Saudi officials to review Makkah Route Initiative arrangements at Karachi airport next week

Saudi officials to review Makkah Route Initiative arrangements at Karachi airport next week
In this file photo, taken on May 29, 2023, a volunteer guides an elderly pilgrim arriving for Hajj in Makkah, Saudi Arabia. (SPA/File)
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Updated 21 February 2024

Saudi officials to review Makkah Route Initiative arrangements at Karachi airport next week

Saudi officials to review Makkah Route Initiative arrangements at Karachi airport next week
  • Pakistan’s religion ministry announced last year it would extend Makkah Route Initiative to cities other than Islamabad
  • Saudi officials to arrive in Karachi on Feb. 26 to inspect Makkah Route Initiative arrangements, says aviation authority

ISLAMABAD: A delegation of Saudi officials will arrive in Pakistan’s southern port city of Karachi on Feb. 26 to review direct immigration arrangements for Hajj pilgrims at the city’s Jinnah International Airport, according to a notification by Pakistan’s religion ministry this month. 
The Makkah Route Initiative is part of Saudi Arabia’s Guests of God Service Program, which King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud inaugurated in 2019 under the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 to diversify the economy. Under the scheme, Hajj pilgrims go through immigration facilities at their respective countries’ airports.
Pakistan’s religious affairs ministry said last year it planned to expand the Makkah Route Initiative to airports in cities other than Islamabad as well, notably Karachi.
“A Saudi delegation for upscaling of Route to Makkah project will be arriving on 26-02-2024 (Monday) at the Jinnah International Airport, Karachi, in order to have a survey for area to be allocated at the airport and to meet all relevant authorities at the airport,” a letter by the Ministry of Religious Affairs (MoRA) dated Feb. 14 said. 
The notification said the delegation would meet officials of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) Pakistan Customs, Airport Security Force (ASF), Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF) and Immigration department in Karachi.
Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Pakistan, Nawaf bin Said Al-Malki, will accompany the delegation during their visit to the airport, the notification said. 
The Hajj is an annual Islamic pilgrimage that has been in practice for over 1,400 years. It is one of the five pillars of Islam, and requires every adult Muslim to undertake a journey to the holy Islamic sites in Makkah at least once in their lifetime (if they are financially and physically able). This year’s pilgrimage is expected to run from June 14 till June 19.
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.

Azerbaijan urges Pakistani businesses to capitalize on global transit corridors connecting both states

Azerbaijan urges Pakistani businesses to capitalize on global transit corridors connecting both states
Updated 27 sec ago

Azerbaijan urges Pakistani businesses to capitalize on global transit corridors connecting both states

Azerbaijan urges Pakistani businesses to capitalize on global transit corridors connecting both states
  • Azerbaijan’s foreign minister is in Islamabad on a two-day visit to review bilateral ties
  • Pakistan seeks to enhance role as pivotal trade, transit hub connecting Central Asia with world

ISLAMABAD: Azerbaijan’s Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov urged Pakistani businesspersons on Thursday to capitalize on opportunities provided by international transit corridors passing through the Central Asian country as Islamabad eyes greater regional trade and connectivity. 

Bayramov arrived in Islamabad on Wednesday night for a two-day visit during which he met Pakistan’s Deputy Prime Minister Ishaq Dar and held delegation-level talks. According to Pakistan’s foreign office, both sides reviewed progress on bilateral relations and exchanged views on regional and global developments.

Pakistan has aimed to enhance its role as a pivotal trade and transit hub connecting the Central Asian republics with the rest of the world, leveraging its strategic geographical position.

One of the main international transit corridors Pakistan can use to enhance regional trade is the Trans-Caspian International Transport Route (TITR), also referred to as the Middle Corridor. It begins from southeast Asia and China, crosses Kazakhstan and connects to Azerbaijan through the Caspian Sea. From there, the route proceeds to Georgia, Turkiye, and Europe. It is utilized extensively in both directions.

“We invite Pakistani business representatives to consider the opportunities provided by the international transit corridors passing through the territory of Azerbaijan and the Baku International Sea Trade Port,” Bayramov said as he spoke at a joint media briefing with Dar in Islamabad.

The Baku port, situated at a pivotal intersection with Europe to the west, Asia to the east, and the Middle East to the south, serves as a hub for connecting these three major regions.

