Pakistan acquires land at Mina to accommodate Hajj pilgrims

Muslim worshippers set out to perform a symbolic stoning of the devil ritual, as part of the Hajj pilgrimage in Mina, near Saudi Arabia's holy city of Mecca, on July 20, 2021. (AFP/File)
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Updated 30 June 2022

Pakistan acquires land at Mina to accommodate Hajj pilgrims

  • The tent city of Mina remains deserted throughout the year and comes to life only during the five days of each Hajj season
  • It was in this city that Prophet Ibrahim spent the night before he was set to carry out an order by God to slaughter his son

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Hajj mission in Saudi Arabia has acquired land to accommodate its pilgrims at Old Mina near Jamrat this year, Director Hajj Makkah Sajid Manzoor Asadi told state-run media on Wednesday.

The tent city of Mina remains deserted throughout the year and comes to life only during the five days of each Hajj season when it is transformed into a vast encampment for pilgrims.

Situated 12 kilometers outside Makkah, it was in this city that Prophet Ibrahim spent the night before he was set to carry out an order by God to slaughter his son. As Prophet Ibrahim prepared to slaughter Ismaeel, God instructed him to sacrifice a sheep instead. 

Muslims around the world slaughter sheep, cows and camels to feed the poor, marking Prophet Ibrahim’s supreme sacrifice.

“There are six Makatib [place of pilgrims] in Mina, we have got tents near Jamarat which will make it easier for all Pakistani Pilgrims to perform Hajj rituals together,” Asadi said.

Saudi Arabia has allotted Pakistan a quota of 81,132 pilgrims for the Hajj this year. Pakistani pilgrims are also availing the Makkah Route initiative which allows them to fulfil all immigration requirements at the airport of origin. This saves them several hours upon reaching the kingdom since they can just enter the country, having already gone through immigration at home.

Asadi thanked the Saudi government for including Pakistan in the Route to Makkah project, among five countries of the world.

“For the first time, Pakistani pilgrims are being provided ‘Home Check-In’ facility under Route to Makkah project of Saudi Government during their return to the homeland,” Asadi said, adding that under this facility, airline staff would pick up the luggage of each pilgrim from their residence and also issue boarding passes.

“This year, the Hajj Mission Makkah played an important role in providing this facility to Pakistani pilgrims under the Saudi Project during their arrival and departure,” he added.

He said pilgrims used to have to reach the airport sixteen hours before departure but now they have to arrive at the airport just six hours before flights.

Pakistan’s Director Hajj said due to an “effective” testing system, no Pakistani pilgrims had so far been diagnosed with the coronavirus.

Pakistan’s election agency begins voter verification after 20,000 centenarians found in database

Updated 4 sec ago

Pakistan’s election agency begins voter verification after 20,000 centenarians found in database

  • According to the 2017 census, only 3.7 percent of the country’s population is aged 65 or above
  • The Election Commission of Pakistan is expected to publish the final list of voters in the ongoing month

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s election regulatory authority has started door-to-door verification of elderly voters after more than 20,000 of them were found to be between the ages of 100 and 142, reported the local media on Tuesday.

The country is said to have one of the youngest populations in the world. According to the 2017 census, 40.3 percent of Pakistan’s population is under the age of 15 while only 3.7 percent is aged 65 or more.

“Over 20,000 voters registered on the Election Commission of Pakistan’s (ECP) voters’ list have been found to be aged between 100 and 142 years, many of them possibly eyewitness of the British colonial rule, World War II and the creation of Pakistan,” the Express Tribune reported.

It added the door-to-door verification process would continue until August 13.

The ECP is expected to publish the final list of voters during the ongoing month after thoroughly reviewing its database.

At present, the election agency’s record reflects a total of 11,760 female and 8,590 male Pakistani citizens above the age of 100 in the country.

“In Sindh, over 8,633 centenarian voters belong to Karachi, including 4,301 females and 4,332 males,” the newspaper reported.

The ECP said earlier this month it had completed the process of delimitation of constituencies for national and provincial assemblies and was in a position to hold general elections in the country.

Pakistan PM condemns suicide attack that killed four soldiers in North Waziristan

Updated 09 August 2022

Pakistan PM condemns suicide attack that killed four soldiers in North Waziristan

  • Sharif says the nation will continue to fight until the ‘scourge of terrorism’ was completely eliminated
  • The country’s intelligence agencies are trying to get information on the bomber and his handlers

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Tuesday condemned a suicide attack on a military convoy in Pakistan’s North Waziristan district which claimed the lives of four soldiers earlier in the day.

The military media wing, ISPR, confirmed the development in a statement, saying the incident had taken place in the settlement of Mir Ali.

Pakistan’s northwestern region has also witnessed similar attacks in the past since the US-led international coalition invaded neighboring Afghanistan in the wake of the September 11 attacks.

The international forces pulled out of the war-ravaged country in August last year, though violent incidents in Pakistan’s border regions near Afghanistan have not ended yet.

