Pakistan considers using private airline services for Hajj flights next year

In this handout picture provided by the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) on June 29, 2023, Muslim pilgrims gather around the Kaaba, Islam's holiest shrine, at the Grand Mosque in the holy city of Mecca, on the second day of Eid Al-Adha that ends the Hajj pilgrimage. (AFP/File)
Short Url
Updated 17 September 2023

Pakistan considers using private airline services for Hajj flights next year

  • The statement comes days after Pakistan’s national air carrier grounds much of its fleet amid a financial crisis 
  • The airline is said to be on the verge of a default as the government has refused to provide $76 million support 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s caretaker religion minister, Aneeq Ahmed, has said the country may hire the services of private airlines to facilitate pilgrims for next year’s Hajj, Pakistani state media reported on Sunday. 

The statement came days after the management of Pakistan’s national air carrier confirmed its decision to ground much of its fleet amid a major financial crisis. 

The state-owned enterprise is said to be on the verge of default as the government refused to provide Rs 23 billion ($76 million) in support of operational expenses, requested by airline officials. 

But Ahmed told private Hajj organizers in Karachi the government was making all-out efforts to facilitate Pakistani pilgrims, the state-run Radio Pakistan broadcaster reported. 

“All facilities including accommodations, transportation and catering in reasonable expenditure will be ensured for Pakistani Hujjaj,” the minister was quoted as saying 

“If reasonable transport rates are offered, the services of private airlines could also be hired in this regard to facilitate pilgrims.” 

Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam and must be undertaken by all Muslims with means at least once in their lifetime. The pilgrimage includes a series of rites completed over four days in Makkah and its surroundings in the west of Saudi Arabia. 

More than 81,000 Pakistani pilgrims performed the pilgrimage under the government scheme this year, while the rest were facilitated by private tour operators. Pakistan has already received its quota of 179,210 pilgrims for next year’s Hajj. 

Ahmed this week said that Pakistani pilgrims will go to next year’s Hajj “like the previous years” and his government was not considering any land or sea routes for a cheaper pilgrimage. 

The minister said his government was in initial stages of formulating a new Hajj policy and planned to invite early applications for the next year’s pilgrimage soon. 

In Pakistan’s Gilgit city, new women’s market is ‘one-stop shop’ for gems and handicrafts

Updated 12 min 38 sec ago

In Pakistan’s Gilgit city, new women’s market is ‘one-stop shop’ for gems and handicrafts

  • Riverside market in Gilgit was inaugurated in August to develop tourism and economically empower local women
  • With 24 shops, market has a wide variety of handmade products that showcase the rich cultural heritage of the region

GILGIT: Every day at the break of dawn, 28-year-old Haseena Farman unlocks her riverside shop of handcrafted shawls, sweaters, gemstones and decorative items and waits for customers.

Business has been going well since she opened the store in a recently inaugurated, eco-friendly women’s market that has become a godsend for women entrepreneurs in the mountainous northern city of Gilgit.

The market, which was inaugurated in August and has 24 shops so far, is a joint project of the Gilgit Development Authority and the Women Chamber of Commerce and Industry and has, in the words of businesswomen like Farman, given them a “special place” of trade in a region where, like many other parts of Pakistan, cultural and religious norms and social expectations act as barriers to prevent women’s entry into the business sector.

According to Gilgit-Baltistan’s Education Department, the female literacy rate in the area has been recorded at 41 percent while the male literacy rate has been recorded at 66 percent. Despite high literacy rates, women form only 15.5 percent of the labor force in Gilgit-Baltistan, according to data by the Agha Khan Rural Support Network, a non-profit company. 

“Earlier, we [women] didn’t have a special space [to sell our products],” Farman told Arab News. “I used to make these items for my cousins, relatives and sisters … After the opening of this market, we have got a proper setup.”

The photo taken on September 30, 2023 shows a shop at the Gems and Handicraft Market in Gilgit, Pakistan. (AN Photo)

“So far, it’s going well and I hope it will also continue to be like this in the future.”

Razia Asif, another female entrepreneur at the market who sells gems, jackets and decorative items, said she used to sell her goods from home until the market launched. 

“We opened this shop a month ago,” she said. “We have been given the opportunity by the government to bring our products to market.”

Speaking to Arab News, GDA director Sajid Wali described the market as a “one-stop shop” to buy local handicrafts, gemstones, dried fruits and traditional cuisines at affordable rates while enjoying a beautiful riverside view.

