KARACHI: Seen off by senior officials and hundreds of relatives, around 178 pilgrims from Pakistan’s financial hub of Karachi left for Hajj on an Air Blue flight in the early hours of Friday while 266 pilgrims flew out from Peshawar in the afternoon.
Another 300 pilgrims will set off on the sacred journey from Karachi this evening.
On Thursday, Pakistan kicked off Hajj flights with a Saudi Arabia Airlines flight taking off from Islamabad International Airport with 350 pilgrims and another private airline flying out from Lahore’s Allama Iqbal International Airport carrying 214 pilgrims.
In Karachi, the departing pilgrims were welcomed at the airport by Parliamentary Secretary Aftab Jahangir and Director Hajj Qazi Sami Ur Rehman who expressed gratitude to the Saudi government for their help in making Hajj operations seamless throughout Pakistan.
“Pakistan enjoys special brotherly ties with Saudi Arabia while Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, during his Pakistan visit [in February this year], has expressed his special love for our people,” Jahangir said while addressing a small ceremony at Karachi’s Jinnah International Airport. “He fulfilled his several promises, including creating ease for pilgrims.”
The Hajj director said with the help of Saudi authorities, the government of Pakistan had been able to ensure the best possible accommodation and transportation facilities for all pilgrims.
“We have made the best arrangements for you,” Rehman told the departing pilgrims.
Speaking to Arab News, he said 200,000 Pakistanis would perform Hajj this year, of which 120,000 were going on the sacred journey through a government scheme while 80,000 were using private travel operators.
From Karachi, around 26,000 pilgrims would perform Hajj on the government quota and 24,500 through private Hajj operators using 95 flights, Rehman said.
In Peshawar, a Saudi Arabian Airlines flight SV799 took 274 passengers, including 266 pilgrims, to Madinah, civil aviation officer Qazi Kamil said.
Governor Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Shah Farman and federal minister Ali Muhammad Khan arrived at Peshawar’s Bacha Khan International airport to see off the pilgrims.
“A total of 31,000 Pakistanis, including 12,500 who are performing Hajj through private operators, will fly to Saudi Arabia from Peshawar through 75 flights, including 30 Saudi Arabia Airlines flights and 29 Pakistan International Airlines flights,” Kamil told Arab News via phone from Peshawar.
Pilgrims will also leave for Saudi Arabia from other airports of the country, including Quetta, Multan, Faisalabad, Rahim Yar Khan, Sialkot and Sukkur. Pre-Hajj flight operations will conclude on August 5, while post-Hajj flights will operate from August 17 to September 14 this year.
On Sunday, a team of 64 Saudi officials arrived in Islamabad and installed an immigration system at the Islamabad International Airport to facilitate Pakistani pilgrims. Rehman said Karachi airport couldn’t as yet be covered under the Road to Makkah project, aimed at facilitating Muslim pilgrims around the world, because Karachi doesn’t have “many Hajj-specific flights and flights have other passengers for Saudi Arabia on board also.” He said Karachi would hopefully be made part of the project in subsequent years.
“Although we Karachiites are not beneficiaries this year of the Road to Makkah project, we hope it will be extended to Karachi next year,” said Muhammad Taha, 27, who was leaving to perform Hajj with ten members of his family.
Sweba Ali, 54, whose spouse Syed Syadat Ali had suffered a stroke last year, said the couple had been waiting for this moment for decades, and she would now be performing the pilgrimage as well as helping her husband complete the rituals.
“It was our life-long dream to perform Hajj and I am happy that we will be directly landing in the city of prophet Muhammad (PBUH),” Ali said as she pushed her husband’s wheelchair toward the departure gate. “I wish that the time would pass quickly and we can just reach Madinah.”