Minister wants Makkah Route initiative coverage for all Pakistani Hajj pilgrims next year

Thousands of Pakistani pilgrims have already benefited from the pilot program in Islamabad. (AFP/File)
Updated 02 December 2019

Minister wants Makkah Route initiative coverage for all Pakistani Hajj pilgrims next year

  • Pakistan eyeing ‘Makkah Route’ expansion

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan will ask Saudi Arabia to expand the Makkah Route initiative for all Pakistani Hajj pilgrims next year, Pir Noor-ul-Haq Qadri, federal minister for religious affairs, said in an exclusive interview with Arab News in Islamabad on Friday.

The initiative by Saudi Arabia was finalized during Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s maiden visit to Pakistan in February. Some 22,000 Pakistani pilgrims were cleared for immigration and customs prior to their Hajj departure during this year’s pilot project in Islamabad.

“I will reach Jeddah on a five-day official visit on Tuesday to talk with Saudi authorities and sign an agreement for Hajj 2020,” Qadri said, adding that there are “many things on our agenda,” such as the expansion of the Makkah Route initiative, Hajj quota and e-visa facilities.

Thousands of Pakistani pilgrims have already benefited from the pilot program in Islamabad.

“This year, we are going to request the Saudi government to expand it to the whole country, otherwise at least Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar and Quetta should be included,” the minister said. 

He added it would ultimately be the Kingdom’s decision based on costs related to the expansive project.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Pakistan’s Federal Minister for Religious Affairs Pir Noor-ul-Haq Qadri will arrive in Jeddah on Tuesday to sign an agreement for Hajj 2020.

• Other things on the agenda include expansion of the Makkah Route initiative, Hajj quota and e-visa facilities.

However, Qadri was hopeful that the project would at least be extended to all provincial capitals by next year and said that the Saudis had delivered on almost all of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s requests.

“They have given us the Makkah  Route initiative, an e-visa facility and an increase in the Hajj quota to 200,000,” he said.

Pakistan is the fifth country to get an e-visa facility with Saudi Arabia, in addition to Algeria, Morocco, Nigeria and France, the minister said.

Qadri said that he would ask the Saudi government to relax rules that required all Hajj tour operators to be registered with the International Air Transport Association.

Qadri said the Vision 2030 reform plans under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had revolutionized Hajj and Umrah operations in a short amount of time, especially through technological innovation.

“The pilgrims have been provided with maximum facilities. He is making Hajj very easy,” he said.


World first AI Artathon announces participating teams in Saudi Arabia

Updated 13 min 39 sec ago

World first AI Artathon announces participating teams in Saudi Arabia

  • Applicants spent three days taking part in workshops and training sessions to enhance their skills, before forming teams to create concepts for AI art
  • The top teams will join a two-month AI training program in order to create their final artworks

RIYADH: The 20 teams that qualified for Saudi Arabia’s AI Artathon were announced on Saturday at the King Abdul Aziz International Conference Center.
The world’s first AI Artathon officially opened on Thursday in Riyadh, with 300 experts in data science and AI, graphic designers and artists competing to create visual arts using artificial intelligence.
The gathering received over 2,000 applications from 50 countries.
Applicants spent three days taking part in workshops and training sessions to enhance their skills, before forming teams to create concepts for AI art. The top teams will join a two-month AI training program in order to create their final artworks.
The top ten pieces will be selected for an exhibition at the Global AI Summit, held in Riyadh on March 30 and 31, and the top three teams will split a prize fund of SAR500,000 ($133,000)
Prince Badr Bin Abdullah Bin Farhan, minister of culture, said the ministry was pleased to be supporting the initiative of the Artathon, and highlighted its importance for Saudi Arabia.
“Since its inception, the Ministry of Culture has been invested in nurturing the talent and creativity of people in Saudi Arabia, and the study of the connection between art and AI will give us ample opportunity to do so,” he said in his address.
Abdullah bin Sharaf Al-Ghamdi, president of the Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority (SDAIA), said that the Artathon is intended to highlight the creative potential of AI and its positive benefits to humanity.
“The AI Artathon is an important part of the Global AI Summit. We are very pleased to see all of the competitors coming together, from Saudi Arabia and around the world, to collaborate and create,” said Al-Ghamdi.
“The Global AI Summit aims to bring together global government and business leaders, AI experts, academics and investors so that Saudi Arabia can lead discussions on how we can shape the future of AI together,” he added.
Esraa Madi, a data science instructor in the Artathon, said that she was happy to see the new opportunities for AI unfolding in the Kingdom.
“This is going to open so many doors in two previously unrelated fields: Art and AI. A lot of the artists came in not knowing how we as data scientists and AI experts could help them in their art, so it was interesting even though it was challenging,” she told Arab News.
Mohammed Dayal Al-Shamrani, a participating artist, told Arab News that he was happy to see more opportunities for local artists to showcase their talents back home instead of having to leave the country to get involved in art.
“I used to travel to Dubai a lot, because of the opportunities for artists that I couldn’t get back home. I even did the research for my doctorate in Dubai. But since these new opportunities have arisen here in Saudi, I haven’t needed to go back at all,” he said.
The Artathon program is sponsored by the Public Investment Fund and is supported by strategic partners the Ministry of Culture and the Saudi Federation for Cybersecurity, Programming, and Drones.