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

In this handout photograph, taken and released by the Saudi Press Agency on June 19, 2024, Hajj pilgrims offer prayers at the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah as pilgrims start departing to their respective countries after performing annual pilgrimage in Makkah. (SPA)
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Updated 20 June 2024
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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.


Pakistani religious party vows to continue pro-Palestine sit-in protest until demands are met

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Pakistani religious party vows to continue pro-Palestine sit-in protest until demands are met

  • Thousands of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan supporters remain camped at Faizabad Interchange connecting Islamabad, Rawalpindi since last week 
  • TLP protesters demand Pakistan government officially boycott Israeli products, send aid to Gaza and declare Israeli PM a “terrorist”

ISLAMABAD: A Pakistani religious party on Thursday vowed to continue its large pro-Palestine sit-in protest at a key junction connecting the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi until its demands are not met, as residents suffer traffic disruption. 
Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), known for its hard-line stance on blasphemy laws, has previously staged sit-ins at the Faizabad Interchange. The presence of large numbers of protesters in the area significantly disrupts traffic, forcing drivers to take longer, alternative routes between the two cities.
The TLP workers, led by their young leader Saad Rizvi, took out a protest rally from Liaquat Bagh in Rawalpindi to Faizabad last Saturday before deciding to set up a protest camp at the interchange.
The TLP has asked the government to officially boycott Israeli products and send food and medical aid to Palestinians suffering Israel’s relentless military campaign in Gaza. They have also called on Pakistan’s government to declare Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a “terrorist.”
“We are engaged with the government regarding our demands for the people of Palestine but no agreement has been reached yet,” Sajjad Saifi, a member of the TLP’s Shoura or consultative council, told Arab News over the phone.
“We will continue our dharna [sit-in] till all three of our demands are fully met.”
Saifi said TLP chief Rizvi was leading the party’s protest, adding that over 50,000 of their supporters were camped at the Faizabad Interchange. 
“If the government accepts our demands, it will earn a huge respect in the Muslim world,” he said.
Israel’s war on Gaza has so far claimed at least 39,000 lives, many of them women and children. The casualties have sparked anger and protests worldwide, including in Pakistan, where the country’s civil society and political factions have consistently led pro-Palestine rallies. 
When asked why the party decided to stage a sit-in protest nine months into the war, Saifi said the TLP had mobilized the public since October last year through rallies across Pakistan. 
 “Tens of thousands of our supporters have been waiting for the leadership’s call to join the dharna in Islamabad,” he said. 
“We are doing it for a cause, for the people of Palestine. We don’t have any political agenda to achieve through this dharna.”
The large number of protesters at the Faizabad Interchange have effectively blocked the Islamabad Expressway, causing difficulty for commuters and creating gridlocks in the area.
When asked about the protest and the inconvenience being caused to the public, Information Minister Attaullah Tara said: 
“Don’t worry, we are on it.”
‘STATE HAS SURRENDERED’
Political analysts called on the government to initiate strict action against the outfit to disperse them from the interchange. 
“Freedom of movement is a basic right of the public, therefore the government and the Supreme Court should take notice of the dharna and initiate measures to disperse the protesters,” political analyst Adnan Rehmat told Arab News. 
“If the government fails to initiate action against the TLP, it clearly means the state has surrendered before the outfit that doesn’t believe in any law and the constitution.”
Political science professor Rasul Bakhsh Rais agreed. 
“There is no rationale behind the TLP’s sit-in as Pakistan has already dispatched food and medicines to the people of Gaza,” Rais told Arab News. “It is unfortunate the government is silent over the mess and taking no steps to disperse them.”


Ex-PM Khan party activist Sanam Javed walks free after court declares her arrest ‘illegal’

Updated 18 July 2024
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Ex-PM Khan party activist Sanam Javed walks free after court declares her arrest ‘illegal’

  • Javed has been in jail since last year on charges of inciting people to violence over Khan’s brief arrest in May 2023
  • Islamabad High Court earlier this week ordered her release from prison, directed authorities not to arrest her again

