Pakistan's religious affairs ministry warns aspiring pilgrims against fake Hajj bookings

A sign promotes airline's Haj and Umrah packages outside a ticketing office, as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Karachi, Pakistan July 6, 2020. (REUTERS)
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Updated 14 January 2022

Pakistan's religious affairs ministry warns aspiring pilgrims against fake Hajj bookings

  • The ministry issues a public alert after getting complaints from people intending to perform the annual religious ritual
  • The warning says the Hajj policy is yet to be announced and no one is allowed for now to make such bookings

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan's religious affairs ministry cautioned people on Thursday not to make Hajj bookings until the announcement of the country's official pilgrimage policy for the year.

The annual Islamic pilgrimage to the sacred city of Makkah in Saudi Arabia is expected to take place in the beginning of July.

It is mandatory for all able-bodied, adult Muslims with requisite financial means to perform the religious ritual at least once in their life.

The Pakistani ministry said it was issuing the public alert after getting complaints of fake Hajj bookings from people.

"The Hajj policy 2022 has not been announced yet," it said in an official handout, "and no one has been allowed to make such bookings."

It continued that people should not fall for individuals and organizations asking them to make pilgrimage bookings at this stage.

"Aspiring Hajj pilgrims should wait for an official announcement from the ministry," it added. "They should also report people and companies making fake Hajj bookings by contacting the helpline."

The ministry told people not to entrust their money and passports to anyone, adding the government would take legal action against those running scams in the name of the religious ritual.

Pakistan became part of Saudi Arabia's Makkah Route Initiative before the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.

The facility makes it possible for pilgrims to undergo immigration and customs clearance in their own country before departing for Hajj.

The annual religious ritual has remained limited since the emergence of the pandemic, though the kingdom has allowed representatives of all Muslim nations to perform the pilgrimage during this period.


Punjab inquiry committee blames Murree tragedy on administrative negligence — local media

Updated 54 min 3 sec ago

Punjab inquiry committee blames Murree tragedy on administrative negligence — local media

  • The five-member committee probing the death of 23 snow-tourists in the popular mountainous resort completed its investigation on Sunday
  • A Pakistani court castigated the National Disaster Management Authority last week for not making adequate preparations to prevent the tragedy

ISLAMABAD: A five-member committee that was formed to probe the recent deaths of snow-tourists at a popular mountainous resort in Pakistan attributed the tragedy to administrative negligence after finishing its investigation on Sunday, local media reported.

The committee was set up by the provincial administration of Punjab last week after 23 people, including women and children, lost their lives after getting stuck in a snowstorm in Murree for several hours.

Most of the victims suffered hypothermia as temperatures fell to -8°C (17.6°F). Officials said some died of carbon monoxide poisoning from running their car heaters while their mufflers were choked by snow.

While the inquiry committee is yet to prepare its report which will be presented to Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar in the next few days, Geo News reported that it found the local administration responsible for not doing enough while the tragedy was unfolding in Murree.

"The probe has revealed that on the day of the incident, several snow ploughs were parked at the same place which led to road blockages, the administrative staff was absent from duty, while a blizzard warning from the metrological department was blatantly neglected, according to sources," the report said on Monday.

The committee recorded statements of several tourists along with officials of various administrative departments in Murree during its probe.

The Islamabad High Court also looked into the incident last week, blaming the country's National Disaster Management Authority for not making adequate preparations to deal with the situation which led to the death of so many tourists.


Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa signs agreements worth $8 billion at Expo Dubai

Updated 16 January 2022

Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa signs agreements worth $8 billion at Expo Dubai

  • Foreign firms, investors express keen interest in industrial, infrastructure, food processing and energy sectors
  • Feasibility reports of projects presented at the mega exhibition have already been completed, officials say

KARACHI: The provincial government of Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province on Sunday signed over 40 memorandums of understanding (MoUs) at Expo 2020 Dubai that would bring foreign investment worth $8 billion home, the KP investment board and officials said. 
Described as “the event of the century,” the expo kicked off in October, bringing together representatives from more than 190 countries. The exhibition is the largest global gathering since the emergence of the coronavirus pandemic and will run until April 2022. 
Pakistan’s pavilion at the expo has been highlighting investment opportunities, tourism potential and cultural magnificence of the country. In January, its highlight is the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. 
Foreign firms and investors expressed their keen interest in various projects in tourism, industrial, infrastructure, food processing, livestock, energy and power sectors, and a water sports theme park in KP’s Swabi district at an investment conference at Expo Dubai on Sunday. 
“International firms have signed 44 memorandums of understanding (MoUs) worth $8 billion during the Expo 2020 Dubai,” KP finance minister Taimur Saleem Jhagra said, while addressing attendees at the conference. 
Jhagra said the KP government had presented these projects in a better way. “For the promotion of tourism in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the government is presenting ready projects at the expo for investment,” he said. 