Wali also hoped, he said, that the market would serve both as a bustling tourist spot in the near future while empowering women of the region at the same time.

“We know the women of Gilgit-Baltistan have the skills,” he said.

The photo taken on September 30, 2023 shows a videw of the Gems and Handicraft Market in Gilgit, Pakistan. (AN Photo)

“However, only a limited number of products prepared by them reach our markets due to lack of opportunities. Their [home-based] businesses don’t run very smoothly all the time. We know these things and have tried to bring these women into a proper retail market.”

Mubareka Gul, an executive member of the Women Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Gilgit division, said women of the area previously found it difficult to market and sell their goods.

“For the first time in history [in Gilgit], women can run these businesses in a friendly environment under tight security,” she said. “This is a family market and families come and visit this place.”

“The women trained by us, who did not have direct market access, have become successful due to the government of Gilgit-Baltistan and the Women Chamber of Commerce,” Gul added. “We hope that this market will become a business hub.”

Gul urged the public to visit the newly inaugurated trade center with family members and explore the products being sold.

“I have visited this market two, three times,” Sultana Karim, a visitor, told Arab News as she bought cushions for her drawing room. 

“Each time it is a pleasure to come here because a variety of products are available.”

Team Director Mickey Arthur joins Pakistan squad in India to bolster World Cup preparations

Updated 01 October 2023

Team Director Mickey Arthur joins Pakistan squad in India to bolster World Cup preparations

  • As head coach from 2016-2019, Arthur led Pakistan to their Champions Trophy title in 2017
  • Pakistan cricket team will face Australia on Oct. 3 for their second and last warm-up match 

ISLAMABAD: With only a few days left before the World Cup kicks off, Pakistan Team Director Mickey Arthur joined the men’s cricket team in India on Sunday, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) said in a statement, as the green shirts aim to bolster their preparations for the showpiece tournament. 

Arthur, who was appointed by the PCB in April this year to the team director’s post, has been available to the squad in a limited capacity owing to his contract with Derbyshire. The South African was not present with the Pakistani team during their series against Sri Lanka in July and was also unavailable during Pakistan’s series against Afghanistan in August. In the Asia Cup held last month, Arthur joined the team for just one fixture.

“Team director Mickey Arthur has joined the national men’s side in Hyderabad, India,” the PCB said in a statement. 

Led by skipper Babar Azam, the Pakistan men’s cricket team arrived in India on Sept. 25 to take part in the 50-over World Cup which is scheduled to begin on Oct. 5. The South Asian country will begin its World Cup campaign against the Netherlands on Oct. 6 before taking on Sri Lanka on Oct. 10 and then India on Oct. 14. 

Arthur was Pakistan’s head coach from 2016 to 2019, during which the green shirts won the Champions Trophy title in 2017 and also climbed to the top of the T20I rankings.

Pakistan, however, were unable to impress in Test cricket with Arthur and a league-stage exit from the 2019 World Cup led to him being replaced as head coach by former Pakistan captain Misbah-ul-Haq.

After losing to New Zealand in the opening warm-up fixture on Friday, Pakistan will take on Australia in their second and last World Cup warm-up match on Tuesday, Oct. 3. 

Pakistan’s army chief says operation against militants to continue ‘unabated’

Updated 01 October 2023

Pakistan’s army chief says operation against militants to continue ‘unabated’

  • General Syed Asim Munir’s statement comes after Friday’s suicide blasts that killed over 65 in Pakistan 
  • Pakistan’s army chief visits Quetta for briefing on recent attacks, inquires after victims at CMH Quetta

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s army chief General Syed Asim Munir said that the security operation against militants would continue “unabated,” state-run Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) reported on Saturday, a day after two suicide blasts killed at least 65 people in the country. 

At least 60 were killed and scores injured on Friday when a suicide blast targeted a gathering held to mark the birthday of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in Pakistan’s southwestern city of Mustang. In a separate attack the same day, militants targeted a mosque at a police station in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Hangu district to kill five more people. 

No militant groups have so far taken responsibility for the attacks but Pakistan’s Caretaker Interior Minister Sarfraz Ahmed Bugti said on Saturday that India’s intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) was behind the blasts. 

“Our operation against terrorists would continue unabated and the Armed Forces, Intelligence and Law Enforcement Agencies shall not rest till the menace of terrorism is rooted out from the country,” the APP report quoted the army chief as saying. 

