Pakistani businesses linked to Hajj and Umrah pick up after two-year coronavirus hiatus 

Shopkeeper arrange Hajj and Umrah items in a market in Rawalpindi on June 21, 2022. (AN Photo)
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Updated 21 June 2022

Pakistani businesses linked to Hajj and Umrah pick up after two-year coronavirus hiatus 

  • Madinah Market in Rawalpindi is a go-to place to buy necessary Hajj items
  • Pilgrims say double-digit inflation has pushed prices to an all-time high

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani businesses linked to Hajj and Umrah have picked up this year as pilgrims and their families flock to Hajj markets after Saudi Arabia greatly expanded the key pilgrimage to participants from outside the kingdom after two years of tight COVID restrictions.

Saudi Arabia has allowed one million people from both within and outside the kingdom to perform this year’s Hajj, which was restricted to just 1,000 local residents in 2020. Last year, the kingdom limited the pilgrimage to 60,000 domestic participants, compared with the pre-pandemic 2.5 million. Pilgrims this Hajj season are required to be 65 or below, and fully vaccinated against COVID-19. 

In Pakistan, which has been given a Hajj quota of 81,132 people, aspiring pilgrims have been frequenting Hajj bazars to complete their list of around 40 necessary items for the pilgrimage, including the ihram clothing, prayer rugs, rosaries, skull caps, belts, sandal, fragrance-free soaps and pebble pouches.

A go-to place for such shopping is Madinah Market in Rawalpindi, which comprises over 200 shops in a multi-story building in the narrow, jam-packed streets of the city’s famous Raja Bazaar.

“Business remained dead for two years but it has started flourishing again with the revival of Hajj and Umrah,” Muhammad Usman Nawab, who has been selling Hajj and Umrah items for the last 25 years, told Arab News. 
Pilgrims and their families from as far as Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan have been beating Rawalpindi’s traffic rush to visit shops at the Hajj Bazaar, particularly to buy the ihram, a white, two-piece seamless wrap, and other items.

“The prices of all items have almost doubled and the number of customers has dropped below 50 percent,” Nawab said. “Customers are not ready to digest the sky-high prices and that is becoming a bit difficult for us. But we still thank Allah our business has at least started reviving.” 

“The cost of everything has escalated manifold, but I am still excited to go to Allah’s home along with my family,” Malik Zaheer, an aspiring pilgrims, told Arab News. “Allah has invited me out of this small number ... I am lucky He has invited us.” 

Arshad Kamran, who has been dealing in Hajj clothing and other related items at Madinah Market for the last five years, said he was trying to stick to affordable prices at his shop.

“Inflation and taxes have doubled the prices of everything, but our business is a bit different,” he told Arab News. “It is directly linked to Allah as people’s aspirations and passion is the same.” 

Arshad Mahmood, who performed Hajj in 2018 and was now purchasing an ihram for his younger brother, lamented the high prices of Hajj items.

“Everything was cheap [in 2018], but now inflation has skyrocketed,” he said, but then added that at least Madinah Market made his Hajj shopping more convenient: “I don’t have to shuttle between different markets to complete my required list of items.” 
 


PM proposes ‘national dialogue’ to reform Pakistan’s state of affairs 

Updated 8 sec ago

PM proposes ‘national dialogue’ to reform Pakistan’s state of affairs 

  • PM Shehbaz Sharif warns against ‘internal division’, calls for unity 
  • Starting point for national dialogue can be ‘charter of economy’— Sharif 

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Sunday urged all stakeholders in the country to move toward a “national dialogue” to resolve Pakistan’s complex issues, on the occasion of Pakistan’s 76th Independence Day. 

Pakistan is celebrating 75 years of freedom from British rule in the subcontinent. On August 14, 1947, British India was divided into the two states of India and Pakistan. 

The political temperature in Pakistan is on the rise, with former prime minister Imran Khan levelling allegations against Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and the coalition government of being part of a US-backed conspiracy to oust him from power earlier this year. 

“We need to have a national dialogue so that the mistakes of the past can be clearly identified,” Sharif said during a flag hoisting ceremony in Islamabad. “We need to start a sincere struggle to reform [Pakistan’s] state of affairs,” Sharif said. 