KP finance minister Taimur Saleem Jhagra is addressing the attendees at the conference in Dubai, UAE, on January 16, 2022. (Photo courtesy: @kptourism/Twitter)

KP had vast investment opportunities in tourism, energy and power, infrastructure and other sectors, according to the minister. The Swat Expressway was built under a public-private partnership and now it was being extended to other cities to boost trade and economy, he said. 
Among the attendees at the conference were chief executive officers (CEOs) of the Samara Group, Mazaya Group (EGI), Jannat & AJ Group, Almasa Group and a number of Dubai-based and international investors, who expressed their willingness to invest in various tourism projects in the northwestern Pakistani province. 
“Investment groups that have signed MoUs include Enertech-Kuwait Investment Authority (KIA), Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power (KHNP), Private Office of Sheikh Ahmed Dalmook-Al-Maktoum, Samara Group, VR Group, Sigma Group, Malik Foams, Nobel Future Land & many others,” KP chief minister Mahmood Khan said on Twitter. 
“Investments in the development of food processing zones, integrated tourism zones (ITZ), Solarization of Economic Zones, Construction of Transmission Lines across Khyber Pakhtunkhwa will help in transforming KP by creating economic opportunities and increase in employment.” 

 Jhagra said his government had planned to establish an Overseas Pakistan Council to facilitate investors, saying the process was currently in the legislation stage. The KP government had established a special economic zone (SEZ) in Rashakai and that people were now coming to invest in the province, he added. 
KP culture minister Shaukat Yousafzai said the province had a huge potential for investment and these agreements would help increase the flow of foreign investment into the province. 

Pakistan's ambassador to UAE Afzaal Mehmood (first left) and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) provincal ministers attend the ceremony at Expo 2020 Dubai in Dubai, UAE, on January 16, 2022. (Photo courtesy: @kptourism/Twitter)

Shahab Ali Shah, the KP additional chief secretary, said only those projects were presented at the expo, whose feasibility reports were complete and only investors were needed. 
“The government is ready to provide a one-window facility to investors,” he added. 


Pakistan’s pandemic response body meets today to ponder new virus curbs

Updated 16 January 2022

Pakistan’s pandemic response body meets today to ponder new virus curbs

  • Provincial health and education ministers asked to propose restrictions for different sectors
  • Pakistan reported over 4,000 cases of coronavirus for the second consecutive day on Sunday

ISLAMABAD: The National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC), Pakistan’s top pandemic response body, will hold an important meeting on Monday to mull new restrictions relating to coronavirus, Pakistani state media reported, as the South Asian nation continues to fight a fifth wave of the virus infections. 

Pakistan reported over 4,000 new infections for the second consecutive day on Sunday. According to official figures, at least 4,027 people tested positive for the virus in the last 24 hours, taking the overall virus positivity rate to 7.8 percent in the country. 

The fifth wave of the infections is primarily driven by the highly transmissible omicron strain, which emerged in South Africa in November last year and rapidly spread to other parts of the world. 

In its meeting on Saturday, the NCOC discussed the disease prevalence and non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) in the wake of rising infections in the country, especially in urban centers, the state-run APP news agency reported. 

"It reviewed the existing NPIs and called on provincial health and education ministers session on 17 January [20]22 to suggest the new set of NPIs focusing on education sector, public gatherings, marriage ceremonies, indoor/outdoor dining and transport sector," the report read. 

The NCOC decided to engage with provinces, especially Sindh, to take necessary measures to stem the spread of coronavirus. 

It ordered a complete ban on inflight serving of meals and snacks from Monday. Pakistan’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has been tasked to ensure people follow all coronavirus-related standard operating procedures (SOPs) at airports and on flights. 

The NCOC called upon provincial governments to take stern action against violators of coronavirus SOPs and ensure the enforcement of the obligatory vaccination regime.   

The pandemic response body also asked provinces to carry out immediate surveys of healthcare facilities, fast-track vaccination drive and ramp up efforts to achieve targets.


Pakistan asks world to hold India accountable for ‘harassment,’ ‘illegal arrests’ of journalists

Updated 16 January 2022

Pakistan asks world to hold India accountable for ‘harassment,’ ‘illegal arrests’ of journalists

  • Journalists have increasingly voiced concerns about harassment and threats in disputed Kashmir
  • Many of them have been arrested, beaten and sometimes investigated under antiterrorism laws

