Saudi Tourism Authority launches Nusuk travel app in Pakistan

Special Saudi Tourism Authority launches Nusuk travel app in Pakistan
Muslim pilgrims gather around the Kaaba at the Grand Mosque in Makkah, Saudi Arabia on June 30, 2023 during the annual Hajj pilgrimage. (AFP/File)
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Updated 22 August 2023
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Saudi Tourism Authority launches Nusuk travel app in Pakistan

Saudi Tourism Authority launches Nusuk travel app in Pakistan
  • Nusuk helps travelers organize their entire visit, from applying for eVisas to booking hotels and flights
  • Business leaders says Nusuk app would allow Pakistani travelers access to more Saudi cities

KARACHI: The Saudi Tourism Authority launched the travel planning and booking app Nusuk in Pakistan on Tuesday, a day after Islamabad and Riyadh signed an agreement to increase the number of flights and boost tourism.

Nusuk is Saudi Arabia's first-ever official planning, booking, and experience platform to create Hajj or Umrah itineraries to Makkah, Madinah, and beyond. With Nusuk, travelers from all over the world can easily organize their entire visit to the Kingdom, from applying for an eVisa to booking hotels and flights.

The platform was launched in Karachi by the Saudi Minister of Hajj and Umrah Dr. Tawfiq Al-Rabiah who arrived in Pakistan on a four-day visit on Sunday with a delegation comprising the deputy ministers of Hajj and Umrah, tourism and international cooperation, the president of Saudi Airlines, the general authority of civil aviation, and representatives from Saudi Aviation.

Representatives of Pakistan's business community and Hajj and Umrah tour operators attended the launch event.




A screen grab taken from Nusuk's website shows the app's logo and the Holy Kaaba in the background. (Photo courtesy: nusuk.sa)

“This platform is part of Saudi Vision 2030 that aims at opening Saudi Arabia to the world through increasing tourism,” Furqan Abdul Kadir, convener of the Central Standing Committee on Hajj and Umrah at the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FPCCI) which is organizing the launch event, told Arab News.

Kadir said the platform's launch would allow tourists direct access to many Saudi cities, making it easier for Pakistanis to travel to the Kingdom.

“Apart from the ease of having access to the Saudi visa, this would also increase interaction between the people of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, resulting in a further strengthened relationship,” Kadir added.  

According to the Saudi Tourism Authority, tourism development is an important driver of growth for the Kingdom's future and one of the key pillars at the heart of the Vision 2030 plan to help diversify the country's economy and reduce its reliance on oil.

The Ministry of Tourism, the Saudi Tourism Authority and the Tourism Development Fund were established in line with best international practices to support the growth of the tourism sector.

The launch of the Nusuk app comes on the heels of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia signing an agreement on Monday to increase the number of flights between the two countries, with Al-Rabiah saying the deal would also help bring down the cost of travel.


Pakistani officials say Makkah Route initiative approved for Karachi airport

Pakistani officials say Makkah Route initiative approved for Karachi airport
Updated 17 sec ago
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Pakistani officials say Makkah Route initiative approved for Karachi airport

Pakistani officials say Makkah Route initiative approved for Karachi airport
  • The initiative allows for the completion of immigration procedures at the pilgrims’ country of departure
  • Pakistani pilgrims performing Hajj under government scheme have already been availing facility in Islamabad

KARACHI: Saudi authorities have approved the expansion of the Makkah Route initiative, which is aimed at facilitating Pakistani Hajj pilgrims, to the Karachi airport, Pakistani officials said on Monday.

The statement came a day after a two-member delegation from Saudi Arabia visited the Jinnah International Airport in the southern Pakistani city to inspect facilities and discuss arrangements for the pilgrims.

Launched in 2019, the initiative allows for the completion of immigration procedures at the pilgrims’ country of departure. This makes it possible to bypass long immigration and customs checks upon reaching Saudi Arabia, which significantly reduces the waiting time and makes the entry process smoother and faster.

Pakistani pilgrims performing Hajj under the government scheme have been availing this facility at the airport in Islamabad for the last couple of years and the government wanted the initiative to be extended to other cities as well.

“The Saudis have okayed Jinnah International Airport Karachi,” Saifullah, a spokesperson for the Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority (PCAA), told Arab News.

Gulzar Soomro, director at the Hajj directorate in Karachi, confirmed the development, saying a contract had also been awarded to a company to design the project.

A spokesperson for Saudi Arabia’s embassy in Islamabad could not be immediately reached for confirmation.

During the visit to the Karachi airport on Sunday, the two-member Saudi delegation showed particular interest in the entry process for intending pilgrims and the allocation of immigration space, according to the PCAA. It came weeks after Pakistan’s religious affairs ministry announced completion of a survey for the Makkah Route initiative at the Karachi airport.

The South Asian country expects more than 60 percent of pilgrims performing Hajj this year to benefit from the initiative. People opting for the private Hajj scheme can also avail the facility, given the tour operators providing them services have contacted the Pakistani religious ministry for the purpose.

