Pakistan’s religious affairs minister calls pilgrims ambassadors of country at Hajj training workshop

Pakistan’s religious affairs minister calls pilgrims ambassadors of country at Hajj training workshop
Caretaker Minister for Religious Affairs Aneeq Ahmed addressing a training workshop at a Hajji Camp in Karachi, Pakistan on February 24, 2024. (APP)
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Updated 25 February 2024
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Pakistan’s religious affairs minister calls pilgrims ambassadors of country at Hajj training workshop

Pakistan’s religious affairs minister calls pilgrims ambassadors of country at Hajj training workshop
  • Aneeq Ahmed asks them to uphold the country’s prestige while carrying out spiritual journey to Saudi Arabia
  • The minister asks pilgrims to pray for the peace and stability of the country while visiting Islam’s holiest cities

ISLAMABAD: Caretaker Minister for Religious Affairs Aneeq Ahmed highlighted the role of pilgrims as Pakistan’s ambassadors to Saudi Arabia while addressing a training workshop in Karachi’s Hajji Camp on Saturday, emphasizing the importance of upholding the country’s prestige.
Ahmed visited the kingdom in recent months to make Hajj preparations for his country where he met several Saudi officials to discuss the possibility of expanding facilities for pilgrims departing from the Pakistani cities of Lahore and Karachi.
He also evaluated the arrangements for the annual Islamic pilgrimage with catering and accommodation representatives and discussed with private Hajj operators how to maximize the provision of services.
“Aneeq Ahmed said that Pakistani pilgrims should increase the prestige of Pakistan during their stay in Saudi Arabia,” said a press release. “All pilgrims are ambassadors of Pakistan. Pilgrims should also pray for peace and stability in their country.”
The minister informed the participants of the workshop a cellphone app had been launched for pilgrims to make their journey more convenient. He also said pilgrims would be given free SIMs, briefcases and abayas for women by the government.
The Associated Press of Pakistan news agency reported the complimentary SIMs would offer 180 minutes of talk time for pilgrims to connect with family back home.
Hajj 2024 training workshops, educational training sessions designed by the government to educate pilgrims about the rituals and procedures of performing the pilgrimage, kicked off in Pakistan earlier this month.
Hajj, a once-in-a-lifetime religious duty for Muslims who are physically and financially capable of undertaking the journey, is expected to run from June 14-19 this year.


Pakistan launches second phase of Hajj training nationwide

Pakistan launches second phase of Hajj training nationwide
Updated 17 April 2024
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Pakistan launches second phase of Hajj training nationwide

Pakistan launches second phase of Hajj training nationwide
  • Pakistan began Hajj 2024 training workshops and educational sessions in February
  • Training designed to educate pilgrims about rituals and procedures of performing Hajj

ISLAMABAD: The Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony has launched the second phase of Hajj trainings across Pakistan, state-run Radio Pakistan reported on Wednesday, as the South Asian nation prepares for the annual pilgrimage which will fall in June this year.

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

In Dec. 2023, Pakistan announced the results of a draw for Hajj 2024, with more than 63,000 applicants selected for this year’s pilgrimage under the government scheme. The remaining will use private tour operators.

“The purpose of the training is to educate pilgrims about religious rituals, administrative matters and regulations of the host country,” Radio Pakistan reported about the second phase of training. 

“For this purpose, the Ministry along with 40 resource persons, religious scholars and master trainers have organized training sessions at 122 different locations across the country at the district level.”

At the end of the training sessions, the mandatory vaccination process will be started at all Hajj camps, with pilgrims getting three vaccines free of cost ten days before departure to Saudi Arabia. 

“They will also be provided with a free bag, scarf, Ihram belt, shoe bag and mobile SIM from the respective bank counter,” Radio Pakistan reported. 

Pakistan began Hajj 2024 training workshops and educational sessions in February, designed by the government to educate pilgrims about the rituals and procedures of performing the annual pilgrimage.


Just not cricket: Indian politicians bat for power

Just not cricket: Indian politicians bat for power
Updated 17 April 2024
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Just not cricket: Indian politicians bat for power

Just not cricket: Indian politicians bat for power
  • Modi’s BJP is intricately tied to the powerful Board of Control for Cricket in India 
  • Critics say Modi has sought to co-opt cricket as tool to bowl out political opponents

NEW DELHI: Cricket is more than just a game in India: critics accuse ruling-party politicians and the sport’s closely linked mega-rich board of exploiting its huge popularity for electoral advantage.

India begins voting in six-week-long general elections on Friday, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) widely expected to sweep to a third term in power.

Modi’s BJP is intricately tied to the powerful Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), with commentators saying the ruling party has sought to co-opt the sport as a tool to bowl out political opponents.

Veteran cricket journalist Sharda Ugra said the sport is “used as a vehicle for a muscular nationalism.”

“Control is exercised not just through its presence of senior officials connected to the ruling party, but through the use of Indian cricket to further their political messaging,” she told AFP.

Modi’s government is far from the first to use cricket for political gain in India, but his populist BJP has tightened those links further than any before, added Ugra.

BCCI chief Jay Shah is the son of home affairs minister Amit Shah, Modi’s right-hand man and himself a former president of the Gujarat state cricket board.

Arun Dhumal, chairman of the money-spinning Indian Premier League, is the brother of sports minister Anurag Thakur, who is also an ex-BCCI head.

“The current BCCI is the first Indian cricketing administration which is under the control of a single political party, and not a general clutch of politicians,” said Ugra.

Gideon Haigh, cricket writer for The Australian newspaper, has called the BJP “shameless in its self-interest” for co-opting the sport.

