Exclusive: Pakistan’s Defense Minister slams ‘internationalization’ of Hajj debate, reiterates Islamabad commitment to Riyadh

Pakistan’s Defense Minister Khurram Dastgir Khan speaks at the launch ceremony of the Arab News Pakistan edition at the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad on Thursday. (AN photo)
Updated 09 February 2018

Exclusive: Pakistan’s Defense Minister slams ‘internationalization’ of Hajj debate, reiterates Islamabad commitment to Riyadh

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Minister of Defense Khurram Dastgir Khan has slammed media reports calling for the “internationalization” of the Muslim holy pilgrimage (the Hajj).
Speaking exclusively to Arab News, Dastgir said: “We are determined not to be misled or waylaid by such stratagems. The custody of the Two Holy Mosques is a sacred trust that has been held by the Kingdom and we expect and hope that it shall continue to be,” he said.
Dastgir’s comments came on the sidelines of a keynote speech that he gave at the inauguration of the Pakistan edition of Arab News at the Islamabad Marriott on Thursday evening.
He said the relationship between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan has “turned a new page,” going beyond the “traditional friendship” both nations have enjoyed over several decades.
The Pakistani defense minister said the relationship had been “stuck in the eighties” but is now transforming “into a more serious and determined partnership not only (in the field of) defense but also in the realm of economics and trade” to enhance and expand bilateral ties.

“Pakistan intends to be an important part of the Vision 2030 of his Highness, the Crown Prince (which) he has (envisaged for) Saudi Arabia,” Dastgir said.
Part of the defense cooperation plan Pakistan wishes to have is to manufacture “some measure of defense equipment” in the Kingdom. He said it was imperative for Islamic countries to take concrete steps toward “self-reliance” for their own “security and defense.”
“Talks are proceeding very fruitfully and we expect to have very good results,” Dastgir said.
He added that Afaal Al-Sahil, the fourth joint exercise of Pakistan and Saudi Navy operation forces currently underway until Feb. 16, is just one of “many more exercises” to come. Pakistan expects to hold combined training with Saudi security forces alongside its army and air force to enhance operational skills against terrorism and to exchange professional capabilities.
“This cooperation has turned a new page,” said Dastgir, reiterating his country’s support for Saudi Arabia. “Pakistan has always been there for the Kingdom and we shall continue to be there.”
Speaking earlier to an audience of diplomats, foreign dignitaries, academics and journalists who attended the launch of arabnews.pk online edition, the Pakistani defense minister welcomed the arrival of the media outlet to Islamabad.
“I am delighted that the people of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, who have been a steadfast partner of Pakistan throughout our existence, in a new and very interesting and exciting way through Arab News have decided to become part of this emerging, remerging, rebirth of the Pakistan story.”
“My congratulations to the Pakistan team, which is launching this new edition. I commend the editors — the rapidly graying editors as they say — of Arab News and its owners for taking this far-sighted decision to become part of the success of the Pakistan story. Congratulations and I wish you success,” he said.


Saudi rural tourism recovers after months of forced isolation

Updated 11 July 2020

Saudi rural tourism recovers after months of forced isolation

  • Saudis turn to domestic traveling and flock to their nation’s cooler cities and rural areas

TAIF: As Saudi citizens turn to domestic tourism in the country’s summer resorts, adapting to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, rural areas have become targeted by local tourists wishing to get away from the soaring temperatures in most of the Kingdom’s cities.

Visitors are now choosing cold Saudi cities instead of Europe, which they are accustomed to visiting, such as Taif, Al-Baha, and Abha.

COVID-19 has postponed all plans to travel abroad, and attention has now focused on domestic tourism amid strict health protocols in parks, gardens and recreational areas.

Walid Al-Hamidi, vice president of the Tourism Development Council, confirmed to Arab News that Asir, with its facilities and attractions, was ready to receive summer visitors from across the country.

He said that under the directives of Asir's governor, who supervises all activities and events directly and constantly, many committees had been formed to prepare a successful summer tourism season, to optimize the opportunity and allow people to enjoy the exceptional ambiance of Asir.

“A comprehensive tourism plan was set up two years ago, which resulted in a successful Al-Soudah Season with the support of Asir’s Investment Authority,” Al-Hamidi added.

He noted that Asir’s directives aimed this year to build an exceptional tourism model that meets optimal health standards in dealing with COVID-19.

The model is supported by the “Nashama Asir” team — consisting of 4,000 volunteers — who have been trained for months and have all the necessary skills to make the season successful. Their work will continue until the end of the pandemic and throughout the summer.

“Everyone is ready at public facilities, gardens and parks, to serve tourists,” he said, adding “tourists coming from all the over the Kingdom will be welcomed with smiles, enhanced services, and warm welcomes.”

Dr. Sami Al-Obaidi, chairman of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Taif, told Arab News that the tourism sector was the economic backbone of any country or city.

He said that Taif was considered one of the most important tourist cities, given its many attractions  that made it top of any list of places to visit in the Kingdom.

“Suspending travel abroad, and limiting tourism … due to the coronavirus pandemic, makes us, as officials and citizens in Taif, well placed for a beautiful and safe tourism season for Taif’s citizens and visitors,” said Al-Obaidi.

“Meetings are held around the clock, headed by Saad Al-Maimouni, the governor of Taif, with the participation of the relevant authorities.”

He expected all sectors, especially tourism, hospitality and a few other businesses in Taif, to recover to some extent during this season, especially now tourists have already started flocking to the region, with numbers set to increase over the coming weeks.