He said that starting point for national dialogue can be the “charter of economy.” 

“If we [Pakistan] can become a nuclear power, why can’t we become an economic power,” he asked. 

In his written message earlier, the prime minister said Pakistan’s creation was an outcome of its founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s single-minded devotion, unflinching resolve and unwavering struggle. 

“Nothing is more dangerous for a nation than internal division; disruption and chaos, for such negative forces undermine the solidarity and integrity of the country and rob societies of their national purpose,” he stated. 

“We can push back the divisive and nihilistic forces with the power of the people and protect our freedom and identity. I have my full faith in their capabilities to chart a way forward,” Sharif stated. 


Saudi king, crown prince congratulate Pakistan on Independence Day 

Updated 14 August 2022

Saudi king, crown prince congratulate Pakistan on Independence Day 

  • Saudi leadership wishes “steady progress and prosperity” for Pakistanis 
  • Islamabad, Riyadh enjoy deep-rooted, cordial ties with one another 

ISLAMABAD: Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman congratulated President Arif Alvi on Saturday on the occasion of Pakistan’s 76th Independence Day, the Saudi State News Agency (SPA) said. 
On August 14, 1947, British India was divided into two countries, India and Pakistan. Every year, Pakistanis celebrate their independence from British rule with fanfare and festivities throughout the day. 
Islamabad and Riyadh have always cherished close diplomatic relations and are collaborating in various sectors. 
In their messages, the Saudi leadership wished President Alvi health and happiness and hoped Pakistan’s masses enjoy steady progress and prosperity. 
“The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud has sent a cable of congratulation to President Dr. Arif Alvi, President of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, on the anniversary of his country’s Independence Day,” the SPA said. 
In his message, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman “wished the President constant good health and happiness and the government and friendly people of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan steady progress and prosperity.” 
Saudi Arabia is home to more than two million Pakistanis and has been the top source of workers’ remittances to the South Asian nation. 


Military says reports of TTP's large presence in northwestern Pakistan ‘grossly exaggerated’ 

Updated 14 August 2022

Military says reports of TTP's large presence in northwestern Pakistan ‘grossly exaggerated’ 

  • Militants will be dealt with full use of force if required, says Pakistan Army 
  • Thousands protested in Swat on Friday over reports of TTP militants’ presence in area 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s military said on Saturday that reports of a large presence of Pakistani Taliban or the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militants in Pakistan’s northwestern Swat Valley are “exaggerated and misleading.” 

Thousands protested in two main towns of Pakistan’s Swat valley in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on Friday. Protestors took to the streets to denounce violence after reports that said Pakistani militants had increased their presence in the area. 

The TTP have carried out some of the bloodiest attacks inside Pakistan since 2007, including a 2014 assault on a school in which 134 students were killed. The group is not directly affiliated with the Afghan Taliban, but pledges allegiance to them. 

Pakistan military’s media wing, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said in a statement that a misperception about the alleged presence of a large number of TTP’s armed members has been created on social media over the past couple of days.  

“After confirmation on ground, these reports have been found as grossly exaggerated and misleading,” the ISPR said. “Presence of a small number of armed men on a few mountain tops between Swat and Dir has been observed, located far away from the population,” it added.  

The military said that these individuals “sneaked in” from Afghanistan to resettle in their native areas, adding that security forces are keeping a close watch on their limited presence and movement in mountains.  

“Required measures are in place by all LEAs (law enforcement agencies) for the safety and security of the people of the adjoining areas,” it said.  

“Presence of militants anywhere will not be tolerated and they will be dealt with full use of force if required.” 

Swat Valley used to be a TTP bastion in 2009 before a military operation by Pakistan’s army drove them out, causing thousands of families in the region to be displaced.  


Monsoon death toll climbs to 188 in flood-ravaged southwestern Pakistan

Updated 13 August 2022

Monsoon death toll climbs to 188 in flood-ravaged southwestern Pakistan

  • Provincial disaster management authority reports six new deaths over last 24 hours
  • 582 people have died in rain-related incidents across Pakistan since mid-June

QUETTA: The death toll from rain-related incidents since the onset of monsoon season has killed at least 188 in Balochistan, authorities said on Saturday, as rains continue to lash the southwestern Pakistani province, triggering flash floods.

