Saudi envoy meets Pakistan officials, discusses ways to facilitate Hajj pilgrims

Saudi envoy to Pakistan, Nawaf bin Said Al-Malki (C) meets Pakistani officials to discuss Hajj 2022 in Islamabad on May 12, 2022. (KSA embassy)
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Updated 13 May 2022

Saudi envoy meets Pakistan officials, discusses ways to facilitate Hajj pilgrims

  • Pakistan will be sending 81,132 pilgrims for this year’s Hajj
  • Government received 43,554 Hajj applications in four days

ISLAMABAD: Saudi ambassador to Islamabad Nawaf bin Said Al-Malki met with Pakistani officials on Thursday and discussed ways to facilitate travel arrangements for Hajj pilgrims. 

After a hiatus of two years due to COVID-19 pandemic, Saudi Arabia this year announced holding the annual Hajj pilgrimage for all Muslims across the globe. 

Pakistan will be sending 81,132 pilgrims for this year’s Hajj, with 60 percent of the quota allocated to private Hajj operators. The maximum age limit for pilgrims this year is 65. Last month, the Pakistan government announced people willing to perform Hajj this year could submit online applications from May 1 to 13, with token money of Rs50,000 ($270). 

Hajj pilgrims will be facilitated under the Makkah Route project, an initiative of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, under which all immigration requirements of pilgrims are fulfilled at the airport of origin. This saves pilgrims several hours upon reaching the kingdom since they can just enter the country, having gone through immigration already at home. 

The project is a "Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs initiative and is implementing measures to facilitate the Hajj for pilgrims not only from Pakistan but also from Malaysia, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Tunisia also," the Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority (PCAA) said on Friday. 

"The initiative eases pilgrims’ journey by granting e-Hajj visas and finalizing pilgrims’ entry procedures before they arrive Saudi Arabia." 

Under the initiative, pilgrims' fingerprints are taken and passports stamped in the country of departure, according to the PCAA. The entry of pilgrims into Saudi Arabia is processed like a domestic flight, while their luggage is later sent to their places of residence through the Saudi Ministry of Hajj. 

Pakistan’s Ministry of Religious Affairs said on Thursday it had received 43,554 Hajj applications through banks in the past four days. 

“Saudi ambassador Nawaf bin Said Al-Malki in a meeting with a delegation of Makkah Route Initiative and concerned Pakistani officials discussed [ways] to facilitate travel arrangements for Pakistani pilgrims and improve arrangements regarding Hajj,” Saudi Embassy said in a Twitter post on Thursday. 

In 2019, Pakistan implemented a pilot project in this regard at the Islamabad International Airport.


Pakistan central bank raises key interest rate by 1.25% to tame inflation

Updated 7 sec ago

Pakistan central bank raises key interest rate by 1.25% to tame inflation

  • Pakistan is attempting to tackle 13-year high retail inflation
  • Central bank raised benchmark interest rate by 150 bps in May

KARACHI: Pakistan’s central bank on Thursday increased the key interest rate by 125 basis points (bps) to 15 percent to control runaway inflation and "give relief to the common man," the acting State Bank governor announced.

In the monetary policy announced in May 2022, the central bank had increased the policy rate by 150 bps to 13.75 percent with the same objective of taming rising inflation. However, after the end of fuel subsides on power and petroleum products over the last 5 weeks, the country in June 2022 recorded 21.3 percent inflation, the highest in 13 years.  

“At today’s meeting, the Monetary Policy Committee decided to raise the policy rate by 125 basis points to 15 percent,” Dr. Murtaza Syed, the acting Governor of the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), said at a virtual press conference.  

“The state bank realizes that in these days the common man is facing difficulties ... inflation is too high and prices of food items have been increased," he said. "But to end fuel subsidies on electricity and petroleum products was the right decision but difficult decision of the government. State bank and state bank’s policy is giving much emphasis to control inflation because it is causing difficulties for our economy.”  

The acting governor said controlling inflation was an important objective of the central bank to give relief to the common man but warned that inflation would remain on the "higher side" for at least a year.

“Inflation will remain high at least for a year but we will try that it does not increase too much. We will try to control month-on-month but the year-on-year will unfortunately remain on higher side. We will see that it will remain 18 to 20 percent in current fiscal year as the prices have been increased, before declining sharply during FY24.”

