Over 70,000 intending pilgrims register to use Pak Hajj App

A Muslim pilgrim takes a selfie at the Grand Mosque in the holy Saudi city of Makkah, early on August 30, 2017, on the eve of the start of the annual Hajj pilgrimage. (AFP/File)
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Updated 28 May 2024

Over 70,000 intending pilgrims register to use Pak Hajj App

  • Around 179,210 Pakistanis will perform Hajj under government, private schemes this year
  • Hajj app launched last year by IT ministry and National Information Technology Board 

ISLAMABAD: Over 70,000 intending Pakistani Hajj pilgrims have registered so far for the ‘Pak Hajj App’ launched last year to facilitate Pakistanis in all stages of the spiritual journey, state news agency APP reported on Tuesday.

Pakistan’s IT ministry last December announced the launch of the app for both Android and iPhone, developed jointly with the National Information Technology Board (NITB).

Around 179,210 Pakistanis will perform Hajj under both the government and private schemes, with this year’s pilgrimage expected to run from June 14-19.

“Pak Hajj App, through which online monitoring of all Hajj-related activities is performed, has received an overwhelming response in a short span of time, with over 70,000 active intending Pakistani Hajj pilgrims registered so far,” APP reported. 

“Through this online service, the Ministry of Religious Affairs has received more than 20,000 suggestions/queries/complaints, which have been responded/resolved and disposed of in an efficient manner.”

The app provides all required information, including personal details of pilgrims and their groups as well as information about volunteers and additional facilities, Hajj dues, nominee information and bank account details.

Pilgrims can view their Hajj training schedules, including dates, times, and locations, through the app, which also displays flight details with flight numbers, departure cities, dates, and times for both departure and return flights. The app also presents information about Makkah and Madinah accommodations, including sector, building, and room details, and about the Maktab (camp) location.

The multilingual application allows pilgrims to check their Hajj dues and refund statuses as well as submit complaints, requests and general inquiries. At first two languages, English and Urdu were added, although the system has the provision to add more languages.

“It was established for improved coordination among all wings and departments of the Pakistan Hajj Mission to extend maximum facilities to intending Pakistani pilgrims,” DG Facilitation Cell and Complaint Management System in-charge Muhammad Ahmed Usmani told APP.

“It is greatly helping in the timely redressal of complaints of pilgrims and their proper guidance to minimize any inconvenience to them.”

The Facilitation Cell has a three-member National Information Technology Board (NITB) team of software engineers, mandated with removing technical glitches faced at the Hajj portal and improving system efficiency and quality. A five-member team is available at a call center to deal with complaints received on the portal.

Complaints could be lodged through the Pak Hajj App and WhatsApp, or by calling the Pakistan Hajj Mission’s helpline toll-free numbers: 00923376510003, 00923376510004, 00923376510005, and 00923063332555.

The nature of complaints, Usmani said, mostly related to accommodation, split families, room maintenance, lack of amenities, misplaced luggage and general lost and found services. 

“As soon as a complaint is lodged, it appears on the dashboard/mobile phone screen within no time, with the proper zone officer concerned monitoring it live,” Deputy Director and In-charge NITB Development Team Makkah, Muhammad Awais, told APP.

He said the two ministries had also introduced an online app called ‘Hajj Moavineen’ under which real-time monitoring of support staff was performed from their place of deployment, “with visibility to all high-ups.”

It had multiple features including searching for a ‘Hajji,’ lost and found luggage or pilgrims, gifts distribution, and medical treatment, Awais said.

“All the features are run by scanning the QR code of the Hajji’s identity card, which contains all the required details of the pilgrims.

“We are getting great feedback from the Hujjaj about the online applications, which is a source of great satisfaction and motivation for us. All the information is available on a single platform where notifications are sent to them. All maps are integrated, which greatly helps in finding missing Hajji.”

Speaking to Arab News at the launch event of the Hajj app last year, then IT Minister Dr. Umar Saif said there were “so many little” moving parts to Hajj that one constantly needed a maulim, the Arabic word for teacher, for advice and guidance.

“In this day and age, we have replaced this human interface with an application ... designed to be a virtual mualim who is always with you,” the IT minister said.

“The app learns your behavior. It loads the schedule. It loads the events that take place. It loads the current location, the time and the day, and continuously advises you what to do next.”

He said the app would be able to provide guidance on everything from bus schedules and meals to flights and luggage.

“It is designed for low literacy users because a lot of people going for Hajj, of course, can’t be taught to use an application in English and Urdu,” Said explained. 

