureshi said, while addressing the ceremony.  

Students from Sheikh Zayed International Academy, Islamabad perform on the 50th National Day of the United Arab Emirates in Islamabad, Pakistan on December 2, 2021. (AN Photo)  

“I extend heartiest felicitations from the people and the Government of Pakistan to the people of UAE and its leadership on the Golden Jubilee of their unification. We wish them phenomenal success in all their endeavors.”  

Speaking to Arab News, UAE Ambassador Al-Zaabi said it was a double celebration as along with 50 years of the UAE’s success story, it also marked five decades of diplomatic relations with Pakistan.  

“Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan, the late founding father of the UAE, put the foundation of this strong relationship with Pakistan,” Al-Zaabi said, adding that his diplomatic mission was here to continue and build new bridges to take forward this relationship.  

Adviser to Pakistani prime minister on commerce Abdul Razak Dawood termed the formation of the UAE a remarkable experiment of visionary leadership of its founding father.  

Pakistani tabla brothers, Riyan Czar (left) and Isaac Czar (right), perform on the occasion of 50th National Day of the United Arab Emirates in Islamabad, Pakistan on December 2, 2021. (AN Photo) 

“The creation and progress of the Emirates required exemplary and visionary leadership, and Shiekh Zayed and Sheikh Rashid provided that leadership to unite all the seven Emirates,” Dawood told Arab News.  

Pakistan’s Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan congratulated the UAE on its special day, saying, “It’s a great day for Pakistan too as we are celebrating 50 years of the establishment of the UAE, which is a true friend of Pakistan.”  

Prime Minister Imran Khan’s aide on the Middle East, Tahir Mahmood Ashrafi, said Pakistan and the UAE were companions of good and bad times.  

“Pakistan and the UAE are just like one body and soul. Whenever Pakistan faced any difficulty, the UAE and other Gulf states stood with us and we also reciprocated it,” Ashrafi told Arab News, adding that the Gulf countries had played a key role in each other’s progress, prosperity and stability.  

“During these 50 years Pakistan remained at the forefront of building infrastructure and institutions like the Emirates airlines,” he added. 


New Delhi says Pakistan imposing conditions on Indian humanitarian aid to Afghanistan

Updated 02 December 2021

New Delhi says Pakistan imposing conditions on Indian humanitarian aid to Afghanistan

  • India recently offered to supply life-saving drugs and 50,000 tons of wheat to the war-battered country
  • Prime Minister Imran Khan said his government was willing to consider the offer to help the people of Afghanistan

ISLAMABAD: Indian officials said on Thursday they were trying to work out the modalities of sending humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan with the Pakistani government, saying that Islamabad should not attach conditions to the shipment of relief goods.
The administration in New Delhi recently offered to supply life-saving drugs and 50,000 tons of wheat to the war-battered country which is facing an economic meltdown and an impending food crisis.
The issue was also taken up by a Taliban ministerial delegation with the Pakistani authorities last month, making Prime Minister Imran Khan assure its members that his country would consider the transit of Indian wheat on humanitarian grounds.
The foreign office of Pakistan announced on November 24 it had allowed the transportation of Indian humanitarian aid "as a goodwill gesture towards the brotherly Afghan people."
However, Indian external affairs ministry complained Pakistan wanted to load the relief material on its own trucks from the border crossing.
"We have had discussions with Pakistan on the modalities of this supply," the spokesperson of the ministry Arindam Bagchi told Hindustan Times. "These discussions are ongoing. Let me reiterate our belief that humanitarian assistance should not be subject to conditionalities."
The newspaper reported that the Indian wanted to use its own trucks to ensure the relief materials directly reached the Afghan people without being diverted.
"The Indian side also envisages the aid will be distributed only through the UN," it added.
Pakistan, which has urged the international community to address Afghanistan's humanitarian needs, allowed the transportation of Indian wheat at a time when the two countries have almost ended their diplomatic engagements due to the situation in Indian-administered Kashmir.
Pakistan has also denied India commercial transport links to Afghanistan for a long time to block its access to the Central Asian region.