Pakistan in talks with Saudi Arabia to introduce shorter stay Hajj visits

Muslims pray and read the Qur'an in a luxury hotel room with a panoramic view overlooking the Grand Mosque in Makkah, Saudi Arabia ahead of the annual Hajj pilgrimage on August 8, 2019. (AFP/File)
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Updated 26 September 2023
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Pakistan in talks with Saudi Arabia to introduce shorter stay Hajj visits

  • Pakistani pilgrims traveling for Hajj under government’s program have to stay for 40 days in Kingdom
  • Saudi Arabia has recently proposed reducing number of Hajj operators from Pakistan from 905 to 46

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. 


Pakistan skipper Shan Masood hits century in Australia warm-up

Updated 12 sec ago
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Pakistan skipper Shan Masood hits century in Australia warm-up

  • Masood steer Pakistan to 324-6 at stumps on the opening day of the four-day fixture
  • Pakistan will face Australia in three Tests, in Perth, Melbourne and Sydney, from Dec. 14

SYDNEY: New Pakistan skipper Shan Masood hit an unbeaten 156 on Wednesday in a warm-up match in Canberra ahead of their three-Test series against Australia.
After winning the toss and opting to bat against a Prime Minister’s XI, he came to the crease when opener Imam-ul-Haq was dismissed for nine.
Masood batted for the rest of the day, smashing 13 fours and a six to steer Pakistan to 324-6 at stumps on the opening day of the four-day fixture.
Sarfaraz Ahmed made 41 and star batter Babar Azam, who stood down as captain in all formats of the game after their disastrous one-day World Cup, hit 40.
Australia’s bowlers labored on a flat pitch at Manuka Oval with speedster Jordan Buckingham the pick with 3-63.
All-rounder Cameron Green, who has been sidelined from the Test side by Mitchell Marsh, did not turn his arm.
It proved a long day in the field for aspiring Australian Test openers Cameron Bancroft, Marcus Harris and Matt Renshaw, who are vying to replace David Warner when he retires from the longer format after the Pakistan series.
The visitors meet Australia in three Tests — in Perth, Melbourne and Sydney — from December 14.


Pakistan PM says Imran Khan free to contest upcoming general elections in February

Updated 19 min 30 sec ago
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Pakistan PM says Imran Khan free to contest upcoming general elections in February

  • Khan has been disqualified from holding public office on charges of corruption, though he has appealed the verdict
  • Kakar says no evidence of ‘state coercion’ against PTI leaders who went ‘underground’ after May 9 to avoid arrests

ISLAMABAD: Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar has said the country’s former premier Imran Khan does not face legal obstacles to contest the upcoming general elections and is likely to participate in them next year in February.

Khan, who has been in jail since August 5 following a conviction in a case involving the illegal sale of state gifts, faces several other cases which he deems “politically motivated” to exclude him from politics.

While his three-year sentence was suspended by the Islamabad High Court, he remains incarcerated on charges of leaking state secrets by revealing the contents of a confidential diplomatic cable which he says proves US involvement in toppling his administration, a claim consistently refuted by American officials.

Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party alleges a crackdown against its leaders as “pre-poll rigging,” but Kakar, in an exclusive interview with Independent Urdu published Wednesday, dismissed any “state coercion” against political parties.

“His party and up till now, he himself faces no legal restrictions that would keep him from contesting the elections. So, until the schedule is announced or something unforeseen happens which we are not aware of yet, during this conversation, then I can’t say anything. Till today, he is in the position of contesting, and he will contest.”

“There is no legal restriction on him [Khan] or his party that is keeping them away from the political or election process,” the prime minister said. “Until the [election] schedule is announced or something unforeseen happens which we are not aware of at the time of this conversation, then I can’t say anything. Until today, he is in the position of contesting [the polls], and he will contest.”

Khan has been disqualified from holding public office after he was found guilty of corrupt practices in the case in which he was given a three-year sentence. His legal team has appealed the verdict, though the final decision remains pending in the matter.