The central bank said looking ahead, growth was expected to moderate to 3-4 percent in FY23, on the back of monetary tightening and fiscal consolidation, helping to close the positive output gap and diminish demand-side pressures on inflation.

"This will pave the way for higher growth on a more sustainable basis," the bank said in its policy statement.

The central bank also decided to keep the Export Finance Scheme (EFS) and Long-Term Finance Facility (LTFF) less than 5 percent of the policy rate to facilitate exporters.  

“The interest rates on EFS and LTFF loans are now being linked to the policy rate to strengthen monetary policy transmission, while continuing to incentivize exports by presently offering a discount of 500 basis points relative to the policy rate,” the statement added.  

The central bank said the current account deficit unexpectedly spiked in May 2022 and the trade deficit continued its post-March widening trend to reach a seven-month high in June 2022, on burgeoning energy imports. As a result, foreign exchange reserves and the rupee remained under pressure, further worsening the inflation outlook.

The central bank's weekly foreign exchange reserves data released on Thursday indicated a decline during the week ended on June 30, 2022, by $493 million to $9.8 billion, due to external debt and other payments.


Pakistan says will ‘soon’ introduce country's first comprehensive solar policy

Updated 07 July 2022

Pakistan says will ‘soon’ introduce country's first comprehensive solar policy

  • Pakistan is seeking to cut its huge import bill and reduce reliance on non-renewable energy resources
  • Budget 2022-23 speech includes proposal to exempt import and local supply of solar panels from sales tax

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said on Thursday Pakistan would soon announce its first comprehensive solar policy as the South Asian nation looks to cut its huge import bill and reduce reliance on non-renewable energy resources.  

Hours-long power outages are a common occurrence in Pakistan, where the demand for power outstrips generation during the peak summer months. The rising price of oil globally has also hit Pakistan’s already low foreign exchange reserves, putting more pressure on its resources and weakening its currency.

The Sharif government has blamed the situation on the mismanagement of the power sector by the previous administration of ousted prime minister, Imran Khan. Khan and his aides have denied any blame.  

Earlier this month, Finance Minister Miftah Ismail announced during his budget 2022-23 speech the government’s proposal to exempt the import and local supply of solar panels from sales tax. He also said consumers using fewer than 200 units of electricity would be facilitated in obtaining soft loans on easy terms from banks to buy solar panels.

On Thursday, PM Sharif chaired an Energy Task Force meeting in Islamabad where he was briefed on the steps being taken to promote solar energy in Pakistan.  

“Coalition govt will soon introduce the country's first comprehensive solar policy after approval of the CCI [Council of Common Interests],” Sharif said in a post shared on social media.

He said the initiative would “drastically cut” Pakistan’s imports and bring down the cost of electricity.

During the task force meeting, the prime minister was informed that up to 1,000 MW solar power plants would be installed on government buildings in the next 10 years on a ‘Build, Own, Operate and Transfer’ basis, according to state-run Radio Pakistan.  

The premier was told about the government’s efforts to power tube wells via solar energy and that a project in Balochistan was under consideration for that purpose.  

Sharif was quoted by Radio Pakistan as saying that the Prime Minister House and Prime Minister’s Office would be converted to solar energy on an emergency basis in a month’s time. The Presidency in Pakistan is already fully powered by green energy.

Earlier this month, Sharif’s government decided to reduce the official working week across Pakistan from six days to five.  

After taking office in April, Sharif had increased the working week to six days from five, with only Sunday as a day off, saying he wanted to increase productivity. However, the enhanced work week resulted in greater electricity and fuel consumption by government offices and employees.


Child among nine killed in Pakistan mine flood

Updated 07 July 2022

Child among nine killed in Pakistan mine flood

  • Police said torrential monsoon rain inundated the mine in Jhampir in Sindh province
  • Poverty and the weak implementation of labour laws see millions of children exploited

KARACHI: A 12-year-old boy suspected to be working illegally at a coal mine was among at least nine people killed by a flash flood at a quarry in southern Pakistan, officials said Thursday.
Police said torrential monsoon rain inundated the mine in Jhampir, 120 kilometres (75 miles) east of Karachi.
Poverty and the weak implementation of labour laws see millions of children exploited in often hazardous work environments in Pakistan.
"The mine is about 350 feet (110 metres) deep and we are trying to recover the body of the boy," Zahid Sheikh, a local police officer told AFP.
The chief minister of southern Sindh province, where the mine is located, has ordered an enquiry, officials said.