“I feel sorrow and grief over the martyrdom of four soldiers as a result of suicide attack in North Waziristan,” the prime minister said in a statement. “The nation will continue to fight until the scourge of terrorism ends.”

Sharif paid tribute to soldiers who lost their lives while fighting against militant outfits.

According to the ISPR statement, the country’s intelligence agencies are trying to find out more about the suicide bomber and his handlers and facilitators.

“Pakistan Army is determined to eliminate the menace of terrorism and such sacrifices of our brave soldiers will not go unpunished,” it added.

India’s Neeraj Chopra wishes Arshad Nadeem ‘all the best’ after new record, gold at Commonwealth Games

Updated 09 August 2022

India’s Neeraj Chopra wishes Arshad Nadeem ‘all the best’ after new record, gold at Commonwealth Games

  • The two South Asian athletes first met in India in 2016 when they were still in their teenage
  • Nadeem is the first South Asian athlete who has breached the 90-meter barrier in an international contest

ISLAMABAD: A leading Indian athlete, Neeraj Chopra, congratulated his Pakistani rival and friend, Arshad Nadeem, after the latter shared the video of his record-breaking, 90-meter javelin throw at the Commonwealth Game on Instagram that helped him earn a gold for his country.

The two sportsmen first met in 2016 as teenagers when Nadeem visited India to participate in an international competition. Ever since, they have competed with each other in several international contests, including the Olympic Games held last year where Chopra secured the top position for his country.

Nadeem made history in the early hours of Monday while participating in the Men’s Javelin Throw Final, setting the new record at the games and snatching the title in a fifth-round throw of 90.18 meters.

His performance not only made him the first Pakistani, but also the only South Asian, to breach the 90-meter barrier in the sport.

“Congratulations Arshad bhai [brother] for gold medal and crossing 90mtr with new games record,” Chopra said while commenting on Nadeem’s social media post.

The Indian athlete, who could not represent his country at the Commonwealth Games due to a groin injury, also wished him luck for future competitions.
Asked about Chopra’s absence from the competition, Nadeem said he “missed” him at the games.

“May God grant him good health,” he added. “It would have been more fun if he were here.”

Pakistani news channel taken off air, put on notice for content inciting ‘revolt’ against army

Updated 09 August 2022

Pakistani news channel taken off air, put on notice for content inciting ‘revolt’ against army

  • In news segment on Monday, hosts and Khan chief of staff discussed alleged media cell set up by ruling PMLN party to malign PTI
  • Dr. Shahbaz Gill’s comments tantamount to inciting “ranks and files of armed forces toward revolt,” electronic media regulator says

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s electronic media regulator has issued a show-cause notice to a major private news channel, ARY News, for airing “hateful and seditious” content that the authority said amounted to inciting revolt within the armed forces, a copy of the document shows.

The show cause notice released late on Monday night came hours after officials at ARY News, and an association of Internet service providers, said the channel had been taken off air by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA), soon after the channel aired a segment considered critical of the government of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif as well as the top command of the Pakistan army.

ARY News is widely seen as being partial to ex-premier Imran Khan’s opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, with criticism of the Sharif government’s political and economic polices a regular feature of news bulletins and current affairs shows.

On Monday, the channel aired a segment in which two hosts and chief of staff to Khan, Dr. Shehbaz Gill, alleged that Sharif’s ruling Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) party had activated a “strategic media cell” to malign the PTI and its chairman and build a public narrative that the party was against Pakistan’s all-powerful army. ARY had previously also made the accusations in June.

In the segment, Gill also advised army officers not to follow orders of the top command if they were “against the sentiments of the masses.”

“A beeper of Dr. Shehbaz Gill of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf was included who uttered highly hateful and seditious comments which tantamount to incite ranks and files of armed forces toward revolt,” PEMRA said in the notice issued to the channel.

“Airing of such content on your news channel shows either weak editorial control on the content or the licensee is intentionally indulged in providing its platform to such individual who intent to spread malice and hatred against the state institutions for their vested interests,” the notice read, saying this was against the country’s constitution.

The notice said the channel had also maligned the federal government by “egregiously, baselessly and categorically” claiming that it was running a malicious campaign over the tragic crash of an army aviation helicopter last week, causing agony to the families of the martyrs.

The regulator directed the chief executive officer of the channel to show cause in writing within three days explaining why legal action should not be initiated against the channel for violating the law and the constitution.

Earlier on Monday evening, officials of the channel said it had been taken off air in a number of cities.

“Just cause we reported a true story #ARYNews gets shut down,” ARY CEO Salman Iqbal said in a Twitter post.

“On the orders of PEMRA, cable operators across Pakistan have started removing ARY News from their cable network. Watch ARY News Live on Youtube,” Ammad Yousaf, senior executive vice president of ARY News, said.

ARY News was reported to still be off air in several cities of Pakistan on Tuesday morning.