The former prime minister’s party has also complained about the “disappearance” of its leaders since the violent protests of May 9 when people holding PTI flags targeted government buildings and military installations after Khan was briefly arrested on graft charges.

When asked about the claims, Kakar said these leaders were actually going “underground” on their own to avoid arrests.

Many of them, he added, ultimately decided to quit PTI or politics altogether.

The prime minister described it as their personal decision while pointing out there was no evidence of “state coercion” in all those cases.


Hollywood icons ignite excitement at Red Sea Film Festival in support of Pakistani cinema

Updated 06 December 2023
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Hollywood icons ignite excitement at Red Sea Film Festival in support of Pakistani cinema

  • The surprise appearance of Will Smith and Johnny Depp to endorse ‘Umro Ayyar: A New Beginning’ left people ecstatic
  • Ayyar is a famous character from a classical Urdu literary work comprising epic tales, widely read by people in Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: Hollywood superstars Will Smith and Johnny Depp stole the spotlight at the prestigious Red Sea International Film Festival with a surprise appearance on Tuesday to support the Pakistani film, “Umro Ayyar: A New Beginning.”

The two renowned icons of the American film industry enjoy an extensive fan following worldwide, including in Pakistan, which left the viewers excited about Pakistani film production with their presence.

The Red Sea Festival, set against the picturesque backdrop of Saudi Arabia’s seaside city, Jeddah, serves as a global platform for filmmakers to celebrate and showcase diverse cinematic creations from around the world.

Smith and Depp posed with Umro Ayyar’s executive producer, Huma Jamil Babar, and interacted with the public.

“How exciting it is,” exclaimed a Pakistani journalist, Afshan Younus, who shared a video of Smith getting a locket from Babar. “Hollywood meets Pakistani cinema in style!”

Another social media user, Nazish Alavi, called the cross-cultural support by the Hollywood actors a “big moment” for her.

“Watching Hollywood superstar Will Smith wearing #UmroAyyarANewBeginning pendant and The Johnny Depp supporting a Pakistani movie is such a big moment for me,” she said. “Best of luck to @TheUMROAYYAR.”

Umro Ayyar is one of the most famous characters from the legendary “Dastan-e-Amir Hamza,” a classical Urdu literary work comprising epic tales, widely read by many in Pakistan.

Speaking to Arab News in May, lead actor Sanam Saeed mentioned that Ayyar’s character was being adapted for the screen in a “new-age way” and receiving a “revamp” for modern times.

“Dastan-e-Amir Hamza” is the Urdu version of the Persian folklore written by Ghalib Lakhnavi in 1855, featuring a collection of stories about magic, adventure, and intrigue.

The film “Umro Ayyar” is an attempt to reimagine the story for a new generation of Pakistani and global audiences.


ADB approves $659 million to reconstruct flood-hit schools, improve Pakistan’s agricultural productivity

Updated 06 December 2023
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ADB approves $659 million to reconstruct flood-hit schools, improve Pakistan’s agricultural productivity

  • The bank says fresh financing will support sustainable, broad-based and inclusive economic growth in Pakistan
  • It plans to rebuild up to 1,600 flood-damaged schools using disaster- and climate-resilient architectural designs