Saudi Arabia last year restored Pakistan’s pre-pandemic Hajj quota of 179,210 pilgrims and abolished the upper age limit of 65 years. More than 81,000 Pakistani pilgrims performed Hajj under the government scheme in 2023, while the rest used private tour operators.

This year’s pilgrimage is expected to run from June 14 till June 19.


India’s Congress seeks action against Modi for ‘objectionable’ comments about Muslims

India’s Congress seeks action against Modi for ‘objectionable’ comments about Muslims
Updated 22 April 2024
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India’s Congress seeks action against Modi for ‘objectionable’ comments about Muslims

India’s Congress seeks action against Modi for ‘objectionable’ comments about Muslims
  • Modi, who is seeking a third consecutive term, referred to Muslims as ‘infiltrators’ during Sunday’s speech
  • Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi said Modi’s ‘deeply objectionable’ statement violated sections of law

NEW DELHI: India’s main opposition Congress party petitioned the Election Commission on Monday to act against Prime Minister Narendra Modi for making what it said were “deeply objectionable” comments about Muslims that violated election laws.

Modi, who is seeking a rare third consecutive term, referred to Muslims as “infiltrators” during a campaign speech on Sunday, drawing widespread criticism from opposition groups.

In his speech, Modi said the Congress election manifesto promised to confiscate and redistribute the wealth of Indians, which it denies.

Modi said if the party adhered to remarks in 2006 of then Congress Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that minority Muslims should have the “first claim on resources” to share in the fruits of development, then wealth would be distributed to “infiltrators” and those who have “more children.”

Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its affiliates often refer to Muslim militants illegally crossing the border from Pakistan as infiltrators.

They have also criticized Muslims for their higher birth rates and invoked fears that India’s Muslim population would overtake that of its majority Hindus.

India’s estimated 200 million Muslims make up the world’s third-largest Muslim population. India has a population of 1.42 billion people.

Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi said Modi’s “deeply objectionable” statement violated sections of the law that prohibit candidates from asking people to vote or refrain from voting for anyone on the grounds of “religion,” “community” or “religious symbols.”

“We have asked the Election Commission to state that this is the position in law,” Singhvi told reporters, urging it to act against Modi in the same way it would against anyone else accused of similar offenses.

The Election Commission did not respond to a request for comment.

Modi’s government has repeatedly been accused of discrimination against Muslims, with civil society, opposition groups, and some foreign governments raising concerns over decisions they say are aimed at fanning discrimination and keeping the BJP in power.

The government has denied all accusations, and Modi has said he works for the betterment of all.

Under election laws, the Election Commission can ask a party or its leader to respond to a complaint, issue adviseries cautioning them or prohibit them from campaigning for a specified period, or launch a criminal case against repeat offenders. India’s seven-week election began on April 19 and will end on June 1, with results due on June 4.


Pakistan’s Sindh to step up efforts against street crime after dozens killed in Karachi

Pakistan’s Sindh to step up efforts against street crime after dozens killed in Karachi
Updated 22 April 2024
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Pakistan’s Sindh to step up efforts against street crime after dozens killed in Karachi

Pakistan’s Sindh to step up efforts against street crime after dozens killed in Karachi
  • Karachi, the country’s commercial hub, has reported nearly one murder every other day since the start of this year
  • At least 18 killings, including that of an army major, occurred during muggings in the holy fasting month of Ramadan

KARACHI: The government in Pakistan’s southern Sindh province on Monday decided to intensify its efforts against rampant street crime, following the killing of dozens of people in muggings and other violent crimes in the provincial capital this year.

The decision was made at a law and order meeting held at the Chief Minister’s House, which was attended by members of the provincial cabinet, top bureaucrats, provincial and city police chiefs, Karachi Corps Commander Lt Gen Babar Iftikhar and Sindh Rangers Director-General Maj Gen Azhar Waqas.

The development comes after the killing of at least 57 people in Karachi, the country’s commercial hub and home to roughly 30 million people, averaging nearly one murder every other day since the start of this year, according to a tally collected from media reports.

At least 18 of the killings, including that of an army major who was assigned with the Coast Guard, occurred during the holy fasting month of Ramadan. The officer was shot by muggers on March 30 and died after being hospitalized for a week.

“Meeting has decided to take measures to monitor the sale of stolen or snatched mobile phones and vehicles as spare parts or in their complete form in the markets of Karachi,” read a statement issued from the CM House after the huddle.

Officials informed the participants that the police had 467 encounters with criminals this year, in which 67 suspects were killed, 489 were injured and 1,766 were arrested.

Additionally, the police were directed to revamp Madadgar-15 service for reporting crimes.

“The Home Minister announced that an additional 168 vehicles, including 120 motorbikes, would be deployed to enhance the police force’s capabilities,” the statement read.

“The Chief Minister instructed the Inspector General (IG) of police to initiate the E-tagging of repeat offenders.”