Relations between Pakistan and Azerbaijan have strengthened recently, particularly in defense, energy, and trade. Last year, they signed an agreement for discounted LNG supplies from Azerbaijan to Pakistan to boost Pakistan’s energy reserves. 

Pakistan also seeks to boost its status as a key trade link between Central Asia and the world through the ambitious China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project. China has invested over $65 billion in the energy and infrastructure corridor which aims to enhance both countries’ connectivity and improve Pakistan’s infrastructure. 

Bayramov said Azerbaijan was also investing heavily in railroad infrastructure, both in its territory and neighborhood.

“At the same time we are aware of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and we believe that the transit transportation dimension of this project can also be a very good synergy when we talk about the participation of both countries in connectivity, in trade, and we see great potential here, and it was one of the topics of today’s discussions,” the Azeri foreign minister said. 

Pakistan has sought third-party investment in CPEC for which it has invited Saudi Arabia, Turkiye, Germany, UAE, Iran, Indonesia and Afghanistan to join the multi-billion-dollar project. However, there has been no progress on that front.

Dar, meanwhile, said both countries agreed to further enhance multifaceted cooperation in trade, investment, connectivity, security, energy, and defense.

The Pakistani deputy premier also sought support from Azerbaijan in the upcoming election for non-permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) where Pakistan is vying to be elected for the eighth time.

Elections for five of the 10 non-permanent seats on the UN Security Council for 2025-26 are scheduled for June 6.

“I will take this opportunity for your [Azerbaijan] great support for our candidature as the non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for the election which is going to be held on the 6th of June next month,” Dar added.


Taimur Ali, who works at the Central Asia section at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad, said Pakistan’s growing inclination toward maintaining beneficial bilateral and multilateral relations with Central Asian republics stemmed from Islamabad’s comprehensive national security policy, which was published in 2022.

“Apart from this, the tilt toward Central Asian republics is a factor in the overall Eurasian integration process as well, because Pakistan’s strategic location is at a very advantageous position, which plays the role of a zipper between Central Asian and South Asian countries,” he told Arab News.

He said Pakistan wants to remain connected to Central Asian states through CPEC to derive maximum benefits from the mega project.

“Since Central Asian republics are geographically very close to Pakistan and CPEC-related projects, it is but natural that Pakistan would invite all Central Asian countries to invest and be a part of the CPEC project,” he explained.

Pakistan election was ‘biggest robbery’, says ex-PM Imran Khan

Pakistan election was ‘biggest robbery’, says ex-PM Imran Khan
Updated 47 min 29 sec ago

Pakistan election was ‘biggest robbery’, says ex-PM Imran Khan

Pakistan election was ‘biggest robbery’, says ex-PM Imran Khan
  • These were first remarks made by former PM, who is incarcerated in Rawalpindi’s central jail 
  • Khan was allowed by top court to plead petitions he filed against amendments to anti-graft laws

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s jailed former prime minister Imran Khan said on Thursday that February’s national election was stolen from his party, describing it as the “biggest robbery of a public mandate.”

Khan, speaking in the Supreme Court via video link from Adiala jail in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, said he was being held in solitary confinement.

His remarks were the first to be heard in open court since he was jailed in August.

“My party is being victimized. There have been gross human rights violations,” Khan said. “The February 8 election was the biggest robbery of a public mandate.”

The Election Commission has denied the election was rigged.

Khan, a 71-year-old cricketer-turned-politician, was jailed on corruption charges. He is also fighting dozens of other cases.

He and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Party (PTI) say the charges were politically motivated to thwart his return to power.

Candidates backed by Khan won the most seats in February’s election but fell short of a majority required to form a government. His opponent Shehbaz Sharif became prime minister in a coalition government with several other parties.

Khan was allowed by the top court to appear and plead petitions he had filed against amendments in the country’s anti-graft laws, which he claims were made to favor corrupt politicians.

The court, however, turned down his request to live-stream the proceedings. It said it was not a public interest case, according to a Reuters reporter inside the court room.

Khan has previously been speaking to a select group of reporters who are allowed to cover his closed-door trials conducted inside the jail.

His aides have been conveying his messages after visiting him and his social media accounts remain active, but it is unclear who is operating them.

He has faced numerous cases since his ouster in 2022 in a parliamentary vote of confidence, which he alleged was backed by the powerful military after he had fallen out with the army generals.

The army denies the accusations.