The Internet Service Providers Association of Pakistan (ISPAK) confirmed to Arab News the suspension of the channel’s transmission across Pakistan, saying it was done on the instructions of PEMRA.

“We have received verbal instructions from PEMRA about an hour ago to off air ARY News,” Wahaj Siraj, convener ISPAK and co-founder of Nayatel, a major Internet service provider, told Arab News. “No reason is given to us to off air the channel, and this is being done almost across Pakistan now.”

“We have sent emails to our customers about the development. We don’t know as to when we will be able to restore the service,” Siraj added. “If we get any revised instructions from PEMRA to restore the service on our network, we’ll be able to do it in 20 to 30 minutes.”

Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb did not respond to calls and text messages seeking comment on whether the government was behind the blockade of ARY.

The development comes in the wake of an online smear campaign against the military and its officers after any army aviation helicopter carrying a senior commander and five others crashed on a mountain during a flood relief operation last Monday and all onboard were killed.

Following the incident, a social media campaign targeted the deceased officers and included hashtags against the military.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has called the campaign “horrifying” and said it reflected that the minds of young Pakistanis were being poisoned. The army’s media wing has also rejected the “regretful” social media trends, saying they had caused anguish among the families of those who had died as well as in the army as an institution.

On Sunday, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) said it was forming a joint investigation team to probe the smear campaign.

Members of the PTI have alleged that Twitter trends and anti-army posts are being pushed by the ruling PMLN, which the party denies.

The army has not yet commented on ARY being taken off air.

UN agency abruptly closes HIV prevention program putting thousands at risk in Karachi

Updated 09 August 2022

UN agency abruptly closes HIV prevention program putting thousands at risk in Karachi

  • UNDP officials deny the program has been terminated, saying discussion are ongoing to resolve the issue
  • Representatives of transgender community fear program closure may lead to HIV outbreak in the city

KARACHI: The abrupt closure of an HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) prevention program by the United Nation Development Program (UNDP) has exposed 1,500 transgender patients in Karachi to risk, said the community representatives on Monday as UNDP officials assured to resolve the issue soon.

The UNDP in Pakistan became the principal recipient of a Global Fund grant in July last year to implement a comprehensive response to HIV in the country. The project is designed to ensure HIV prevention while providing care and treatment services to marginalized communities, including transgender people.

The Global Fund was supposed to provide a grant of $47 million from July 2021 to December 2023.

However, an organization representing transgender people, which had been working on the project in collaboration with the UN agency, said its funding was abruptly stopped while it was waiting for renewal of its contract in June 2022.

“The UNDP renewed agreement every three months with us before we were told it would sign a yearlong agreement,” Bindya Rana, executive director of Gender Interactive Alliance (GIA), told Arab News. “We waited for three months and 28 days for the renewal of the agreement until we were formally informed on July 28 that our contract would not be renewed.”

She added the UN agency did not specify any reason.

“We told them that we had continued our services to the community, asking them why transgender people were targeted in Karachi,” she said. “We are providing treatment services to 1,500 HIV patients which include 1,300 people who need regular medication. The closure of funding will impact their treatment.”

Rana informed her organization was providing HIV screening services to around 19,000 registered transgender people every three months in Karachi.

“People from other provinces and places like Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan also come to Karachi for treatment,” she continued. “The decision will be a big blow to our prevention efforts to stop the transmission of the disease.”

However, the UNDP said the GIA was a subrecipient of the program from July 2021 to June 2022. One of the top officials of the UN agency in Pakistan said the alliance’s grant had not been terminated, though it had expired on June 30.

“We are in discussion on the issue and hope to have it resolved it as soon as possible,” Heather Doyal, UNDP project coordinator, told Arab News on Monday. “When a decision is made, it will be announced accordingly. What is important is that the support to the community will continue.”

He added the UN agency would continue to support local organizations to provide lifesaving human rights and health services to transgenders and other communities in need.

“We are honored to work on a regular basis with CBOs [community building organizations] led by transgender individuals,” he said.

While the UNDP official assured to resolve the issue, representatives of the transgender community feared an HIV outbreak like Larkana, a district in Sindh, where nearly a thousand people, including children, tested positive for the disease in 2019.

“It is very important to have a policy for transgender people,” Shahzadi Rai, GIA’s project field supervisor for the HIV prevention program, said. “We have contacted government officials but they don’t have a policy.”

“This was health related project and such projects are not abruptly closed,” she noted. “Transgender people are already victims of discrimination and they don’t usually go to hospitals for [HIV] treatment due to the same social behavior. We treat them at our facility.”

The UNDP official, however, said his organization was a staunch supporter of human rights particularly those of the most vulnerable including transgender individuals and communities.

He added that technical support for the development of the rights bill, which culminated in the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2018, and support in the establishment of the first ever protection center for vulnerable transgender persons in Islamabad and Rawalpindi were some of the initiatives UNDP had taken in Pakistan.