ISLAMABAD: More than 40,000 Pakistanis have arrived in Saudi Arabia to perform the annual Hajj pilgrimage since the government initiated a special flight operation last month to facilitate people ahead of one of the most multicultural religious gatherings in the world, according to an official statement issued in Islamabad on Sunday.
The Saudi authorities reinstated Pakistan’s pre-pandemic Hajj quota of 179,210 pilgrims and scrapped the upper age limit of 65 in January. The government scheme will accommodate about 80,000 Pakistani pilgrims, while private tour operators will facilitate the rest.
“40,781 Pakistani Hajj pilgrims have arrived in Saudi Arabia on 158 flights,” said a statement released by the religious affairs ministry. “There are 27,686 Pakistanis in Madinah who intend to perform Hajj under the government scheme. 13,095 official Hajj pilgrims have also been brought to Makkah after an eight-day stay in Madinah.”
The first batch of Pakistani pilgrims commenced their spiritual journey from Madinah on May 22, where they stayed for about a week before being transported to Makkah.
In addition to the beneficiaries of the government Hajj scheme, over 1,000 other pilgrims facilitated by private tour operators have also arrived in Saudi Arabia.
The ministry announced that its monitoring team had completed the field assessment of 12 of these Hajj groups to ensure compliance with the required standards and regulations.
To address any concerns or issues faced by the pilgrims, the authorities have also established a helpline in the kingdom that will help address any complaints or inquiries.
Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah, is an obligatory religious ritual for physically and financially capable adult Muslims.
The sacred journey takes place during the last month of the lunar Islamic calendar, known as Dhu Al-Hijjah.
With the arrival of the first few batches of pilgrims from across the world and the ongoing preparations, the stage is set for another Hajj season this year, in which about two million people are expected to participate.
ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court of Pakistan will take up review petitions against one of its own judgments on Thursday in which it directed the government to initiate action against armed forces personnel for violating their oath and supporting a religious party protesting on the outskirts of the federal capital.
Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) set up a protest camp at the Faizabad Interchange, the main gateway between Islamabad and Rawalpindi, in November 2017, contesting an amendment in the Elections Bill which it said had watered down the oath related to the finality of the Prophethood, a sensitive Islamic issue.
The sit-in, which paralyzed daily life in the twin cities for about 20 days and forced the law minister to resign, was widely viewed as an attempt by the country’s military to weaken the democratically elected government.
The controversy further deepened after the leaked footage of a senior official went viral on the social media in which he could be seen handing out money to demonstrators which encouraging them to disperse peacefully.
“The constitution emphatically prohibits members of the armed forces from engaging in any kind of political activity, which includes supporting a political party, faction or individual,” said the 43-page judgment by a two-member bench led by Justice Qazi Faez Isa, who is now the chief justice.
“The Government of Pakistan through the Ministry of Defense and the respective Chiefs of the Army, the Navy and the Air Force are directed to initiate action against the personnel under their command who are found to have violated their oath,” it added.
The judgment also directed all the intelligence agencies to not exceed their respective mandates or limit free speech by bringing media houses under pressure during such protests.
“They [the agencies] cannot curtail the freedom of speech and expression and do not have the authority to interfere with broadcasts and publications, in the management of broadcasters/publishers and in the distribution of newspapers,” the Supreme Court said.
“Intelligence agencies should monitor activities of all those who threaten the territorial integrity of the country and all those who undermine the security of the people and the State by resorting to or inciting violence,” it continued.
“To best ensure transparency and the rule of law it would be appropriate to enact laws which clearly stipulate the respective mandates of the intelligence agencies,” the judgment added.
Several political factions, including former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P), intelligence agencies like the Intelligence Bureau and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), and politicians like Sheikh Rashid Ahmad field review petitions against the judgment.
It is pertinent to mention that Pakistan’s powerful army has frequently toppled political administrations in the past, bringing the country under direct rule through periodic interventions.
Even when they are not in power, the top army generals are viewed to be influencing politics in Pakistan from behind the scenes.
ISLAMABAD: Chief of Army Staff General Asim Munir said on Wednesday the country’s armed forces would continue to play their role to create a safe environment in Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) province to ensure its economic progress.