Monsoon rains have wreaked havoc in Pakistan since mid-June, killing at least 582 people. Balochistan, Pakistan’s largest province by size and its most impoverished one, has reported the highest number of casualties.  

The Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) recorded six new deaths in rain-relates incidents in the past 24 hours.

“Six more bodies were recovered in the last 24 hours in Balochistan’s Killa Abdullah and Lasbela districts who were swept away in flash floods due to heavy rains on Friday,” Meer Zia Langove, advisor to the chief minister on disaster management, told reporters in the provincial capital, Quetta.

PDMA Balochistan director general Naseer Khan Nasir said four out of Friday’s six deaths were recorded in Killa Abdullah district, where the victims were trying to cross a flooded road.

Many roads are impassable, and traffic has been suspended also on the Quetta-Karachi highway due to the overflowing of the Lunda River in the Lasbela district.

“Our teams are fully engaged with the National Highway Authority (NHA) to clear the roads. It will be opened for traffic in the next 24 hours,” Langove said.

“Twenty-six out of 34 districts in Balochistan are badly affected by monsoon rains and floods which destroyed 40,000 homes and crops cultivated on 500,000 acres of agricultural land.”

Last month, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif visited the province’s worst hit areas, ordered immediate aid for their residents, and set up a relief fund for flood victims.

According to Pakistan’s Meteorological Department (PMD), the coming week may bring even more torrential rains to the region.

“Flash floods are expected in Killa Saifullah, Loralai, Barkhan, Kohlu, Mosa Khel, Sherani, Sibbi, Bolan, Kalat Khuzdar Awaran, Turbat Panjgur and other cities of Balochistan,” the PMD said in a notification on Saturday.

Downpours are also forecast for the provinces of Punjab and Sindh province.


Pakistan to expand COVID-19 vaccination to children next month as cases rise

Updated 13 August 2022

Pakistan to expand COVID-19 vaccination to children next month as cases rise

  • Government expects to receive vaccines and special syringes by next week
  • Pakistan Medical Association says vaccine for children is safe and effective

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistani government said on Saturday it will start vaccinating children aged five to eleven against COVID-19 from mid-September as infection figures are again on the rise.

After reporting a significant decline in COVID-19 cases earlier this year, Pakistan did away with almost all coronavirus restrictions. It has been witnessing a spike in infections since June, although health authorities say the situation largely remains under control and has fully vaccinated against COVID-19 over 88 percent of the population aged above 12 years.

“We will be starting COVID-19 vaccination of children aged between five to eleven years by mid-September,” Muazzam Abbas Ranjha, a vaccination lead at the National Institute of Health (NIH) in Islamabad told Arab News.

“The process for procurement of the vaccine and special syringes for the purpose is underway, and we’ll be receiving them next week.”

Ranjha said that Pakistan has done “extremely well” in immunizing its population against the pandemic and that’s why the numbers of deaths and infections have remained low compared to the neighboring countries.

“Now it’s time to immunize our children against the disease to curb the virus spread,” he said. “It is vital to administer the vaccine to our children as well to immunize the whole population against the virus.”

The country has conducted 20,272 COVID-19 tests in the last 24 hours, out of which 728 turned out to be positive or 3.59 percent with three deaths. A total of 161 patients are in critical condition, the official data says.

Ranjha said the number of daily infections in the country was under control as the government was constantly monitoring the situation.

“There is nothing alarming so far, but the people should still keep following health guidelines like mask wearing and social distancing at public places to evade the infection,” he said.

Dr. Qaiser Sajjad, secretary general of the Pakistan Medical Association, told Arab News the vaccination of children would help boost general immunity.

“The scientific data available shows the vaccine for children is safe and effective,” he said, adding that the government should roll out an awareness before starting the drive.

“Developed countries have already started vaccination of the children to curb the virus, and it is highly recommended that we should also start it as quickly as possible.”