‘Makkah Road Initiative’ to fast-track Malaysian and Indonesian Hajj pilgrims

Malaysian Muslim pilgrims arrive in the Saudi Red Sea port city of Jeddah on their way to Makkah. (File photo AFP)
Updated 15 July 2018

‘Makkah Road Initiative’ to fast-track Malaysian and Indonesian Hajj pilgrims

  • Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and Indonesia join forces to launch the “Makkah Road Initiative"
  • It will help Hajj pilgrims to fast-track journeys to the Holy Land

KUALA LUMPUR: Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and Indonesia have joined forces to launch the “Makkah Road Initiative” this year, a pre-clearance system that will help Hajj pilgrims to fast-track journeys to the Holy Land.
Two flights carrying Hajj pilgrims were commissioned at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport to mark the official launch, which was attended by officials from Malaysia, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia.
According to Minister in the Malaysian Prime Minister’s Office for Islamic Affairs, Dr. Mujahid Yusuf, who also launched the Makkah Road Initiative, pilgrims will no longer have to wait in long queues to finalize documentation such as visa stamps, customs, and health screenings.
“All these will be sorted out in KLIA, and when our (Malaysian) pilgrims arrive (in Madinah), they can just take the bus to the hotel. Their luggage will be managed by the Saudi authorities,” Dr. Yusuf added.
A world first, the initiative has been made possible by multi-agency collaboration within Saudi Arabia, as well as weeks of preparation by officials in the Kingdom, Malaysia and Indonesia.
The Makkah Road Initiative will cut time and entrance procedures for pilgrims from Malaysia and Indonesia to Saudi Arabia through a “unified electronic paths” and “pre-clearance procedures” before arrival at Madinah airport, according to officials.
The services provided under the initiative include issuing visas, customs and passport procedures, facilitating health requirements, baggage management, and housing arrangements in Makkah.
The initiative also involves checking off the pilgrims’ entry visas into the Kingdom at the airport when the flight departs. Travel arrangements will be “confirmed electronically”, including health requirements where pilgrims can skip the paper documents on vaccines at the airport in their own country.
Fingerprints and passports are to be taken and stamped “electronically” in their home country before departure. Pilgrims will fly from either the Kuala Lumpur International Airport or the Soekarno-Hatta International Airport, and will arrive at the Prince Mohammed bin Abdul Aziz in Madinah.
The pilgrims will check out at the airport arrival hall “like a domestic flight” while their luggage will be sorted to their places of residence by the Ministry of Hajj.
With an increasing number of Muslim pilgrims to Makkah each year, the Saudi Arabian government has made serious efforts to streamline the process.
“We really appreciate this progress by the Kingdom,” said Zainol Rahim Zainuddin, Malaysian ambassador to the Kingdom, adding that the initiative showcased the close partnership between the governments of the Kingdom and Malaysia.
Indonesia, which has the biggest Muslim population in the world, had 221,000 of pilgrims arriving in Makkah last year. Malaysia, a Muslim majority nation, increased its number of pilgrims to 31,300 in 2017 from an initial projection of 30,200.
The Makkah Road Initiative is part of the National Transition Programs (2020). It aims to fulfil the Vision 2030 objective of having well-developed public services and infrastructure throughout the Kingdom.

Saudi Crown Prince takes Pakistan bond ‘to new level’

Updated 18 February 2019

Saudi Crown Prince takes Pakistan bond ‘to new level’

  • Asseri said Saudi Arabia has deferred payments on oil worth billions of US dollars from time to time in order to ease pressure on the Pakistan economy
  • Pakistan’s relatively young population is also hoping for a stronger relationship with the Kingdom

RIYADH: A major transformation is underway in Saudi Arabia’s economic relationship with Pakistan, according to Dr. Ali Awadh Asseri, a former ambassador to Islamabad.

In a wide-ranging interview with Arab News, the former envoy said greater interaction between business and the private sectors in both countries will take the historical bond “to a new level.” 

Asseri, who spent nine years in Islamabad and was the second-longest serving Saudi ambassador to the country, said: “We know that Saudi Arabia and Pakistan have always enjoyed an incomparable level of understanding and friendship based on religion, culture and values. There is a historical bond between the two countries. 

“I have no doubt that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is taking a cohesive approach to strengthen the relationship and take it to another level.” 

Asseri said that while Saudi Arabia and Pakistan cooperated closely on security matters, bilateral trade between the countries remained limited to about $4 billion. 

“We need to ... encourage the private sectors to interact more. We can help Pakistan’s industry and we need to become more involved in the trade sector. There are advanced industries and firms in Pakistan, and they have raw materials — it’s a good environment for investors.”

Asseri said Saudi Arabia has deferred payments on oil worth billions of US dollars from time to time in order to ease pressure on the Pakistan economy. The Kingdom is also making billion-dollar direct investments in the country in line with the China-Pakistan economic corridor. 

“I am happy to see a major transformation underway in Saudi-Pakistani economic relationships with our leadership and government deciding to invest in the economic development of Pakistan,” he said. 

The former ambassador said frequent official visits between the two countries were important. 

“I came back recently from Pakistan, and the vibe of the media, government and people was so optimistic. Pakistanis were excited about the crown prince’s visit. People hope it will bring great opportunities for the economy as well as strengthening the political and social ties between the two countries,” he said.

Asseri said Saudi Arabia and Pakistan had faced many challenges together in recent decades.

In 2001, during Asseri’s first year as Saudi ambassador in Pakistan, the 9/11 attacks on New York led to greater cooperation between Islamabad and Riyadh in dealing with terrorism.

The Kingdom had been closely involved with Pakistan since its independence, he said. “King Abdul Aziz sent King Saud and Prince Faisal to Pakistan at that time. So if we go back through history, we can see that this relationship is truly unique.” 

Asseri also highlighted the ties between the two countries on humanitarian issues, security and military issues, saying: “Pakistan has suffered serious security and humanitarian consequences of the decades-long war in Afghanistan, besides housing millions of Afghan refugees.

“Together Saudi Arabia and Pakistan have worked for peace in Afghanistan and will do whatever it takes to achieve this long-desired goal.”

Asseri said Pakistanis were quick to show their appreciation for Saudi Arabia’s assistance in the past regardless of the change in Pakistani leadership over the years. 

“The relationship is unique because it is between people. Such a relationship (will) keep growing with every generation.

“When Pakistan was in a difficult position in 2005 after a devastating earthquake, Saudi Arabia went out of its way to provide the support it needed. Prince Ahmed bin Abdul Aziz and eight ministers visited Balochistan. Field hospitals were created with Saudi doctors treating people and performing surgery there.” 

Pakistan also has a deep loyalty to Saudi Arabia, Asseri said. “Pakistan has military expertise, and through cooperation between the two countries, it helped the Saudi military during its development.” 

“The Kingdom’s recent appointment of a Saudi commercial attache in Pakistan will also bolster the economic links between the two countries,” he said. 

“There are good minds in Pakistan and good products that could be manufactured in Saudi Arabia.”

Asseri said he is also optimistic that Saudi plans to build a major oil refinery in Gwadar will help create an “economic hub.” 

The former envoy said the Saudi crown prince’s visit to Pakistan will add to the relationship between the countries. 

Pakistan’s relatively young population is also hoping for a stronger relationship with the Kingdom. 

“Young Pakistanis who are advanced in the IT and industrial sectors are looking forward to helping and cooperating with Saudi Arabia, and sharing their experiences and knowledge,” he said.