'Mack Solo': Weather delays Karachi landing of youngest pilot on round-the-world record attempt

Updated 07 July 2022

'Mack Solo': Weather delays Karachi landing of youngest pilot on round-the-world record attempt

  • 17-year-old Mack Rutherford inspired by sister who became youngest woman to fly solo around the world
  • Had to cancel scheduled flight from Dubai to Karachi on Thursday afternoon due to unfavorable weather 

KARACHI: A 17-year old Belgian-British pilot who is attempting to become the youngest person to fly across the world solo in a small plane canceled his scheduled flight to Karachi from Dubai on Thursday afternoon due to unfavorable weather conditions, his team said.

Mack Rutherford was scheduled to land in Karachi at 2pm PST and stay for two-days before flying onwards to the Indian city of Ahmedabad as part of his journey to fly to 52 countries in five continents to break the record of Travis Ludlow, who completed the feat in 2021 at 18.

Rutherford will now re-attempt to fly to the Pakistani port city on Friday morning.

Rutherford comes from a family of aviators and was inspired to take on his latest journey by his sister, Zara Rutherford, who in January this year became the youngest woman to fly solo around the world. He wanted to fly since he was eleven, having flown hundreds of hours with his father who is a professional pilot. He received his microlight pilot’s license when he was 15.3 years old, making him at the time the youngest pilot in the world.

“With this trip, I hope to show that young people can make a difference and that you don’t have to wait until you are 18 to follow your dreams,” Rutherford told Arab News from Dubai. “You can start working toward them now.”

“I am expecting an amazing and unique experience in Pakistan,” he added. “I have heard Pakistan is very different from other places with deserts and mountains and I can’t wait to see it for myself.”

“I am happy to find out what the local food is and try it out,” he added.

Mack Rutherford, who is attempting to become the youngest person to fly across the world solo in a small plane, seen before kicking off his world mission from Sofia, Bulgaria, on March 23, 2022 (Photo Courtesy: Team Mack Rutherford)

Rutherford started his journey in March from Sofia, Bulgaria, from where he flew south across the Mediterranean and through the Sahara to the Congolese jungle. Turning east through Mozambique and Madagascar, he reached the far eastern Mauritius island of Rodrigues. He then north through his first antipodal point before continuing through the Seychelles and the Yemeni island of Socotra.

He then went onwards through Oman and the UAE. Rutherford arrived in Dubai five weeks ago and struggled to get an Iranian visa but changed his plan and decided to skip Iran. He also couldn’t make it to Russia due to the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

He will now fly onwards to India, China, South Korea and Japan, then enter Alaska and go down the West Coast of the US, to Baja California, and a small island in the Pacific, Isla Socorro, his second and last antipodal.

The last leg of Rutherford’s journey will take him through mainland Mexico and Texas, to New York and Canada. He will also visit Greenland and Iceland to cross the Atlantic to Scotland before continuing through England to Belgium and returning to Sofia.

“I want to use the opportunity to meet young people on my route who do incredible things, making a difference to their communities or even to the world,” Rutherford said. “Often few people know about them. Together we can show that young people make a difference.”

Mack Rutherford, who is attempting to become the youngest person to fly across the world solo in a small plane, in Dubai, UAE, in June, 2022 (Photo Courtesy: Team Mack Rutherford)

Rutherford said his journey had been “amazing” so far.

“I had some amazing flights over Kenya and Sudan,” he told Arab News. “Where I was able to see incredible deserts and wildlife.”


Pakistani policeman killed, 4 wounded in hand grenade attack

Updated 07 July 2022

Pakistani policeman killed, 4 wounded in hand grenade attack

  • Officers transported the dead and wounded to a nearby hospital after the assault in Mardan
  • No one immediately claimed responsibility and the attackers’ identities were not released

PESHAWAR: Attackers threw a hand grenade at a roadside police post in northwest Pakistan on Thursday, killing an officer and wounding four people before fleeing the scene, local officials said.

No one immediately claimed responsibility and the attackers’ identities were not released after the assault in Mardan, a district in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province bordering Afghanistan.

Police spokesman Adnan Khan said officers transported the dead and wounded to a nearby hospital. He provided no further details and said officers were still investigating.

Pakistan’s northwestern former tribal regions share a lengthy porous border with Afghanistan and for years served as a safe haven for militants. The military carried out massive operations to clear the area, forcing the militants to escape into Afghanistan or hide in other areas near the border.