ISLAMABAD: Pakistan is working with Saudi Arabia to introduce short Hajj packages for next year’s annual pilgrimage, according to the minutes of a meeting on Monday of the Senate Standing Committee on Religious Affairs and Inter-Faith Harmony.
More than 81,000 Pakistani pilgrims performed the pilgrimage under the government scheme this year while the rest from a total quota of 179,210 used private tour operators. Pakistani pilgrims traveling for Hajj under the government’s program have to stay for 40 days in the Kingdom.
“The ministry with the collaboration with Saudi Government is planning to introduce a short time period for the Hajj,” the minutes of the Senate panel meeting said, quoting Caretaker Federal Minister for Religious Affairs, Aneeq Ahmed.
Briefing the committee on arrangements for Hajj 2024, Ahmed said the ministry would introduce suitcases with QR codes and specially design scarves for women so that pilgrims from Pakistan could be easily identified.
The panel also discussed a recent letter written by Saudi Arabia, proposing to reduce the number of Hajj operators from Pakistan from 905 to 46.
“Saudi Arabia intends to provide better facilities to pilgrims, and in this regard, the letter has been sent to all Muslim countries,” Ahmed said.
“The Committee recommended that exception should be provided to Hajj operators for the year 2024 and the proposed number of operators by the Saudi government should be increased to 100.”
The committee also discussed the Makkah Route initiative, introduced by Saudi Arabia in 2019 to streamline Hajj pilgrims’ visas, customs, and health requirements at departure airports, thus saving them time both before departure and upon arrival in the Kingdom.
“Ministry is in negotiation with Saudi government to extend Road to Makkah Project currently available at Islamabad International airport, and with due course of time the same service will also be available at Karachi and Lahore,” Ahmed added.