Saudi delegation inspects facilities at Karachi airport for Makkah Route initiative

Pakistani officials brief Saudi officials about the airport terminal at the Jinnah International Airport in Karachi on April 21, 2024, as 2-member delegation from Saudi Arabia visits Karachi for Makkah Route Initiative’s expansion to ease Hajj journey. (Photo courtesy: CAA)
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Updated 22 April 2024
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Saudi delegation inspects facilities at Karachi airport for Makkah Route initiative

  • The initiative allows for the completion of immigration procedures at the pilgrims’ country of departure
  • More than 60% of Pakistani pilgrims on government program are likely to benefit from the initiative this year

KARACHI: A two-member delegation from Saudi Arabia on Sunday visited the Jinnah International Airport in Karachi to inspect facilities there for the Makkah Route initiative aimed at facilitating local Hajj pilgrims, the Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority (PCAA) said.
Launched in 2019, the initiative allows for the completion of immigration procedures at the pilgrims’ country of departure. This makes it possible to bypass long immigration and customs checks upon reaching Saudi Arabia, which significantly reduces the waiting time and makes the entry process smoother and faster.
Pakistani pilgrims performing Hajj under the government scheme have been availing this facility at the airport in Islamabad for the last couple of years. But the government wants the initiative to be extended to other cities as well.
The two-member delegation, which was accompanied by officials of the Saudi consulate, was warmly welcomed by PCAA officials upon arrival at the Karachi airport.
“The purpose of their visit was to inspect the airport’s facilities and discuss the arrangements for the Route to Makkah project,” the PCAA said in a statement. “During their visit, APM (airport manager) provided the delegation with a comprehensive tour of the airport’s facilities.”
The delegation showed particular interest in the entry process for intending pilgrims and the allocation of immigration space, according to the PCAA. Other key points discussed were related to the allocation of an immigration hall, and differentiating between government and private scheme pilgrims.
Pakistan’s religious affairs ministry last month announced completion of a survey for the Makkah Route initiative at the Karachi airport ahead of the Hajj season.
The South Asian country expects more than 60 percent of pilgrims performing Hajj this year to benefit from the initiative. People opting for the private Hajj scheme can also avail the facility, given the tour operators providing them services have contacted the Pakistani religious ministry for the purpose.
Saudi Arabia last year restored Pakistan’s pre-pandemic Hajj quota of 179,210 pilgrims and abolished the upper age limit of 65 years. More than 81,000 Pakistani pilgrims performed Hajj under the government scheme in 2023, while the rest used private tour operators.
This year’s pilgrimage is expected to run from June 14 till June 19.


Ministry says over 31,000 Pakistani pilgrims in Saudi Arabia as special Hajj flight operation continues

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Ministry says over 31,000 Pakistani pilgrims in Saudi Arabia as special Hajj flight operation continues

  • Pakistan has so far operated 126 flights that have taken pilgrims to Madinah, with 12 more flights expected today
  • The country will start transporting pilgrims directly to Jeddah, about an hour’s drive from Makkah, from tomorrow

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Ministry of Religious Affairs announced on Thursday 31,057 Hajj pilgrims benefiting from the government scheme have reached Saudi Arabia since the launch of its special flight operation on May 9, with an additional 2,450 pilgrims scheduled to arrive in Madinah later in the day on 12 flights.
The country has so far operated 126 Hajj flights that have taken the pilgrims to the holy city of Madinah to spend the first few days in the kingdom before being transported to Makkah to perform Hajj rituals. However, the country will start direct Hajj flights to Jeddah – about an hour’s drive from Makkah – starting tomorrow.
Over 12,000 Pakistani pilgrims, who have completed their stay in Madinah, have already been driven to Makkah, with the ministry announcing the Aziziyah and Batha Quraish neighborhoods are beginning to bustle with them.
“Through 126 Hajj flights, 31,057 government-sponsored pilgrims have arrived in Saudi Arabia,” the ministry said in its statement. “Today, an additional 2,450 pilgrims will reach Madinah through 12 flights. More than 2,000 pilgrims under the private scheme have also arrived in the kingdom.”
The statement also informed the ministry had engaged 156 people to provide medical facilities pilgrims while 336 were responsible for arranging transport, accommodation and food.
It added the officials in the main control office in Makkah were also providing guidance and assistance to the pilgrims through the Pakistan Hajj cellphone app.
Pakistan has a Hajj quota of 179,210 pilgrims, of which 63,805 people will perform the pilgrimage under the government scheme, while the rest will benefit from private tour operators.
This year’s pilgrimage is expected to run from June 14 till June 19.