The army chief made the statement during his visit to Peshawar where he was received by the top general and briefed about the overall security situation, including initiatives against smuggling, hoarding and drug trafficking.
Pakistan has experienced a surge in militancy, particularly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa which shares its western border with Afghanistan, after a fragile truce between the proscribed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the government in Islamabad collapsed in November last year.
The Pakistani administration is also trying to generate economic activity across the country to deal with tough financial challenges, though security challenges in places like the northwestern province and Balochistan have impeded its efforts.
Pakistan Army will continue to play its role in ensuring peace and stability in KPK to provide a secure environment for economic development
“We have to synergize our efforts for peace and prosperity of our beloved country,” the army’s media wing, ISPR, quoted him as saying during the visit. “Pakistan Army will continue to play its role in ensuring peace and stability in KPK to provide a secure environment for economic development.”
The army chief also had an interactive session with the women of the province at the “KPK Women Symposium, 2023.”
Addressing the participants of the gathering, he said that women had played a vital role in the progress of the country throughout Pakistan’s history.
He acknowledged that women of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had faced multifaceted challenges due to the country’s prolonged war against extremism in their province. However, he also applauded them for their “resilience, commitment and bravery” in the face of all odds.
The army chief also encouraged them to participate in the progress and development of their province and the newly merged tribal territories.
ISLAMABAD: Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar arrived in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday after wrapping up his official tour to New York where he addressed the 78th United Nations General Assembly session before flying to London for a few days.
Kakar and his administration officials have been trying to convince business leaders around the world to explore investment opportunities in Pakistan after the country set up the Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC), a civil-military forum, to attract foreign funding amid mounting financial challenges.
He achieved a historic milestone as the first caretaker prime minister of his country to address the annual UNGA session in New York, where he tackled various global issues, spanning from extremist violence and relations with India to the escalating challenges of climate change and Islamophobia.
“Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar has reached Madinah Munawara on a private tour,” his office announced in a brief statement on Wednesday night.
“Governor of Medina Faisal bin Salman warmly welcomed him at the Royal Terminal of Medina Airport along with Ambassador of Pakistan Ahmad Farooq, other senior officers of the Pakistani embassy and consulate general in Jeddah,” it added.
The prime minister visited the Grand Mosque in Madinah and paid his respects at the shrine of the Prophet (PBUH).
He also toured the International Fair and Museum of the Prophet’s Biography and Islamic Civilization and applauded the Saudi authorities for preserving the rich heritage of Islam.
The management of the museum also presented him with a shield and books while he watched various items displayed at the facility.
The prime minister is scheduled to leave for Makkah today to perform Umrah. He is also expected to meet high-ranking Saudi officials during his stay in the kingdom.
It may be recalled that Kakar applauded the normalization of relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran while commenting on the overall strategic situation in the Middle East during his UNGA address.
“Pakistan welcomes the progress made toward ending the conflicts in Syria and Yemen, in particular we warmly welcome the normalization of relations between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic of Iran,” he told the world body.
RAWALPINDI: Aniqa Sattar walked around large piles of bed-shaped, rectangular spaces filled with manure, and covered with large straws of hay. She hunched over and thrust one hand into one of the beds and closely inspected what it held: a few wiggling worms burrowing through the dung.
Sattar is the co-founder of the Pakistani company Pak Organic Life in Rawalpindi produces nutrient-rich organic fertilizer via a process called vermicomposting. The process involves making worms devour manure. The nutrient-rich waste that worms excrete after eating manure— vermicompost— is used to boost crop health and yield.
Agriculture forms the backbone of Pakistan’s economy, contributing 21.4 percent to the South Asian country’s gross domestic product. It employs 45 percent of Pakistan’s labor force and contributes to the growth of other sectors of the economy. According to a report published this year by the Pakistan Business Council, Pakistan’s food crop yield has stagnated over the years while its population has increased rapidly, posing food insecurity dangers.
According to Sattar, vermicomposting does farmers a whole lot of good.
“It reduces their [farmers] water consumption [by] about one-third and the taste of their vegetables, their fruits, whatever they are producing, it is enhanced,” Sattar told Arab News this week.
