Saudi-based Pakistani group recruits over 2,500 volunteers to facilitate Hajj pilgrims this year

A man looks map of the Saudi holy city of Makkah as Pakistani volunteers attend a training session to assist pilgrims during this year’s annual Hajj pilgrimage in Jeddah on May 15, 2024. (Photo courtesy: Pakistan Hajj Volunteers Group)
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Updated 26 May 2024
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Saudi-based Pakistani group recruits over 2,500 volunteers to facilitate Hajj pilgrims this year

  • The Pakistan Hajj Volunteers Group comprises thousands of expatriates living in the Kingdom who facilitate pilgrims each year
  • The PHVG offers guidance, wheelchair services, and other facilities to pilgrims during Hajj days irrespective of their nationalities

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Hajj Volunteers Group (PHVG), a Saudi Arabia-based group of Pakistani expatriates, has recruited more than 2,500 volunteers to assist pilgrims during this year’s annual Hajj pilgrimage, a senior PHVG official said on Sunday.
Established in 2011 with only 85 volunteers, the PHVG has expanded over the course of 12 years and currently includes thousands of members, who volunteer during Hajj pilgrimage every year. The group works in close coordination with the Pakistani consulate in Jeddah and the Pakistan Hajj Mission.
The PHVG assists and provides guidance to pilgrims during the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Mina Valley, and the Saudi cities of Azizia and Makkah from the 10th till 12th of the Islamic holy month of Dhu Al-Hijjah, when Hajj activities reach their peak.
“The PHVG registered and verified 2,838 volunteers for Hajj 2024 operation and also has around 100 key volunteers in our three regions (Hejaz, central and eastern parts of the Kingdom) who are engaged year-round for all the preparations for the guests of Allah,” Ashraf Ali Khan, the PHVG central coordinator, told Arab News.




Pakistan Hajj Volunteers Group official briefs Pakistani volunteers during a training session to facilitate Hajj pilgrims in Jeddah on May 15, 2024. (Photo courtesy: Pakistan Hajj Volunteers Group)

The PHVG started its registration campaign on February 9 that ended on May 10, according to the official. The organization used print, electronic, and social media to register Pakistani volunteers from all over the Kingdom.
“Any Pakistani legally present in the Kingdom can become a volunteer and they also need to be registered on the Saudi social services website for further permissions,” Khan said, adding all volunteers were required to complete two mandatory training sessions and an online exam before the final selection.
The official said his organization trained volunteers using audiovisual training sessions and instructed them on the Mina map reading and the usage of its mobile application, PHVG Hajj Navigator.




Pakistani volunteers attend a training session to facilitate Hajj pilgrims in Jeddah on May 15, 2024, ahead of annual Hajj pilgrimage. (Photo courtesy: Pakistan Hajj Volunteers Group)

“The volunteers are neither allowed to perform Hajj nor compensated for their services as they are devoted to helping and guiding pilgrims to seek the reward and pleasure from Allah,” he added.
The volunteers mainly help Hajj pilgrims in five different areas, including providing training through videos and presentations, according to the official.
Along with this, volunteers also provide guidance in Mina, especially through translation, to pilgrims who come from around the world, and guide them to their tents, hospitals and assist them with wheelchairs.
“Additionally, we offer Tawaf-e-Ziyara to pilgrims who fall ill during the pilgrimage,” Khan said. “Each sick pilgrim is accompanied by two volunteers who escort them from the hospital and return them after completing the Tawaf.”




Pakistan Hajj Volunteers Group official briefs Pakistani volunteers during a training session to facilitate Hajj pilgrims in Jeddah on May 15, 2024. (Photo courtesy: Pakistan Hajj Volunteers Group)

 


Baloch separatist outfit kidnaps 10 tourists in southwestern Pakistan

Updated 20 June 2024
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Baloch separatist outfit kidnaps 10 tourists in southwestern Pakistan

  • All 10 persons, including Pakistan Customs official, hail from eastern Punjab province, says Levies official 
  • Banned outfit Balochistan Liberation Army, which has targeted Punjab-based laborers in past, claims responsibility

QUETTA: Separatist militant outfit Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) this week kidnapped 10 tourists in southwestern Pakistan who hailed from Punjab, a paramilitary official confirmed on Thursday. 

The incident took place on Wednesday night at a famous tourist point named Shaban, 35 kilometers from the provincial capital of Quetta in southwestern Balochistan province, Levies official Ajmal Khan confirmed. 

Khan said around 50-60 armed men kidnapped 14 people from a rest house in Shaban. After checking their identification cards, four were released while 10 were detained, he revealed. 

“Ten people, including one Pakistan Customs personnel, belonging to Punjab were taken to an unknown place,” Khan, who is the head muharrar or clerk at the Levies station in the Harnai district where the incident took place, told Arab News. 

Khan said the BLA was responsible for the kidnapping, adding that the militant group had hoisted its flag atop the rest house. He said it is difficult for authorities to carry out a search operation as the area where the incident took place was a far-flung one. 

“Here BLA has camps and we have warned tourists to not come to this place,” the Levies official said. 

