ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s interim religious affairs minister Aneeq Ahmed discussed pilgrimage arrangements for next year with Saudi Hajj and Umrah minister Dr. Tawfiq Al-Rabiah on Friday, requesting him to accommodate people from his country in areas situated closely to the places where the annual religious ritual is performed.
Ahmed is currently on a week-long visit to the kingdom where he has held meetings with senior officials to explore the possibility of expanding the Makkah Route Initiative beyond Islamabad to make the journey of Pakistani pilgrims more convenient.
He said after his conversation with the Saudi minister that the kingdom had agreed to increase facilities for people of Pakistan who are interested in performing Hajj in the coming year.
“Accommodation, food and travel facilities for pilgrims will be finalized as soon as possible,” Ahmed was quoted as saying in a statement by his ministry.
“He asked Saudi Minister Dr. Tawfiq Al-Rabiah that flight schedule of Pakistani pilgrims should be finalized soon,” the statement continued. “Additionally, they should be accommodated near the pilgrimage places. The Makkah Route project should also be launched from other cities besides Islamabad.”
It added the Saudi minister pledged to offer more support to Pakistani pilgrims, saying the kingdom had already taken several measures to facilitate people performing Hajj.
He said that it had limited the number of private tour operators from 80 countries in the world and would only allow those companies that have 2,000 pilgrims.
“Karachi and Lahore are being considered for inclusion in the Makkah Route Initiative,” he added.
The initiative was introduced in Pakistan to provide customs and immigration services to pilgrims at their airport of origin to save them substantial time after arriving in Saudi Arabia.
According to official statistics, more than 26,000 Pakistani pilgrims benefited from the facility at the Islamabad airport this year.