ISLAMABAD: Sanam Javed, a leading activist of former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party finally walked free on Thursday after an Islamabad court declared her arrest “illegal” and allowed her to relocate to her home in Punjab province, her lawyer confirmed. 
Khan’s arrest in a graft case on May 9, 2023, saw hundreds of his supporters allegedly pour into the streets across the country, ransacking military and other properties. Thousands, including Javed, were arrested in the aftermath and some were tried by military courts after the authorities promised to bring the perpetrators of the violence to justice.
Javed has been in detention for over a year, facing charges in a dozen cases since the riots on May 9, 2023. 
Thursday’s decision by the Islamabad High Court (IHC) followed the earlier relief Javed received on Monday when the high court ordered her release and instructed police and other law enforcement agencies not to arrest her again.
“The IHC has declared the arrest of Javed illegal and forbade to arrest her again in any case registered till today (July 18),” her lawyer Ali Ashfaq told Arab News.
Balochistan Police this week sought Javed’s arrest in a similar case registered last year after which her father, Javed Iqbal Khan, filed an application in the IHC challenging the legality of her detention.
In his judgment, Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb stated that Pakistan’s attorney-general (AGP) assured the court that “Javed shall not be arrested in any case” and that the Balochistan Police shall not press its request before Islamabad’s court for Javed’s transfer to Balochistan. 
The judgment also said Javed is at liberty to travel to her home in Punjab. However, Justice Aurangzeb warned the PTI activist that she ought to exercise utmost caution and discretion in her social media statements. 
Ashfaq said Javed was arrested in 12 different cases, 11 of which were registered under the Anti-Terrorism Act. Of these, seven were registered in Lahore, three in Sargodha, and one in Gujranwala.
He said the court also questioned the legality of numerous police cases based on a single allegation leveled in different locations.
“On July 15, the court ordered that she should not be removed from the jurisdiction of Islamabad and should not be arrested in any other case,” he said.
Ashfaq said the court had asked the AGP to appear in person and justify that everything that had been done was according to law.
“Today, I received a message from the Attorney General about half an hour before the court session and met him in his office, where he assured me that to resolve this issue, Javed would not be arrested anywhere in Pakistan,” Ashfaq added.
He said authorities have assured him that police cases against Javed in Islamabad and Balochistan would be quashed.
“While four police cases have been discharged, in the other eight cases she is on bail and we will face trial proceedings in the concerned courts,” he said.
‘POLITICALLY MOTIVATED CASES’
The PTI says it has been facing a crackdown and mass arrest of its members for standing by Khan, who has been in jail since August last year. Pakistani authorities deny the allegations.
Last week, Khan and his wife Bushra Bibi were arrested by Pakistani authorities in a case involving the illegal sale of state gifts, after a court accepted their appeals against a ruling that they had violated the country’s marriage law and ordered their immediate release.
Khan and his wife were sentenced to seven years in prison and fined in February by a court that ruled their 2018 marriage broke the law. Bushra was accused of not completing the waiting period mandated by Islam, called “Iddat,” after divorcing her previous husband and marrying Khan.
The ex-premier has been in jail after being convicted in four cases since last August. Two of the cases have since been suspended and he was acquitted in a third, so the Iddat case was the only one keeping him in prison.
Arguably Pakistan’s most popular politician, Khan says the cases against him are “politically motivated,” aimed at keeping him from returning to power. Pakistani authorities deny this.


Pakistan’s disaster management authority launches WhatsApp channel as rains threaten floods, landslides 

Updated 18 July 2024
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Pakistan’s disaster management authority launches WhatsApp channel as rains threaten floods, landslides 

  • “Tayyar Pakistan” or Ready Pakistan will provide real-time alerts, updates and preparation tips to users, says state media
  • Pakistan’s disaster management authority has warned of flash floods, landslides due to heavy monsoon rains this month 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s top disaster management authority has launched an official WhatsApp channel titled “Tayyar Pakistan” or Ready Pakistan to provide real-time alerts, updates and preparation tips for emergencies, state media reported on Thursday, as the country braces for heavy monsoon rains this month. 
The South Asian country is recognized as one of the most vulnerable nations to climate change effects. Unusually heavy rains in June 2022 triggered flash floods in many parts of the country, killing over 1,700 people, inflicting losses of around $30 billion, and affecting at least 30 million people.
Scientists and experts attributed the floods to the adverse effects of climate change. Pakistan also suffered a severe heat wave last month, which saw temperatures in some regions rise to above 50 degrees Celsius.
The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has warned that heavy monsoon rains are likely to trigger landslides, mudslides and flash floods in many parts of the country. 
“As part of ongoing efforts, an official WhatsApp channel ‘Tayyar Pakistan’ has been launched by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA),” state broadcaster Radio Pakistan reported. 
“It is dedicated to providing real-time disaster alerts, updates, and preparedness tips.”
The statement said people can stay informed about potential hazards, receive timely notifications and take proactive steps to protect themselves and their communities through the WhatsApp channel. 
Earlier this week, the NDMA issued a glacial lake outburst flooding (GLOF) alert for Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and the mountainous northern region of Gilgit-Baltistan.
It also launched the “Pak NDMA Disaster Alert” mobile app to ensure “effective community engagement and timely risk communication” as Pakistan braces for heavy downpours this monsoon season.
Pakistan’s prime minister this month formed a high-level government committee to deal with potential emergencies that can arise due to heavy rains.


