Saudi Arabia increases Hajj quota to 200,000 for Pakistani pilgrims

Pakistani pilgrims wait to pass security as the first group arrives in Jeddah on Monday. (AFP/File)
Updated 24 July 2019

Saudi Arabia increases Hajj quota to 200,000 for Pakistani pilgrims

  • Nearly 16,000 more slots added to the allocated number from last year
  • Initiative undertaken by King Salman based on PM Khan’s request

ISLAMABAD: Saudi Arabia has increased the Hajj quota for Pakistani pilgrims to 200,000 this year by adding 15,790 more slots to the existing numbers, government spokesperson said on Tuesday.
The move follows a visit by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to Islamabad in February this year, wherein Prime Minister Imran Khan had requested for the quota to be increased from 184,210 to 200,000, which the Saudi royal had duly accepted.
“Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdul Aziz has increased Hajj quota for Pakistanis by 15,790 on the personal request of Prime Minister Imran Khan,” Firdous Ashiq Awan, the Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Information said on Tuesday.
She added that the federal cabinet has formally approved the additional quota, following which the Ministry of Religious Affairs (MRA) would conduct a ballot to select the pilgrims for this year’s visit to the Kingdom. Around 60 percent of the additional quota will be allocated to the government’s Hajj scheme, while the remaining 40 percent will be used by private Hajj and tour operators.
Under the revised allocations, preference would be given to the underprivileged and those who have already applied in the past but remained unsuccessful.
However, they will be required to make the necessary deposit within four days of being selected.
“The prime minister has directed officials to ensure transparency and better facilities for the Hajj pilgrims,” Awan said.
Among other measures introduced during his visit, the crown prince had also granted permission to include Pakistan in the Road to Makkah project which is aimed at facilitating Hajj pilgrims from across the Muslim world.
Awan said that as part of the initiative, nearly 30,000 Pakistani pilgrims would be allowed to complete the immigration process at the Islamabad airport, instead of on arrival in Saudi Arabia, with plans in place to extend this facility to other airports as well.
For the purpose, a Saudi delegation comprising immigration and passport officials – led by director-general immigrations Major General Sulaiman Al-Yahya – had visited Pakistan in April this year wherein they evaluated the immigration facilities at airports in Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi, and Peshawar.
This year Saudi Arabia has also agreed, in principle, to provide e-Visas to Pakistanis performing Hajj, while Hajj flights from Pakistan to Saudi Arabia will begin from the first week of July.
As per official statistics, the MRA received 216,542 Hajj applications this year, out of which 107, 526 were chosen through a ballot conducted on March 11.


Gunmen kill journalist in northwestern Pakistan

Updated 15 min 50 sec ago

Gunmen kill journalist in northwestern Pakistan

  • Javedullah Khan was traveling with a police guard when two gunmen opened fire on his vehicle
  • Police says it was a targeted attack

PESHAWAR: A Pakistan journalist whose relatives were members of an anti-Taliban group has been gunned down, police confirmed Wednesday, the latest attack targeting media in the restive northwest of the country.
Javedullah Khan, 36, was shot dead late Tuesday in Matta, a former militant stronghold some 40-kilometers (24 miles) northwest of Pakistan’s picturesque Swat valley.
He worked as a bureau chief for the Urdu language newspaper Ausaf.
“Javed was traveling with a police guard when two gunmen opened fire on his vehicle. He died on the spot,” senior police official Muhammad Ijaz Khan told AFP.
Ali Muhammad a local police official, also confirmed the incident.
“It was a targeted attack,” Muhammad added.
“Many of his relatives, including a brother, uncles, and cousins were killed due to their involvement in anti-Taliban peace committees.”
For years, Pakistan has encouraged tribal vigilante forces, known locally as peace committees, to defend their villages against militants.
Most have been disbanded following a dramatic improvement in security across the country.
While militant networks have been severely disrupted in recent years, insurgents still retain the ability to launch attacks.
Amnesty International said Khan was an “exceptionally brave journalist” and called for an independent investigation into his killing.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, but militants have long targeted pro-government tribal elders in the past.
Pakistan routinely ranks among the world’s most dangerous countries for media workers, and reporters have frequently been detained, beaten and even killed for being critical of the powerful military or Islamist militants.