In a separate statement, BLA claimed responsibility for kidnapping the tourists. 

“In an intelligence-based operation in Quetta’s Shaban area, Balochistan Liberation Army’s Fatah Squad took into custody 10 suspicious persons,” the group stated. 

It said the detained persons were being questioned, adding that a detailed statement would be issued to the media “soon.” 

Pakistan’s restive Balochistan province, which shares porous borders with Afghanistan and Iran, has been wracked by an insurgency launched by ethnic Baloch militants since decades. 

These Baloch nationalists have long accused the Pakistani government and Punjab province of monopolizing profits from Balochistan’s abundant natural resources, saying it has led to political marginalization and economic exploitation.

However, Pakistani administrations have denied these allegations, citing several development initiatives launched in the province to improve local living conditions.

In April and May, three separate attacks in Balochistan targeted laborers from Pakistan’s Punjab province. A group of unidentified gunmen attacked and killed seven laborers in a residential quarter in Gwadar, a coastal town in Pakistan, on May 9. 

In April, the BLA claimed responsibility for the killings of nine Punjab residents traveling to Iran from Quetta. In another incident that took place in April, two workers from Punjab were targeted in Balochistan.


PM Sharif expresses condolences over Pakistani Hajj pilgrims’ deaths due to extreme heat

Updated 20 June 2024
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PM Sharif expresses condolences over Pakistani Hajj pilgrims’ deaths due to extreme heat

  • Pakistani official this week confirmed nine pilgrims had died due to extreme heat in Saudi Arabia
  • Sharif directs authorities to make arrangements for pilgrims’ bodies to be brought to Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Thursday expressed condolences over the deaths of multiple Pakistani Hajj pilgrims in Saudi Arabia due to the heat wave, his office said days after 1.5 million people performed the annual Islamic pilgrimage in the Kingdom.

A senior official of the Pakistan Hajj Mission (PHM) confirmed on Wednesday that nine Pakistani pilgrims had died in Saudi Arabia due to extreme heat as of June 18. 

“Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif expressed condolences over the martyrdom of Hajj pilgrims in Makkah,” the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) said in a statement.

“The prime minister prayed for patience for the relatives of the Hajj pilgrims.”

The PMO said Sharif spoke to Pakistan’s Deputy Prime Minister Ishaq Dar, Religious Affairs Minister Chaudhry Salik Hussain and Pakistan’s ambassador to the kingdom about the situation of the country’s Hajj pilgrims in Saudi Arabia.

“Arrangements should be made to send the bodies of the martyred pilgrims to Pakistan,” the prime minister told authorities, according to the PMO. It added that Sharif directed Pakistan’s religion ministry and consulate to provide all necessary facilities to the pilgrims.

He also directed Pakistani officials to ensure pilgrims admitted to hospitals in Saudi Arabia are provided access to every medical treatment, the PMO said.

Pakistan established two hospitals and 11 dispensaries in Makkah and Madinah to provide health care to the country’s pilgrims during the Islamic pilgrimage.

Hussain on Wednesday thanked Saudi authorities for ensuring “exemplary” arrangements for Hajj despite the sizzling heat in Saudi Arabia.

The Pakistani minister pointed out the Saudi authorities had taken several measures to mitigate the heat by setting up water sprinklers and a distribution system for cold water and beverages.

He also noted that mobile health units and dispensaries had been established in all the major areas to ensure the health of the pilgrims.
 


Pakistan stocks hit record high on budget, IMF optimism

Updated 20 June 2024
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Pakistan stocks hit record high on budget, IMF optimism

  • Pakistan released tax-heavy budget last week which investors believe will strengthen case for new IMF bailout
  • Market breached 78,000 level for first time during intraday trade as it reopened after five-day break on Thursday

KARACHI: Pakistan’s benchmark share index rose 2.8 percent to a new record high on Thursday, driven by expectations last week’s budget will strengthen the case for a new bailout from the International Monetary Fund.

The government’s budget was welcomed by investors as it avoided an anticipated increase in capital gains tax, despite an ambitious tax revenue target.

The market extended its post-budget rally on Thursday when it reopened after a five-day break, which included a public holiday, and breached the key 78,000 level for the first time during intraday trade.

Foreign portfolio investment in the market is at the highest in almost ten years, with inflows of $83 million as of June 14, data compiled by Topline Securities and JS Global Capital showed.

Sohail Mohammed, CEO of Topline Securities, said that a statement from credit rating agency Fitch that the budget would strengthen the prospects for an IMF deal would help to bring more foreign inflows.

The benchmark share index is up 26.2 percent year to date and has almost doubled since Pakistan signed a nine-month standby arrangement with the IMF last summer.

“Pakistani equity investors are driving the PSX higher, continuing to unlock valuations on better sentiment, which is a trend that began when Pakistan signed its last IMF deal last summer,” said Amreen Soorani, head of research at JS Global Capital.

“The trend paused briefly on anticipation of stricter capital gains taxes, which did not materialize,” she said, adding that the index is trading at a four times price to earnings ratio despite the recent rally and offers attractive dividend yields.