Munir said these words during his visit to Quetta where he was briefed on the recent bomb blasts in a meeting attended by senior civil and military leaders. 

Without mentioning any entity, the army chief said militants were backed by the “State Sponsors of Terrorism.” 

“These terrorists and their facilitators, having no link with religion and ideology, are proxies of the enemies of Pakistan and its people,” he was quoted as saying. 

Later, the army chief visited the Combined Military Hospital (CMH) Quetta to inquire after the injured and met the victims’ families. During his visit, Munir lauded Balochistan Police and law enforcement personnel for their bravery and resilience, APP said. 

Pakistan has witnessed a surge in militant attacks in the two western provinces located near Afghanistan following the 2021 Taliban return to power in Kabul.

According to statistics compiled by the Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies, the first half of the ongoing year saw about an 80 percent increase in attacks compared to the corresponding period in 2022.

Pakistan reduces petrol price by Rs8 per liter following record hikes in fuel costs

Updated 01 October 2023

Pakistan reduces petrol price by Rs8 per liter following record hikes in fuel costs

  • Petroleum prices were increased by up to Rs26 last month, taking them beyond Rs330 for the first time in history
  • The government expressed possibility the price reduction recently due to the strengthening of national currency

ISLAMABAD: After progressively increasing fuel prices in the country for about two consecutive months, Pakistan offered respite to consumers by cutting the petrol and diesel rates by eight and 10 rupees, respectively, on Saturday.
The country fixes petroleum prices on a fortnightly basis after evaluating fluctuating international energy market costs and the rupee-dollar parity before transferring the impact on domestic consumers.
Last month, the government announced a record increase of up to Rs26 in the prices of petroleum products, breaching the Rs330 mark for the first time in the country’s history as it faced unprecedented inflation.
“In the wake of variations in international prices of petroleum products and the improvement in the exchange rate, the Government of Pakistan has decided to revise the consumer prices of petroleum products,” announced a statement by the finance division.
“The new prices of petroleum products for the fortnight starting 01.01.2023 will be as follows,” it continued while showing the decline in a tabulated form.
The new rate of petrol has dropped from Rs331.38 to Rs323.38, while high-speed diesel is now available for Rs318.18 after the reduction in its previous price of Rs329.18.
Pakistan’s interim information minister Murtaza Solangi said over a week ago that a decrease in petroleum prices was “highly likely” after the Pakistani rupee had gained value against the US dollar due to the caretaker government’s administrative measures.

Pakistan’s Punjab province reports over 10,000 conjunctivitis cases in a day — health authorities

Updated 30 September 2023

Pakistan’s Punjab province reports over 10,000 conjunctivitis cases in a day — health authorities

  • The provincial health department says 394,795 cases of the eye infection have so far been reported in all 36 districts of Punjab
  • Interim health minister assures the public the government is making active efforts to control infectious diseases in Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: Health authorities in Pakistan’s most populous Punjab province on Saturday announced a significant spread of conjunctivitis or pink eye infection, with 10,269 cases documented in the past 24 hours alone, the state-owned Radio Pakistan reported.
Punjab is currently grappling with a significant rise in these cases, with a total of 394,795 people reported to have contracted the disease across all 36 districts, according to the provincial health department.
The Punjab education department already took proactive measures earlier this week by announcing a four-day school closure to stem the spread of the infection.
“The primary and secondary health department of Punjab reported a severe outbreak of pink eye infection with a staggering 10,269 new cases in the past 24 hours,” the Radio Pakistan said.
The health department said that while conjunctivitis usually goes away on its own within eight to 10 days, people should practice proper eye hygiene to minimize the risk of infection.
Meanwhile, Pakistan’s interim health minister, Nadeem Jan, also issued a public warning, urging vigilance against the spread of viral infections.
According to the Associated Press of Pakistan news agency, Jan assured the public the government was actively implementing effective measures to control disease outbreaks in the country, adding that a committee of experts had been assembled to comprehensively address the matter.
Jan highlighted that government-run hospitals were operating on high alert to manage both pink eye cases and vector-borne diseases like the dengue virus. He said the eye infection was spreading fast in Punjab with hundreds of patients thronging hospitals daily due to the viral infection.
“The scourge of dengue virus and eye infection will be controlled through collective efforts and coordinated strategy and though it is a difficult task but still achievable,” the report quoted him as saying.