Close to 600,000 Afghans expelled from Pakistan since deportation drive launched last year

Close to 600,000 Afghans expelled from Pakistan since deportation drive launched last year
Updated 30 May 2024

Close to 600,000 Afghans expelled from Pakistan since deportation drive launched last year

Close to 600,000 Afghans expelled from Pakistan since deportation drive launched last year
  • Radio Pakistan says 13,206 Afghan nationals repatriated over last ten days
  • Islamabad blames Afghans for militant violence, smuggling, other crimes

ISLAMABAD: The repatriation of illegal foreigners living in Pakistan continues with more than 10,000 Afghan nationals expelled over the last ten days, state broadcaster Radio Pakistan said on Thursday, bringing the total number of those deported close to 600,000. 
The government launched a deportation drive last year after a spike in suicide bombings which the Pakistan government, without providing any evidence, says were carried out by Afghan nationals. Islamabad has also blamed them for smuggling, militant violence and other crimes. 
A cash-strapped Pakistan that was navigating its record inflation, alongside a tough International Monetary Fund bailout program last year, had also said undocumented migrants had drained its resources for decades.
“590,445 Afghans have so far been repatriated to Afghanistan,” Radio Pakistan said on Thursday. “According to the latest statistics, 13,206 Afghan nationals returned to their country over the last ten days.”
Until the government initiated the expulsion drive last year, Pakistan was home to over four million Afghan migrants and refugees out of which around 1.7 million were undocumented. 
Afghans make up the largest portion of migrants, many of whom came after the Taliban took over Kabul in 2021, but a large number have been present since the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
Islamabad insists the deportation drive is not aimed specifically at Afghans but at all those living illegally in Pakistan. 
In October 2023, Pakistan announced phase one of the “Illegal Foreigners’ Repatriation Plan” with a 30-day deadline for “undocumented” aliens to leave the country or be subject to deportation, putting 1.4 million Afghan refugees at risk.
In phase two of the “repatriation plan,” around 600,00 Afghans who held Pakistan-issued Afghan citizenship cards (ACCs) will be expelled while phase three was expected to target those with UNHCR-issued Proof of Registration (PoR) cards.
In April, the Ministry of States and Frontier Regions (SAFRON) issued a notification validating the extension of the POR card till June 30 this year.
Before the deportation drive, many people used to cross the Pak-Afghan border back and forth for business and personal purposes daily. The main entry points into Afghanistan are the borders in the Kandahar and Nangarhar provinces.
The deportation drive had led to a spike in tensions between Pakistan and the Taliban rulers in Afghanistan. The Taliban deny militants are using Afghan soil to launch attacks, calling Pakistan’s security challenges a domestic issue.

Pakistanis turn to gemstone healing as latest de-stress fix

Pakistanis turn to gemstone healing as latest de-stress fix
Updated 30 May 2024

Pakistanis turn to gemstone healing as latest de-stress fix

Pakistanis turn to gemstone healing as latest de-stress fix
  • Practitioners believe crystals release stress, induce relaxation, promote energy balance within the body
  • Crystal healing still considered pseudoscience, no peer-reviewed studies that prove alternative therapy’s efficacy