Pakistan posts highest monthly current account surplus in nine years

Pakistan posts highest monthly current account surplus in nine years
Updated 22 April 2024
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Pakistan posts highest monthly current account surplus in nine years

Pakistan posts highest monthly current account surplus in nine years
  • Cumulatively, the current account balance improved from July till March, recording a deficit of only $0.5 billion
  • Karachi-based research firm Topline Securities says significant monthly surplus is due to higher remittances on Eid

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan recorded a current account surplus of $619 million in March, the central bank said on Monday, which was the highest in nine years.

Cumulatively, the country’s current account balance improved significantly from July 2023 till March 2024 and recorded a deficit of $0.5 billion only, compared to $4.1 billion during the same period in the previous year, according to the State Bank of Pakistan.

“Pakistan recorded Current Account Surplus of $619mn in Mar-2024 vs $537mn last year and $98mn in Feb-2024,” Topline Securities, a Karachi-based brokerage and research firm, said in its report.

“This is the highest monthly surplus after 9 years. We believe significant monthly surplus is due to higher remittances amid Eid inflows.”

The development comes amid hopes of the country’s successful talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a new bailout program, after Pakistan’s current $3 billion arrangement expires this month, as well as investment from friendly countries, including Saudi Arabia.

In March, remittances sent by Pakistani workers abroad increased by 31 percent on a month-on-month basis, with Saudi Arabia being the top contributor.

Pakistani expatriates remitted a total of $3 billion back home in the month of March, according to official figures shared by the SBP.

Pakistan’s finance minister, Muhammad Aurangzeb, has recently held meetings with official of the IMF, World Bank and other multilateral financial institutions.

During the meetings, the minister highlighted the government’s reforms and the country’s improved economic indicators for investment.


Ex-PM Khan’s party to launch Pakistan-wide agitation over by-poll ‘rigging’

Ex-PM Khan’s party to launch Pakistan-wide agitation over by-poll ‘rigging’
Updated 22 April 2024
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Ex-PM Khan’s party to launch Pakistan-wide agitation over by-poll ‘rigging’

Ex-PM Khan’s party to launch Pakistan-wide agitation over by-poll ‘rigging’
  • Pakistan conducted by-polls in 21 constituencies amid suspension of mobile networks
  • Unofficial results suggest PM Sharif’s party bagged most seats in Sunday’s by-elections

ISLAMABAD: Jailed former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party will hold nationwide rallies on April 26 to protest the results of Sunday’s by-elections in Pakistan, PTI members said on Monday.

Pakistan conducted by-polls in 21 national and provincial constituencies on Sunday amid a partial suspension of mobile phone networks in parts of Punjab and Balochistan provinces. The polls were the first major electoral exercise since the Feb. 8 national election, marred by a nationwide mobile Internet shutdown on election day, arrests and violence in its build-up and unusually delayed results, leading to accusations that the vote was rigged.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party, which formed a coalition in the center after Feb. 8 polls, won two out of the five national seats and 10 out of 16 provincial seats, according to unofficial results reported widely by local media.

Speaking at a press conference, members of Khan’s PTI said the by-polls were “blatantly rigged” in Gujrat, Sheikhupura, Lahore and elsewhere in the country, and announced a series of demonstrations to protest the results.

“This Friday... we call for a protest in all four provinces,” said Omar Ayub, opposition leader in the National Assembly, adding that protests would follow in Faisalabad, Karachi and others parts of the country soon.

PTI Chairman Gohar Khan said April 21 was a “black day for democracy” in the country.

“I have neither seen such blatant and open violation of law, nor have I heard of it,” he said. “We demand the election commission that those who rigged [the polls] in Punjab, their notification be withheld.”

Khan, who was PM from 2018-2022, remains jailed in multiple cases, including a 14-year jail sentence for him and his wife for the illegal sale of state gifts. Khan was first imprisoned after being handed a three-year prison sentence in August 2023 by the Election Commission for not declaring assets earned from selling gifts worth more than 140 million rupees ($501,000) in state possession and received during his premiership. In January, Khan and wife Bushra Bibi were handed 14-year jail terms following a separate investigation by the country’s top anti-graft body into the same charges involving state gifts.

An anti-graft court in Islamabad also handed Khan a 10-year jail term in January for revealing state secrets, a week before national elections on Feb. 8. In February, Khan and his wife were also sentenced to seven years on charges they violated the country’s marriage law when they wed in 2018 — the fourth sentence so far for Khan and the second for his wife.

Khan has also been indicted under Pakistan’s anti-terrorism law in connection with violence against the military that erupted following his brief arrest related to the Al-Qadir case on May 9. A section of Pakistan’s 1997 anti-terrorism act prescribes the death penalty as maximum punishment. Khan has denied the charges under the anti-terrorism law, saying he was in detention when the violence took place.

Khan’s convictions mean he is banned from holding public office and ruled the 71-year-old out of general elections earlier this year. Arguably Pakistan’s most popular politician, Khan says all cases against him are motivated to keep him out of politics.