Pakistan receives over 26,000 Hajj applications in a week

Pakistan receives over 26,000 Hajj applications in a week
Thousands of Muslim pilgrims make their way across the valley of Mina, in western Saudi Arabia, to perform the "stoning of the devil" ritual on July 9, 2022. (AFP/File)
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Updated 23 March 2023
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Pakistan receives over 26,000 Hajj applications in a week

Pakistan receives over 26,000 Hajj applications in a week
  • The last date for submitting Hajj applications in Pakistan is March 31
  • Over 179,000 Pakistani pilgrims are expected to perform Hajj this year

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani banks have received over 26,000 Hajj applications from March 16 to 22, the country's religious affairs ministry said on Thursday, as the deadline to apply for the spiritual pilgrimage nears.

The Hajj is a spiritual journey that every Muslim adult must undertake once in his lifetime, to the holy sites in Makkah and Madinah, if he is sound of mind and financially and physically able to do so. It is one of the important five pillars of the Islamic faith.

The deadline to apply for the Hajj pilgrimage will expire on March 31. This year, 179,210 pilgrims from Pakistan are expected to travel to the kingdom after Riyadh restored Pakistan's pre-pandemic Hajj quota and also scrapped the upper age limit of 65 years to perform the pilgrimage. 

"Banks have received over 26,000 [Hajj] applications till March 22," Pakistan's Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony said in a statement. It added that the government would issue further directives to banks to facilitate pilgrims in the process after receiving their feedback. 

The ministry added that overseas Pakistanis would also be able to submit their medical fitness certificates that they received abroad. It said Hajj pilgrims who have not been vaccinated against coronavirus, can submit their applications after receiving a single dose of any of the vaccines approved by the kingdom. 

"However, they will have to get themselves fully vaccinated before departure and submit their certificates," the ministry said. "Apart from NADRA, any foreign vaccine certificate will also be accepted."

The ministry said that to accept Hajj applications, specified branches of designated banks would remain open on Saturday, March 25 and Sunday, March 26.

It said that pilgrims would have to buy the "Qurbani" [sacrifice] coupons in Saudi Arabia themselves, adding that the Pakistani Hajj Mission in the kingdom would facilitate them in doing so.

"The Qurbani coupon costs between SR700-1,000," the religion ministry said, adding that Hajj pilgrims would be informed when they would be required to submit their passports or get their biometric for the journey done. 

"Hajj applications will only be processed through selected banks," it added. 


Pakistan opens 60-hour joint military exercise with Saudi Arabia, US and Jordan among participating nations

Pakistan opens 60-hour joint military exercise with Saudi Arabia, US and Jordan among participating nations
Updated 25 February 2024
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Pakistan opens 60-hour joint military exercise with Saudi Arabia, US and Jordan among participating nations

Pakistan opens 60-hour joint military exercise with Saudi Arabia, US and Jordan among participating nations
  • The exercise is aimed at enhancing military-to-military cooperation under complex global security environment, Pakistani military says
  • Officials from Azerbaijan, Belarus, China, Myanmar, Germany, Indonesia, Japan and Oman will witness the exercise as military observers

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Sunday opened a 60-hour-long joint military exercise in its northwest, with Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United States (US) among the participating nations, the Pakistani military said.
The opening ceremony of the 7th International Pakistan Army Team Spirit (PATS) Exercise was held at the National Counter-Terrorism Center (NCTC) in Pabbi, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, according to the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the military’s media wing.
A total of 20 friendly countries, including Pakistan, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Maldives, Morocco, Qatar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Turkiye, United States of America and Uzbekistan, are participating in the exercise.
Pakistan’s military training director-general opened the exercise, which is aimed at enhancing military-to-military cooperation under complex international security environment.
“Pakistan Army Team Spirit is a mission-specific and task-oriented professional military exercise organized annually in Pakistan,” the ISPR said in a statement.
“The exercise calls for highest standard of physical fitness, mental agility/robustness and professional military expertise for quick decision-making in varied situations during conduct of challenging missions in near-real environment.”
Officials from Azerbaijan, Belarus, China, Myanmar, Germany, Indonesia, Japan and Oman will be witnessing the exercise as military observers, according to the ISPR.
“The exercise would help hone basic soldierly attributes besides interoperability through sharing of innovative ideas and mutual best practices,” it added.
Pakistan routinely holds joint air, ground and sea exercises with friendly nations to foster interoperability and joint deployment concepts to counter threats to global peace.
Several cadets from these nations annually visit the South Asian country, which has fought back militancy for decades, to undergo specialized military training.