Bodies of Pakistanis killed in Muscat mosque attack to be brought back today

Updated 18 July 2024
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Bodies of Pakistanis killed in Muscat mosque attack to be brought back today

  • Four Pakistani nationals were among six killed when gunmen opened fire at Shia Mosque in Oman this week
  • All four Pakistani nationals to be brought back to the country today via Pakistan International Airlines’ flights

KARACHI: The bodies of four Pakistani nationals killed in a mosque attack on Muscat this week will be brought back to the country today, Thursday, a Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) spokesperson confirmed. 
Six people were killed when three gunmen, all brothers and of Omani nationality, opened fire on people in a Shia Muslim mosque in Muscat on Monday evening. 
The six people killed by the gunmen were four Pakistani nationals, an Indian, and a police officer responding to the attack, which militant group Daesh later claimed responsibility for. Pakistan described the assault as a “terror attack” while Oman police said the gunmen were “influenced by misguided ideas.”
“The bodies of the Pakistanis martyred in the Muscat attack will arrive in Pakistan today via PIA flights,” a spokesperson of the airline said in a statement. 
It said Sulaiman Nawaz’s body will reach Lahore via PIA flight PK 230 at 5:00 p.m. while Syed Qaiser Abbas Bukhari’s body will be brought back to the country via PIA flight PK226 from Muscat to Karachi. From there, it will be flown to Lahore by flight PK 302, the spokesperson said. 
Ghulam Abbas and Hasan Abbas’ bodies will reach Islamabad from Muscat by PIA flight PK 292 at 1:00 p.m., the spokesperson said. 
“All steps have been taken to hand over the bodies of the martyred to their relatives immediately after they return to Pakistan,” the spokesperson said. 
Daesh’s operations have indicated the group is attempting a comeback after it was crushed by a US-led coalition following its occupation of large swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria and declared a caliphate.
It also inspired lone-wolf attacks in the West.
Any inroads in Gulf Arab oil producers such as Oman would raise fears in Washington and the region which has long viewed militant groups as a major threat.
Dozens of people at the mosque in Oman were wounded with around 30 people treated at local hospitals, including for gunshot wounds.
Monday evening marked the beginning of Ashura, an annual period of mourning, which many Shia Muslims mark publicly, to commemorate the 7th-century death of Hussain, a grandson of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). 
The attack was largely unprecedented in Oman, where most of its citizens follow the Ibadi Muslim faith that shares many similarities with mainstream Sunni Islam. Oman has a small but influential Omani Shia population. 
Like other Gulf countries, there is a large and significant foreign workforce in Oman too.
Additional inputs from Reuters


Pakistan’s national airline announces direct Umrah flights from Quetta, Faisalabad to Jeddah

Updated 18 July 2024
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Pakistan’s national airline announces direct Umrah flights from Quetta, Faisalabad to Jeddah

  • Flights from Quetta and Faisalabad to Jeddah to operate twice a week, says Pakistan International Airlines
  • Every year, thousands of Pakistanis travel to Islamic places of worship in Saudi Arabia for Umrah pilgrimage 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s national flag carrier announced on Thursday it would operate direct Umrah flights from the country’s Quetta and Faisalabad cities to Saudi Arabia’s Jeddah in a bid to facilitate pilgrims in the two cities. 
Thousands of Pakistanis travel to Saudi Arabia each month to visit the holy sites in Makkah and Madinah for the Umrah pilgrimage. Umrah is a voluntary Islamic pilgrimage to the Islamic sites in Saudi Arabia. A shorter version of the Hajj, it is voluntary and can be performed throughout the year. 
“PIA has announced direct flights from Quetta and Faisalabad to Jeddah on the strong insistence of pilgrims,” a spokesperson of the airline said in a statement. 
“Direct flights from Faisalabad and Quetta will be operated from August 6.”
The national airline’s spokesperson said two flights each from Quetta and Faisalabad to Jeddah would be operated per week. 
Balochistan Governor Sheikh Jafar Khan Mandokhail thanked Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif for backing the initiative. 
He said people in Balochistan previously had to travel to Karachi two days in advance to avail a direct Umrah flight to Saudi Arabia. Mandokhail said direct flights from Quetta to Jeddah will facilitate Baloch pilgrims in their travel. 
“And when they [passengers from Balochistan] returned they had to stay for a couple of days in Karachi to wait for a flight or another mode of transportation to return [to Balochistan],” he said.