“So, the app is designed specifically such that it continues to advise you, whether you are able to use the app or not, prompts you, advises you, proactively so that we make it easy for you to go through the entire process in steps of performing a Hajj.”

Baber Majid Bhatti, CEO of the National Information Technology Board, told Arab News the app also had an offline maps feature to facilitate pilgrims.

Pakistan stocks hit record high on budget, IMF optimism

Updated 20 June 2024

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

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.

Unheard Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan album discovered 34 years later, set for release in September

Updated 20 June 2024

Unheard Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan album discovered 34 years later, set for 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.

Senior Chinese Communist Party leader to arrive in Pakistan, co-chair CPEC progress talks

Updated 20 June 2024

Senior Chinese Communist Party leader to arrive in Pakistan, co-chair CPEC progress talks

  • Liu Jianchao will meet officials of Pakistani political parties along with the civil and military leadership
  • The foreign office says the CPEC meeting will focus on its upgradation, regional connectivity potential

ISLAMABAD: A top leader of the Chinese Communist Party, Liu Jianchao, is scheduled to arrive in Islamabad today, Thursday, to co-chair the 3rd Meeting of the Pakistan-China Joint Consultative Mechanism (JCM) to discuss progress on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), according to an official statement released a day earlier.
Established in 2019, the JCM of political parties on CPEC serves as a regular consultation mechanism between the Communist Party of China and political parties of Pakistan.
Its first meeting took place in Beijing in March 2019, while the second, held in August 2020, was conducted virtually.
“At the Third Meeting of the JCM, Pakistan and China will review the progress of CPEC projects, CPEC’s contribution to Pakistan’s socioeconomic development, and its up-gradation and extension for regional connectivity,” the foreign office said.
It maintained Liu’s visit was part of high-level exchanges between the two countries, reflecting the importance they attached to the bilateral strategic partnership.
The Chinese Communist Party official will reach Islamabad just a few days after Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif concluded his five-day visit to China where he met with the top political leadership along with a number of investors and representatives of top technology companies.
The two countries have principally agreed to usher CPEC into its second phase, expanding beyond the initial focus on infrastructure and energy to include broader economic and social development goals. This new phase emphasizes rural revitalization, agricultural modernization, industrialization and green development.
It also focuses on establishing Special Economic Zones to foster industrial growth and create jobs.
Liu’s was invited to visit Pakistan by Deputy Prime Minister Ishaq Dar. He will also hold meetings with Pakistan’s top political and military leadership during his stay in the country.

Pakistan launches post-Hajj flight operation, plans to bring back 1,200 pilgrims today

Updated 20 June 2024

Pakistan launches post-Hajj flight operation, plans to bring back 1,200 pilgrims today

  • Religious affairs ministry asks pilgrims to get Zamzam water from designated spots at relevant airports
  • The flight operation will continue until July 21 to bring back 70,000 pilgrims on government Hajj scheme

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan launched the post-Hajj flight operation on Thursday, bringing back the first batch of 150 pilgrims from Saudi Arabia, with the religious affairs ministry saying that nearly 1,200 devotees would return via seven special flights to four different cities by the end of the day.
Transporting large numbers of pilgrims to and from Saudi Arabia during the Hajj season presents a significant logistical challenge, prompting the government to launch special flights, ensuring safe and timely travel for pilgrims.
The first post-Hajj flight operated between Jeddah and Multan, with six additional flights scheduled to return pilgrims to Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad later in the day.
The religious affairs ministry announced that 720 Pakistani pilgrims in Saudi Arabia will also travel to Madinah today. These pilgrims arrived in the kingdom shortly before Hajj began and were taken directly to Makkah, not having enough time to visit the Prophet’s Mosque before.
“The Hajj flight operation from Jeddah for the return of pilgrims will continue until July 9,” the ministry said in a statement. “The last Hajj flight from Madinah will arrive back in the homeland on July 21. The return of 70,000 government Hajj pilgrims will also be completed on July 21.”
In a separate statement, the ministry also announced the arrangements for distributing Zamzam water among pilgrims availing the government scheme.
“The ministry has made all airlines responsible through an agreement to facilitate pilgrims at designated points to collect Zamzam water,” it said.
The statement urged the pilgrims to collect the water from relevant airports and book it with their luggage.
Pilgrims often bring Zamzam water back from Hajj because it is considered sacred within Islam. The water comes from the Zamzam well located within the Grand Mosque in Makkah.
It is also believed to have unique properties and blessings, ensuring spiritual benefits and healing.