KARACHI: The Asian Development Bank (ADB) on Wednesday announced its decision to approve $659 million of financing to carry out development projects like rehabilitating schools damaged by the devastating August 2022 floods and enhancing agricultural productivity to improve food security in Pakistan.
Pakistan, a founding ADB member, has received more than $52 billion in public and private sector loans, grants, and other forms of financing from the bank to promote inclusive economic growth and improve the country’s infrastructure, energy security, transport networks and other social services.
The country has also grappled with major financial challenges in the last few years, with its current administration trying to revive the economy by seeking foreign direct investment in various sectors.
“This significant new wave of financing will help Pakistan recover from the impacts of last year’s cost-of-living crisis and super-floods and return to the path of long-term development that is sustainable and inclusive,” ADB Director General for Central and West Asia Yevgeniy Zhukov noted in a statement.
“This multifaceted approach is part of ADB’s strategic engagement in Pakistan and cohesively deploys our program lending and project investments to enhance support for Pakistan’s efforts to improve its economic situation and enhance the quality of life for its people,” he added.
The ADB statement hoped the new financing under the Improved Resource Mobilization and Utilization Reform Program will support Pakistan’s government to achieve economic growth that is sustainable, broad-based and inclusive.
“The $300 million policy-based loan will support the initiative’s first subprogram, which focuses on laying the foundation for reforms to policies, laws, and institutional capacity that will improve domestic resource mobilization and utilization,” the statement said. “The program is helping to transform tax administration, public expenditure management, and other institutional structures to strengthen resource mobilization including non-debt resources such as private investment and savings.”
It added that the ongoing Sindh Secondary Education Improvement Project would receive additional financing of $275 million emergency assistance loan that was part of ADB’s $1.5 billion pledge of support for Pakistan’s recovery from the devastating 2022 floods.
“The additional financing will help reconstruct up to 1,600 flood-damaged schools using disaster- and climate-resilient and gender-responsive designs,” it informed. “This will boost resilience and inclusivity in the education system in Pakistan, helping recovery of learning and earning losses especially for girls in the most disadvantaged and vulnerable districts of Sindh.”
It said a concessional loan of $80 million for the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Food Security Support Project, which was also part of ADB’s $1.5 billion pledge of support for Pakistan’s recovery from the 2022 floods, would help address climate vulnerabilities, enhance food security, and boost the livelihoods of rural farm households in the most flood-damaged districts in the province.
“The project will provide essential agriculture inputs and training to smallholder farmers, including women, and improve household nutrition and women’s empowerment,” the statement noted. “It will also enhance digital access and availability, especially with regard to market opportunities and climate information.”


Pakistan’s media regulator vows ‘strict action’ against channels for speculative reporting on national polls

Updated 06 December 2023
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Pakistan’s media regulator vows ‘strict action’ against channels for speculative reporting on national polls

  • PEMRA says false information or media content about the general elections may shatter public confidence in voting process
  • Local media outlets have been speculating about election delay despite ECP’s announcement to hold the polls on February 8

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s media regulator issued a directive for all satellite television channels this week, asking them to comply with its code of conduct by ensuring no speculative or false information was aired that could hamper the smooth conduct of the electoral exercise or face “strict action.”
The notification followed a complaint by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) that expressed concerns about recent stories that insinuated at a possible election delay in the country.
The national elections were originally expected to take place in November after Pakistan’s national and two provincial assemblies were dissolved in August before reaching the end of their tenure. However, the ECP decided to redraw hundreds of national and provincial constituencies on the basis of a digital census carried out earlier this year in April before arranging the electoral contest. Its officials later scheduled the voting process for the last week of January before announcing Feb. 8 as the final date after consultations with the country’s President Dr. Arif Alvi on the Supreme Court’s instructions.
Given Pakistan’s uncertain political environment, however, local media outlets have continued to speculate about the possibility of yet another delay.
“Dissemination of such news [about delay in national polls] may undermine the preparedness of Election Commission of Pakistan for conducting General Elections on 8th February, 2024,” Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) said in a notification issued on Nov. 3.
It noted such media content could impact ECP’s “credibility” and shatter “public trust and confidence in the electoral process.”
“Therefore, it is reiterated that all the licensees while airing their transmission prior to General Elections 2024 must be mindful of the fact that no such content / discussion / comment is aired which may create doubts or an impression in the minds of general public with regard to conduct of General Elections 2024 or may sabotage elections through any negative / false news, information or report aired on any satellite TV channel, inadvertently,” it continued.
“Airing of any such news / content would be deemed in violation of PEMRA Laws,” it said while warning of “strict action” against such satellite TV channels.