Nine Pakistanis injured in UAE factory fire — Pakistan envoy

Nine Pakistanis injured in UAE factory fire — Pakistan envoy
Updated 25 February 2024
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Nine Pakistanis injured in UAE factory fire — Pakistan envoy

Nine Pakistanis injured in UAE factory fire — Pakistan envoy
  • The fire erupted late Saturday at the factory that produced chemical products for sanitizers, perfumes, Pakistani embassy says
  • The UAE is home to 1.5 million Pakistani expatriates and the second-largest source of remittances to Pakistan, after Saudi Arabia

ISLAMABAD: Nine Pakistani nationals were injured in a fire that erupted at a chemical factory in the United Arab Emirates’s (UAE) Ajman city, Pakistan’s top diplomat to the UAE said on Sunday.
The fire erupted late Saturday at the factory that produced chemical products used to make sanitizers and perfumes, according to the Pakistani embassy in the UAE.
The injured Pakistani nationals hailed from Shaheed Benazirabad in the southern Sindh province and Dera Ghazi Khan in the eastern province of Punjab.
“A sad accident of fire eruption occurred at sanitizers, perfumes related chemical products facility in Ajman, UAE late on February 24,” Faisal Niaz Tirmizi, Pakistan’s ambassador to the UAE, told Arab News.
“Nine Pakistanis got injured in the ill-fated incident who were immediately rushed to different hospitals.”
The UAE is home to some 1.5 million Pakistani expatriates and the second-largest source of remittances to the South Asian country, after Saudi Arabia. A majority of these Pakistanis includes skilled laborers and technicians.
Tirmizi said the injured Pakistanis were admitted to hospitals in Ajman, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah.
“I assure you that all possible assistance shall be extended to fellow Pakistanis who became victims of the accident,” he said.
Hussain Muhammad, the Pakistani consul general in Dubai, said they were constantly in touch with the Emirati authorities and ensuring all-possible assistance to the injured Pakistani nationals.
“We are ensuring all possible assistance to the injured Pakistanis and [officials of] the Welfare Wing of Pakistan’s Consulate General, Dubai visited the hospitals immediately after the unfortunate occurrence and are constantly in touch with the relevant authorities,” he told Arab News.


Rights activists say free speech ‘critically under threat’ in Pakistan as X disruption enters eighth day

Rights activists say free speech ‘critically under threat’ in Pakistan as X disruption enters eighth day
Updated 25 February 2024
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Rights activists say free speech ‘critically under threat’ in Pakistan as X disruption enters eighth day

Rights activists say free speech ‘critically under threat’ in Pakistan as X disruption enters eighth day
  • Access to the social media platform was restricted days after Pakistan’s controversial election, which was marred by rigging claims
  • Lawyer Jibran Nasir seeks contempt proceedings against Pakistan Telecommunication Authority for defying court’s order to restore X

KARACHI: Digital rights activists said on Sunday that free speech was “critically under threat” in Pakistan as the South Asian nation continued to experience a disruption of social media platform X for the eighth consecutive day, despite a high court ruling to immediately restore it.
The platform went down on the night of February 17, when a senior government official made a public admission of vote manipulation in the February 8 national election, which was marred by a mobile network outage and delays in release of constituency results.
The suspension of mobile networks and subsequent delays in poll results led to widespread allegations of vote-rigging and sparked protests, mainly by jailed former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, against alleged manipulation of results.
Usama Khilji, director of the Bolo Bhi Internet, censorship and gender advocacy group in Pakistan, said non-compliance of the court order meant there was “complete impunity” for the violation of the Constitution as well as orders of the higher judiciary.
“I think free speech is critically under threat,” he told Arab News, adding it was quite concerning as there was no protection of fundamental rights of the citizens of Pakistan.
The Sindh High Court this week ordered authorities to immediately restore the social media platform after concerned citizens in the southern Pakistan province of Sindh moved the court against the disruption of X.
Jibran Nasir, a human rights lawyer who filed one of the two petitions in the Sindh High Court, said he had already filed a contempt of court case against chairman of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), which regulates Internet and social media platforms in the country, over non-compliance of the court orders.
Arab News reached out to PTA spokesperson Malahat Obaid for a comment on the matter, but she referred the query to the interior ministry. There was no response from the interior ministry either.
Nasir, the human rights lawyer, said the unannounced restriction on X indicated the state was “scared of free speech.”
“These repeated interruptions, disruptions and now what we are seeing as prolonged ban on Twitter, or X, which is primarily a medium for information sharing where academic, journalists, politicians, people from different walks of life and the masses at large interact indicates that the state is scared of free speech, the state is petrified by the idea that citizens under the constitution can have the liberty to exercise their right to freedom of expression,” he told Arab News.
“It’s also indicative of the fear of the state that what can an empowered and informed electorate do, so that’s why to ensure that the people don’t have free access to flow of information and that they don’t have the medium where they can express their views.”
Nighat Dad, a digital rights activist, said while the disruption of X was a “blatant violation of civil liberties,” it had sent out a message to the world that Pakistan might not be a “good market” for them.
“Any banning or blocking, or disruption of any platform tells the world that there’s something wrong with our policies” she said, questioning who would bring their investment to Pakistan under such circumstances.
Amber Rahim Shamsi, director of the Center for Excellence in Journalism (CEJ) and another petitioner against the disruption, said the PTA was “violating its own rules and regulations” by banning the social media platform and the move had not helped stop any mis- or disinformation.
“Mis- and dis-information cannot be identified and documented on private Facebook accounts or WhatsApp groups,” said Shamsi, who also heads the iVerify Pakistan fact-checking platform.
“Banning Twitter has not stopped the spread of mis- and dis-information, but the ability of independent fact-checkers to trace and respond.”