ISLAMABAD: While gemstones have long been cherished for their ornamental value, a growing number of Pakistanis are turning to them for healing purposes, with practitioners claiming stones “emit radiations” that help foster mental and bodily wellness.
Pakistan has significant gemstone reserves, particularly in its northern and northwestern regions, which include a variety of high-quality stones such as peridot, aquamarine, topaz, ruby and emerald. Earlier this month, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif also spoke in favor of granting industry status to the country’s gemstone sector, citing their economic potential following a 47 percent increase in the export of pearls and precious stones to China last year.
But many stones have other uses and can be used in therapy and placed at precise points on and around the body to release stress, induce relaxation and promote energy balance within the body.
Scientifically however, gemstone therapy is still considered a pseudoscience and there are little to no peer-reviewed studies that prove the method’s efficacy. 
“When clients come to me, I analyze their names and numerology to understand their traits,” Syed Khurram Abbas Naqvi, a gemstone healer in the capital, told Arab News this week. “Using this insight, I recommend specific gemstones to amplify strengths and alleviate concerns.”
Naqvi said more and more people were beginning to believe in the healing properties of stones, arguing that they emitted subtle energies or vibrations that influenced the wearer’s well-being and energy. Wearing a gemstone enhanced the lifespan and function of human cells, leading to better health, improved decision-making and overall well-being, he said.
“When examining agate, one finds it contains silicon dioxide, while turquoise comprises ammonia oxide along with elements such as copper, magnesium, iron, phosphate, and CsO3 [caesium ozonide],” Naqvi added.
“The radiation emitted by these stones is believed to bolster bodily strength. For instance, silicon dioxide can help regulate blood pressure, while bloodstone may assist in controlling blood pressure in men and opal is reputed to mitigate aggression in women.
“My priority is to provide high-quality, pure stones because their radiation power is stronger and more effective.”
Authentication of stones is vital for the business which depends on experts who specialize in telling real stones from fake ones.
“Clients seek our certification due to the high financial stakes and risk of fraud in the industry,” Faizan Jamshed, an internationally qualified gemologist who manages his own jewelry testing lab in the federal capital, said. “Our rigorous lab testing and certifications are vital for insurance and client trust.”
He added that a gemstone’s effectiveness for healing was closely tied to its genuine nature and purity.
“While untrained individuals may perceive all stones similarly, experts can discern substantial value discrepancies,” he said.
Naqvi added that the “color, carat, cut and clarity” of a stone were vital for gemstone therapy to work.
“The clearer, larger and purer the stone, the stronger its radiation power, resulting in more profound effects.”
But while many people remain skeptical of gemstone therapy, there are takers for the healing method who believe the right stone can do miracles and significantly change lives.
Amir Shehzad Haidari, an accountant with a local company, said he suffered for years from low energy before turning to gemstone treatment.
“Despite feeling lethargic and unmotivated, I chose gemstone healing over medical assistance,” he told Arab News. “Wearing quartz infused me with energy and tranquility.”
Muntasir Abbas, a travel agent, said he sought out gemstone healing to find relief against depression. 
“Family problems had me deeply depressed,” he said. “After traditional treatments failed, a friend recommended gemstone healing. Initially skeptical, I decided to try it. Within two to three months of wearing the suggested stone, I noticed significant improvements in my emotional state.”

After ICUBE-Q, Pakistan launches modern communication satellite into space

After ICUBE-Q, Pakistan launches modern communication satellite into space
Updated 51 min 58 sec ago

After ICUBE-Q, Pakistan launches modern communication satellite into space

After ICUBE-Q, Pakistan launches modern communication satellite into space
  • PAKSAT MM1 will help usher in digital era by providing Internet to country’s remote areas, national space agency says
  • Satellite launch from Xichang Satellite Launch Center to be broadcast live from Suparco centers in Islamabad, Karachi

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan launched its latest modern communication satellite, the PAKSAT MM1, into space on Thursday, weeks after its ICUBE-Qamar (ICUBE-Q) entered lunar orbit.
ICUBE-Q was launched into space on May 3 aboard China’s Chang’e-6 lunar mission from Hainan, China. A major milestone in Pakistan’s space exploration efforts, the satellite successfully entered the moon’s orbit on May 8, and shortly after began transmitting the first images to earth.
The Pakistan Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (Suparco), the national space agency, now plans to launch another communication satellite with Chinese assistance.
“Pakistan Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission will launch a new satellite PakSat MM1 on Thursday from Xichang Satellite Launch Center in China,” state broadcaster Radio Pakistan said.
“The satellite PakSat MM1 has been conceived keeping in view the growing needs of the country in the broad spectrum of communication and connectivity ... Based on advanced communication technologies, PakSat MM1 will play a pivotal role in the socio-economic uplift of the country and will prove to be a stepping stone in the transformation of the country into Digital Pakistan.”
Earlier this week, state media said the satellite would help usher in a digital era in Pakistan by helping provide Internet to remote areas, as per Suparco officials.
The launch ceremony would be broadcast live from Suparco’s offices in Islamabad and Karachi.
Established in 1961, Suparco manages Pakistan’s space program, enhancing the nation’s capabilities in satellite communications, remote sensing and meteorological science.
Chang’e 6 is a planned robotic Chinese and Pakistani lunar exploration mission that is attempting Beijing’s second sample return mission and aims to obtain the first-ever soil and rock samples from the lunar far side and return them to earth. The samples will contain material ejected from the lunar mantle and will be used to provide insight into the history of the moon, earth, and the solar system.
The primary phase of the mission is expected to last about 53 days. Around 100 students from Pakistan’s Institute of Space Technology (IST) contributed to developing the ICUBE-Q satellite.