‘Enough is enough’: Ex-PM Khan asks supporters to wait for his call for street agitation from prison

Updated 23 May 2024
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‘Enough is enough’: Ex-PM Khan asks supporters to wait for his call for street agitation from prison

  • Khan says the attack on his party’s information secretary reflects the government wants to quell dissenting voices
  • He says his party has remained silent despite ‘political persecution’ but will no longer tolerate being targeted

ISLAMABAD: Former prime minister Imran Khan on Wednesday instructed supporters of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party to wait for his call for street agitation following an attack on one of its leaders and central information secretary Raoof Hassan outside the office of a private news channel earlier this week.
Hassan, who was roughed up by a group of unidentified transgender individuals on Tuesday, received a gash on his face when one of his attackers wielded a blade against him while others knocked him to the ground. The PTI described the incident as a bid on his life and accused the Islamabad Police of tampering with the complaint by omitting the terrorism charge mentioned in it.
As PTI leaders hinted at the possibility of the attack being carefully orchestrated for political reasons, the top Islamabad police official, Syed Ali Nasir Rizvi, announced the formation of a three-member special investigation team to probe the incident.
Reacting to the development, Khan, who has been in jail since his arrest last year in August, said his party was facing “political persecution” and would no longer tolerate it.
“During past two darkest years in Pakistan’s history, PTI’s political persecution was carried on with complete impunity,” he wrote on X, formerly Twitter. “We were subjected to the prohibited war tool of collective punishment — our houses trespassed, our people killed and tortured, our businesses destroyed, even the elderly and children were not spared. For the sake of Pakistan, we have been very patient so far. But ENOUGH IS ENOUGH NOW!! The heinous attack on Rauf Hassan is very instigating and further demonstrates that the powerful are unwilling to accept dissent, preferring to resort to cowardly tactics rather than addressing the underlying problems.”
“I instruct all of you— my central party leadership, central, provincial and local party organization, members, workers, supporters and the common man to wait for my street agitation call,” he added.

 
Khan said he had repeatedly said it was not possible to reach economic stability without first working for political stability in the country.
He maintained the last two years had witnessed the worsening of the economic conditions of the common man since the ouster of his administration from power in a no-trust vote in April 2022.
The PTI has said it has been facing a state crackdown, especially after May 9, 2023, when riots broke out after Khan’s brief incarceration from an Islamabad court on graft charges.


Pakistan plans $6.7 billion railway upgrade and dry port development project under CPEC

Updated 23 May 2024
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Pakistan plans $6.7 billion railway upgrade and dry port development project under CPEC

  • Planning ministry says the project will create high-speed transportation corridors connecting regional partners
  • The original railway tracks were built in late 19th century and were designed for low speeds and lesser axle loads

KARACHI: A key Pakistani committee operating under the planning ministry on Wednesday presented a modified project proposal for the upgrade of Pakistan Railways’ existing Main Line (ML-1) and the establishment of a dry port at a cost of $6.7 billion to the top economic oversight body for approval.
The ML-1 railway upgrade is among the biggest projects under the multibillion-dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), involving the rehabilitation and upgrading of the railway tracks from Karachi to Peshawar.
It is also viewed as a cornerstone of the CPEC initiative due to its scale and the significant impact it is expected to have on Pakistan’s infrastructure and regional economic connectivity.
According to a statement released by Pakistan’s planning ministry, the Central Development Working Party, which evaluates socio-economic development projects, presented a new document on ML-1 to the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (ECNEC) as Pakistan and China discuss the second phase of CPEC.
“The [ML-1] project is proposed to be financed through foreign funding under the CPEC framework agreement,” said the statement circulated by the ministry. “Pakistan Railways infrastructure is more than a century old and has outlived its useful life.”
“The original track which was built in late 19th century and early 20th century had been designed for low speeds and lesser axle loads which do not commensurate with the present-day loading patterns and desired speeds,” it added. “The Government of Pakistan aims to build necessary logistics facilities to support GDP growth and, in this regard, it intends to up-grade and modernize Pakistan Railways Network.”
The ministry said Pakistan Railways had become a financial burden on the national exchequer, adding that the $6.7 billion project could also make it a more financially and socially viable organization.
It maintained the project could ensure reduction in transportation costs, safety in mobility and effective connectivity between rural areas and markets in urban centers.
Additionally, it would integrate road and rail networks among various economic hubs, including air, sea and dry ports, while creating high-speed and -capacity transportation corridors connecting major regional trading partners.
“To achieve the government’s objective, a major up-gradation of the railway system has been planned, including increasing speed of passenger and freight trains, doubling of tracks of the main line sections, and increasing line capacity so as to facilitate rail linkages to Central Asian States, China and other neighboring countries,” it said.