Fast bowler Haris Rauf ruled out of PSL after dislocating shoulder

Fast bowler Haris Rauf ruled out of PSL after dislocating shoulder
Updated 25 February 2024
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Fast bowler Haris Rauf ruled out of PSL after dislocating shoulder

Fast bowler Haris Rauf ruled out of PSL after dislocating shoulder
  • Haris Rauf fell awkwardly on his shoulder during Karachi-Lahore match on Saturday
  • Doctors have advised Rauf to rest for 4-6 weeks to recover from injury, says Lahore Qalandars 

LAHORE: Fast bowler Haris Rauf has been ruled out of the remainder of the Pakistan Super League after dislocating his shoulder during two-time defending champion Lahore Qalandars’ two-wicket loss against Karachi Kings on Saturday.

The franchise said in a statement on Sunday that doctors have advised Rauf to rest for 4-6 weeks to recover from the injury after undergoing scans.

Rauf fell awkwardly on his shoulder in the last over while holding onto a stunning catch of Hasan Ali during Karachi’s thrilling run-chase as Lahore lost its fourth successive game in Pakistan’s premier domestic Twenty20 event.

Rauf struggled in the first three games but bounced back against Karachi with economical figures of 1-22 off his four overs.

“We are deeply saddened by Haris Rauf’s injury,” Lahore captain Shaheen Shah Afridi said. “It was painful to see him missing out … and his absence will be felt.”

Rauf’s injury is the second major bowling setback for Lahore after its premier spinner Rashid Khan of Afghanistan was ruled out before the tournament due to a back injury.


Pakistan approves mergers of leading Saudi company with stakes in its steel sector

Pakistan approves mergers of leading Saudi company with stakes in its steel sector
Updated 25 February 2024
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Pakistan approves mergers of leading Saudi company with stakes in its steel sector

Pakistan approves mergers of leading Saudi company with stakes in its steel sector
  • M/s Saudi Iron and Steel Company (Hadeed) deals in spot sales in Pakistan’s steel market, exports to South Asian country
  • Three mergers are not anticipated to raise competition concerns in the relevant market, says competition commission

ISLAMABAD: The Competition Commission of Pakistan (CCP) this week approved three mergers concerning a leading Saudi company that has a significant presence in Pakistan’s steel market, the regulatory body said. 

Based in the kingdom, M/s/ Saudi Iron and Steel Company (Hadeed) produces a range of steel products and deals in spot sales in Pakistan’s steel market. Hadeed also exports to the South Asian country through international traders.

The CCP said in its press release on Saturday that the Public Investment Fund (PIF), Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, sent a pre-merger application to CCP to acquire 100 percent shareholding of Hadeed from M/s. Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (“SABIC”).

“PIF has entered into a share purchase agreement with SABIC, under which SABIC agrees to sell its entire share capital of Hadeed to PIF,” the CCP said. 

The second merger involved Hadeed acquiring 100 percent shareholding of Al Rajhi Steel Industries Company from M/s. Mohammad Bin Abdulaziz Al Rajhi & Sons Investment. 

Al Rajhi Steel, established in 1978, is a subsidiary of Al Rajhi Invest and is known for its steel manufacturing capabilities in Saudi Arabia. This involved a share exchange agreement between Hadeed and Al Rajhi Invest.

In the third stage, the CCP said PIF intends to dispose off its 44.5 percent shareholding in Hadeed to M/s. Mohammad Bin Abdulaziz Al Rajhi & Sons Investment, the CCP. It added that the move was intended to share control over Hadeed and Al Rajhi Steel to improve their respective production capabilities and increase their operational efficiency.

“These transactions, as per the information available, are not anticipated to raise any competition concerns in the relevant market,” the CCP said. 

It said Pakistan’s steel sector is “one of the most important industries in the country” and with investments, can raise the country’s GDP to bring benefits to both the economy and investors.