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Sunday called on the international community, particularly the United Nations and international human rights groups, to hold India accountable for its “unabated harassment and illegal arrests” of journalists, human rights defenders and civil society activists in India-administered Kashmir. 
Journalists have increasingly voiced concerns about harassment and threats by the police that have effectively restricted reporting after India revoked Kashmir’s semi-autonomy and divided the region under its control into two federally governed territories in 2019. Many journalists have been arrested, beaten, harassed and sometimes investigated under antiterrorism laws. 
On Saturday, a group of journalists, with the alleged help of local administration, forced their way into the Kashmir Press Club’s (KPC) administration office in Srinagar and announced themselves “interim” KPC office-bearers, prompting condemnations from independent journalist bodies in India. 
Pakistan condemned the “increasing harassment, illegal arrests and registration of fake criminal cases” against journalists and civil society activists in India-administered Kashmir, the Pakistani foreign office said. 
“The reported attack on Kashmir Press Club yesterday manifestly reflects India’s entrenched use of brute force and coercion to forcibly silence those raising voices against its horrendous crimes and egregious human rights violations,” it said in a statement. 
“Equally condemnable is the increasing use of draconian and inhumane laws including Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), Public Safety Act (PSA) and Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) with impunity in IIOJK (Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir), which reflects India’s colonial mindset.” 
On Sunday, the Editors Guild of India, a non-partisan association of editorial leaders committed to free, fair and independent journalism, said it was “aghast at the manner in which the office and the management of Kashmir Press Club, the largest journalists’ association in the Valley, was forcibly taken over by a group of journalists with the help of armed policemen on January 15, 2022.” 

Earlier this month, Indian soldiers picked up a Kashmiri journalist, Sajjad Gul, from his home in northeastern Shahgund village and later handed him over to the police, his family said. He had posted a video of family members and relatives protesting the killing of a rebel commander on Monday. 
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said it was “deeply disturbed” by the arrest of Gul and asked Indian authorities to immediately release him. 
India’s decision to strip the region of its special powers in August 2019 brought journalism to a near halt in Kashmir for months. India began implementing a policy in 2020 that gives the government more power to censure independent reporting. 
Fearing reprisals from government agencies, most of the local press has wilted under pressure. Journalists have also come under scrutiny through anonymous online threats the government says are linked to rebels fighting against Indian rule. 
Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan and both claim it in full. 
Since 1989, a full-blown armed rebellion has raged in Indian-controlled Kashmir seeking a united Kashmir — either under Pakistani rule or independent of both countries. 
The region is one of the most heavily militarized in the world. Tens of thousands of civilians, rebels and government forces have been killed in the conflict. 


‘Fearless leadership’: Pakistani cricketers heap praise on Kohli after India Test exit

Updated 16 January 2022

‘Fearless leadership’: Pakistani cricketers heap praise on Kohli after India Test exit

  • Kohli remained India’s most successful Test captain, with the sides winning 40 out of 68 matches in his reign
  • Ahmad Shahzad, Mohammad Amir, Kainat Imtiaz, Naseem Shah laud ex-Indian skipper for leading India with aggression

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani cricketers have showered praise on Virat Kohli, who stepped down as India’s Test captain on Saturday, turning the side into a formidable team in the longest format of the game. 
Kohli made his mark as India’s most successful Test captain to date. The right-handed batter helped India achieve 40 Test wins out of the 68 matches he captained his side in.  
Cricket analysts have praised Kohli for inspiring fearless cricket into the team and transforming it into a disciplined unit that hungered for victories, both on Indian soil and abroad.  
As tributes flowed in from current and former cricketers, commentators and analysts, Pakistani players also praised the former Indian skipper.  
Pakistani cricketer Ahmad Shahzad praised Kohli for the “fearless leadership” that he displayed as skipper of the Indian team.  
“That flare of passion with which you led your side was visible in your captaincy. It’s been 7 years of fearless leadership, quality spirit of cricket and a great ambassadorship of the game,” he tweeted. “Best wishes for the future bro @imVkohli, keep rocking.” 

Pakistani pacer Mohammad Amir, whose rivalry with the former Indian Test captain was enjoyed by millions of fans across the globe, described Kohli as a “true leader” for the upcoming generation of crickers.  

“Brother for me you are a true leader of the upcoming generation in cricket because you are an inspiration for young Cricketers. Keep rocking on and off the field,” Amir said on Twitter.  

Pakistan woman all-rounder Kainat Imtiaz described Kohli as “one of the greatest captains that we have seen.” 
“Hats off @imVkohli, real GOAT, real inspiration,” she said.  

Pakistani right-arm quickie Naseem Shah reacted to Kohli’s resignation, calling him an “inspiration for many.” 


When he announced his decision to step down as India’s Test captain, Kohli said he had always given his 120 percent for the team.  
“Everything has to come to a halt at some stage and for me as Test captain of India, it’s now … I have always believed in giving my 120 percent in everything I do, and if I can’t do that, I know it’s not the right thing to do,” he had posted on social media.  
“I have absolute clarity in my heart and I cannot be dishonest to my team,” he added.  
Last year in September, Kohli announced he would be stepping down as India’s T20 captain after the World Cup in November. The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), India’s top cricket authority, replaced him with Rohit Sharma as India’s ODI captain in December.  
Sharma was also appointed India’s captain in the T20 format as well.  
As captain, Kohli led India to its first Test series win against Australia in 2018-2019 and also helped his team reach the final of the first World Test Championship in England.  
The Men in Blue, however, lost the Test championship to New Zealand.