According to data by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Pakistan, the South Asian country uses over 155 kilograms of conventional fertilizers per hectare and has a total cropped area of 23.3 million hectares. With such a large cropped area to fertilize, it only helps that the vermicompost is cheaper compared to conventional fertilizers: it costs Rs45 ($0.16) per kilogram while a fertilizer costs Rs300 ($1.05) per kilogram.
But the process involves labor and takes months to complete.
Vermicomposting begins by first treating the animal waste, which Sattar’s company collects from farmers around Rawalpindi’s surrounding areas and dumps into an open field. The waste is sprayed with water for two weeks before it is spread into beds and the earthworms are added to it.
“The worms eat the manure and they convert it into a very nutrient-rich thing,” Sattar explained. “It takes the complete dung to be converted into the vermicompost after a process of about two to three months,” she added.
There are plenty of worms to go around, as Sattar’s company owns about 5,000 kilograms of them. For farmers who aspire to start their own business of producing vermicompost, she sells them worms for Rs5,000 ($17.5) per kilogram. Her company is currently rearing over two tons of worms per month and plans to increase it further in the coming months.
The bulk of the company’s customers are from Pakistan’s southern Sindh province, including the cities of Karachi and Hyderabad.
“Our customers are purchasing it [vermicompost], most of them have their own gardens, or they own some land on which they are producing something like food, vegetables, “Sattar shared. “The yield is increased [by the vermicompost] by about 10-15 percent.”
And if they were using vermicompost, Sattar said farmers wouldn’t need to use different fertilizers on their crops.
“Here in vermicompost, we have all the 17 plant nutrients in the same fertilizer,” she said. “We don’t have to go for any second option.”
Abbas Ali, the manager of a plant nursery in Rawalpindi, has been using vermicompost for his seedlings and plants for the last two to three months.
“At the moment, thanks to God, we are using the fertilizer on seasonal seedlings and the result is very good,” Ali told Arab News as he planted cabbage seeds in a flowerpot.
Pakistan’s government has been educating farmers about vermicomposting through the National Agricultural Research Center (NARC) in Islamabad. Here, scientists train farmers on vermicomposting and how to rear earthworms.
“We are promoting this technology to end users because it is entrepreneurship at the house level,” Dr. Tariq Sultan, director of NARC Land Resources Research Institute in Islamabad, told Arab News.
Sultan said he always recommended people start vermicomposting from a “small level” with a few worms and then increase it gradually. He said the process also reduces global warming as it triggers carbon sequestration.
And in times of staggering inflation, Sultan thinks vermicomposting could be very good for business.
“It is a very profitable business because at the time fertilizer rates are very high,” he said. “It is a high need of the time that this technology should be promoted in Pakistan.”
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s mobile and Internet banking transactions surged by a whopping 57 percent in volume and 81 percent by value during the fiscal year 2022-23, the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) said in a report on Wednesday.
According to the Annual Payment Systems Review for the fiscal year 2022-23 released by the SBP, Internet banking users increased by 15.1 percent to 9.6 million in Pakistan while mobile phone banking users rose by 30.2 percent to reach 16.1 million in FY23.
“The e-banking is attracting more customers due to its efficient and instant payment solutions, and its transactions are growing at a steady pace over the years,” the SBP said in the report.
The report said paper-based transactions declined by over 4 percent during FY23 and cumulatively around 20 percent in the last five years. However, it added that the value of paper-based transactions increased by 20 percent in FY23.
The SBP report further said that as of June 30, 2023, there were 115,288 Point Of Sales terminals, 17,808 ATMs, 520 Cash/Cheque Deposit Machines and 6,889 e-commerce merchants to provide payments services to customers.
“During the fiscal year, the number of transactions through POS (199.3 million) and ATMs (809.7 million) grew annually by 45 percent and 17 percent respectively,” it said. “Domestic e-commerce transactions using payment cards were 31.8 million which amounted to PKR 142 billion during the year.”
The report said that as of June 30, 2023, there were 58.1 million payment cards in circulation in Pakistan of which 44.5 million were issued by banks and Microfinance Banks, 10.8 million by branchless banks, and 2.8 million by EMIs.