The financial sector was up 4.4 percent, with banks like UBL, HBL, MCB, Bank Alfalah, Habib Metropolitan Bank, Allied Bank, up more than 4 percent.

Adnaan Sheikh, assistant vice president of research at Pak Kuwait Investment Company, said that foreign investor interest and the central bank’s decision to cut its key rate by 150 basis points last week — its first rate cut in nearly four years — had pushed the market up.

Apart from the capital gains tax, analysts said the budget and other revenue measures were in line with expectations and key to sealing a new IMF program. This will include a challenging tax target of a near-40 percent jump from the current year and a sharp drop in the fiscal deficit to 5.9 percent of GDP from 7.4 percent for the current year.

Sheikh said the strict budgetary measures to secure new IMF funding will be likely to attract more foreign investors to the market, in addition to the current inflows.

Pakistan’s lower house of parliament is set to meet later on Thursday to debate the budget that the government presented last week. 


PM Sharif hopes Pakistan’s disaster authority acts as ‘safety wall’ against climate change effects

Updated 20 June 2024
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PM Sharif hopes Pakistan’s disaster authority acts as ‘safety wall’ against climate change effects

  • Sharif visits National Emergencies Operation Center that can anticipate disasters up to three months in advance
  • Pakistan is ranked fifth most vulnerable country to climate change globally, has suffered 10,000 deaths from 1999 to 2018

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif hoped Pakistan’s disaster management authority would act as a “safety wall” against climate change effects, as he visited the revamped National Emergencies Operation Center (NEOC), a center that can predict climate disasters in advance, on Thursday. 

Set up in October last year, the NEOC is equipped with the latest tools and technologies, including real-time satellite feeds, to anticipate disasters up to three months in advance. Established at the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), its multidisciplinary team of experts harnesses the power of geographic information system (GIS), remote sensing, climatology, meteorology, seismology, hydrology, and data sciences to monitor and analyze global and local hazards.

Pakistan is ranked the fifth most vulnerable country to climate change globally, with nearly 10,000 deaths and $3.8 billion in economic losses between 1999 and 2018, according to the Global Climate Risk Index. 

Climate-induced rains and subsequent flooding in the 2022 monsoons submerged a third of the South Asian country, killing around 1,700 people and affecting more than 33 million — almost the entire population of Canada. The country is also beset by frequent heat waves and droughts.

“Due to climate change, Pakistan is in the red zone and among the top ten vulnerable countries,” Sharif said during a visit to the center with federal ministers and secretaries. 

“I have no doubt that the NDMA, in coordination with provincial PDMAs, will become a safety wall for Pakistan.”

The Pakistani prime minister asked NDMA to ensure close coordination with provinces and the Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Kashmir regions. 

“This is not an expenditure,” Sharif said. “This is an investment to save our future investments,” he remarked.”

Pakistan’s weather patterns have changed in recent years, forcing cities to strengthen their infrastructure and farmers to adapt their practices.

Analysts and government officials say Pakistan in recent years failed to achieve goals for economic growth because of man-made disasters, which have repeatedly hit the country in the form of droughts, heatwaves and heavy rains, which badly damaged the road network, bridges, power system and other infrastructure.
 


Long-lost Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan album to release in September

Updated 20 June 2024
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Long-lost Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan album to release in September

  • The Pakistani maestro died in 1997 at the age of 48, but he continues to have a wide fan base across the world
  • The lost album was discovered as Peter Gabriel’s Real World Records was relocating archives three years ago

ISLAMABAD: A new album of unheard melodies by Pakistan’s music icon Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, recorded 34 years ago, will be released on September 20, according to a statement from Real World Records issued on Wednesday.

Founded in 1989 by Peter Gabriel, the company recorded Khan’s fusion music, which blends the mystical qawwali style of the East with Western instruments and sensibilities, following a collaborative decision between the two musicians.

The Pakistani maestro’s lost album — named ‘Chain of Light’ — was discovered in the Real World Records’ tape archives.

It was produced after the label signed him in 1989 and released a series of universally acclaimed albums with him throughout the 1990s.

“I’ve had the privilege to work with a ton of different musicians from all over the world in my time, but perhaps the greatest singer of them all was Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan,” Peter Gabriel said in a statement released by the company.

“What he could do and make you feel with his voice was quite extraordinary and we were very proud to have played a role in getting him to a much wider global audience,” he added. “It was a real delight when we found out this tape had been in our library. This album really shows him at his peak. It’s a wonderful record.”

Buried deep in a warehouse storage space, the label unearthed the album while relocating its archive in 2021.

Khan tragically passed away in 1997 at the age of 48. Almost 30 years later, however, his legacy continues to attract new generations of fans, evident in the six million average monthly Spotify listeners and YouTube videos of his music racking up over 1 billion views.

Reflecting on the album’s significance, producer Michael Brook, who collaborated with Khan on the popular “Mustt Mustt” album, noted that the Pakistani singer’s voice profoundly touched listeners.

“It is a once in a lifetime experience,” he said. “Like the immanent light of the record’s title, these songs are transformative and transcendent in a way that crosses languages and cultures. It draws the listener in, no matter their expectations.”

He said he was happy that Khan’s voice had returned.