PM Sharif departs for UAE to bolster trade, investment amid economic recovery efforts

Updated 4 min 19 sec ago
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PM Sharif departs for UAE to bolster trade, investment amid economic recovery efforts

  • The prime minister will meet UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan in Abu Dhabi
  • He will also hold meetings with other senior officials, members of business fraternity during his visit

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif departed for the United Arab Emirates with a high-level delegation on Thursday to discuss trade and bilateral relations, as Pakistan seeks foreign investment while navigating a challenging path to economic recovery.
Sharif’s visit comes amid a flurry of high-level engagements in recent weeks, with business and diplomatic delegations from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Japan and Uzbekistan arriving in Pakistan to explore investment opportunities in the country’s key economic sectors.
Reeling from high inflation, low forex reserves, and an unstable currency, the prime minister has vowed to steer Pakistan out of its prolonged economic crisis by enhancing bilateral trade with allies and attracting more international investment.
“Prime Minister Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif has left for a daylong visit to the United Arab Emirates,” the PM Office said in a statement. “This is his first visit to the UAE since assuming the office [earlier this year].”
Sharif is scheduled to meet UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan in Abu Dhabi and interact with other senior officials, businesspersons and heads of financial institutions.
“The Prime Minister’s visit marks the beginning of a new era in the longstanding fraternal relations between Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates,” the official statement added. “His [planned] meetings with top Emirati leadership and business fraternity reflect the government’s diplomatic successes and the growing trend of investments by friendly countries in Pakistan.”
The UAE is Pakistan’s third-largest trading partner, after China and the United States. Policymakers in Pakistan consider the Gulf state an optimal export destination due to its geographical proximity, which minimizes transportation and freight costs while facilitating commercial transactions.
The UAE is also home to more than a million Pakistani expatriates and the second-largest source of remittances to the South Asian country, after Saudi Arabia.


US returns 133 stolen artifacts to Pakistan valued at $13 million

Updated 22 May 2024
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US returns 133 stolen artifacts to Pakistan valued at $13 million

  • illegal antiquities trade is a multi-billion-dollar global industry, as per a 2018 report by Standard Chartered 
  • This marks fifth such transfer between US and Pakistan, from where artifacts dating to Gandhara period were stolen

ISLAMABAD: The United States this week returned 133 pieces of stolen antiquities valued over $13 million to Pakistan, state-run media reported, marking the fifth such transfer to the South Asian country from where artifacts dating back to the Gandhara period were stolen.

Artifacts are man-made objects, such as pieces of art or tools, that are of particular cultural, historical, or archaeological interest. 

The illegal antiquities trade is a multi-billion-dollar global industry according to a 2018 report by Standard Chartered Bank. The trade is also often a major funding source for criminal and militant groups on the supply side, according to a report by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP). 

“The United States returned to Pakistan 133 pieces of stolen antiquities worth over $13 million at a ceremony at the Manhattan District Attorney’s office in New York on Tuesday,” the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) reported. 

Some of the antiquities were displayed during the ceremony at which Pakistani Consul General in New York Aamer Ahmed Atozai said the artifacts would adorn museums across Pakistan. 

“The consul general also signed an agreement with the Assistant District Attorney in Manhattan, Matthew Bogdanos, who heads the Antiquities Trafficking Unit for the repatriation of the returned artifacts to Pakistan,” APP said. 

Bogdanos said he was delighted to return “glorious pieces of Pakistani heritage” to the country whose civilization dates back to 5,000 years, APP said. 

Pakistan and the US regularly collaborate to return stolen artifacts to Pakistan. In 2021, the US, after conducting a probe into an Indian-American art dealer Shubash Kapoor, had returned 192 stolen antiquities worth around $3.4 million.

In August 2022, the US again returned 104 artifacts valued at $3.3 million to Pakistan that were among thousands of antiquities looted from Asian countries and seized from Kapoor.