“Cricket is just one of many institutions it has captured, although it is the one most meaningful to the most people,” Haigh told AFP. 

The BJP won state elections in Rajasthan in December, and last month a minister’s son took charge of the cricket board.

In New Delhi, the capital’s stadium was renamed in 2019 after a BJP stalwart, the late finance minister Arun Jaitley, whose son Rohan Jaitley heads the state cricket board.

For the previous 137 years, it had been called the Feroz Shah Kotla stadium, after a 14th-century Muslim sultan.

And when India hosted the ODI World Cup last year, Modi attended the final at the world’s biggest cricket stadium — which is named after him — in Ahmedabad.

A home victory would undoubtedly have further boosted national pride ahead of the election, but India lost in the decider.

Modi went into the dressing room, accompanied by a camera crew, to embrace the Indian team. “It happens,” he told them. “Keep smiling, the country is looking up to you.”

India’s delays or denials of visas for the tournament for players and fans from arch-rival Pakistan had raised some concerns.

Other players with Pakistani heritage — including Australia’s Usman Khawaja and England’s Shoaib Bashir — have also faced visa challenges during India tours.

The BCCI did not respond to a series of questions submitted by AFP.

Cricket is a lucrative business in the world’s most populous nation, home to 1.4 billion people.

By some counts, Indian cricket on average generates more revenue than Bollywood.

The IPL is the world’s richest cricket league and has added to the BCCI’s wealth, with the board selling the 2023-27 T20 tournament’s broadcast and digital rights for $6.2 billion.

Commentators say the BCCI’s wealth and reach enables it to pull strings at cricket’s world governing body, the International Cricket Council (ICC).

More than 90 percent of the sport’s billion-plus worldwide fans are in the Indian subcontinent, according to a 2018 ICC study.

In other countries, the ICC has been swift to suspend boards over political interference, including in Zimbabwe in 2019 and Sri Lanka last year.

ICC rules say cricket boards must manage their affairs “autonomously” and “ensure that there is no government (or other public or quasi-public body) interference in its governance.”

The ICC declined to comment on India’s role.

Modi opened his eponymous 132,000-seater ground in Ahmedabad in 2020 in a mega-rally for then-US president Donald Trump.

Haigh covered the 2023 India-Australia series and recalled how Modi toured the venue in a golf cart alongside his Australian counterpart Anthony Albanese when it hosted the fourth Test.

BJP members, government officials and school children were bussed in for the event, cheering as Modi lapped the venue.

The stadium rapidly emptied after the leaders left, even as play began.

“That the ICC — which purports to deplore political interference in cricket — studiously looked the other way, tells you all you need to know about its capture by the BCCI,” Haigh said.


Saudi FM’s visit part of ‘concerted efforts’ to close investment deals — Pakistani envoy to Riyadh 

Saudi FM’s visit part of ‘concerted efforts’ to close investment deals — Pakistani envoy to Riyadh 
Updated 17 April 2024
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Saudi FM’s visit part of ‘concerted efforts’ to close investment deals — Pakistani envoy to Riyadh 

Saudi FM’s visit part of ‘concerted efforts’ to close investment deals — Pakistani envoy to Riyadh 
  • Ahmed Farooq says size and rank of Saudi delegation showed “keenness” of economic engagement plans with Pakistan
  • Saudi delegation briefed about Pakistani legal, procedural, administrative reforms undertaken to facilitate investments

RIYADH: Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud’s visit to Pakistan this week is part of “concerted efforts” to close investment deals that have been under discussion between the two nations in recent years and also discuss new areas of cooperation, Islamabad’s envoy to Riyadh Ahmed Farooq has said. 

Prince Faisal arrived in Pakistan on Monday on a two-day visit aimed at enhancing bilateral economic cooperation and pushing forward previously agreed investment deals. His trip came a little over a week after Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif in Makkah and reaffirmed the Kingdom’s commitment to expedite investments worth $5 billion.

Pakistan and Saudi Arabia enjoy strong trade, defense and cultural ties. The Kingdom is home to over 2.7 million Pakistani expatriates and the top source of remittances to the cash-strapped South Asian country.

Speaking to Arab News on Tuesday, Ambassador Farooq said during Sharif’s recent meeting with the Saudi crown prince, it was decided that the Kingdom would expand its collaboration with Pakistan across various sectors. Both countries also agreed on a roadmap for expediting investments from Saudi Arabia into strategic sectors of the Pakistan economy.

“Guided by this clear direction of the leadership, the economic teams of the two countries are now in advance talks to finalize partnership proposals in diverse sectors such as energy, renewables, connectivity, mining, agriculture, information technology, construction, human resource development and export and strategic investments,” Farooq said.

“Concerted efforts are underway to close the deals that have remained under discussion in recent years, while identifying new areas of cooperation.”

It was as part of such efforts that Prince Faisal visited Pakistan, the ambassador added, accompanied by a team of top officials across Saudi ministries. 

“The size and rank of the visiting delegation showed the keenness with which the Kingdom is pursuing economic engagement plans with Pakistan,” Farooq said. 

Among key highlights of the visit, apart from bilateral meetings between the economic teams, was a special interactive session organized by the newly established Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC), set up last year to oversee all foreign investments in Pakistan. 

“Several short, medium, and long-term projects were discussed in the dedicated sector-wise breakout sessions,” the envoy said. “The Saudi delegation was also briefed about the specific legal, procedural and administrative reforms undertaken by Pakistan in recent months to attract and facilitate foreign investments in key sectors of the economy.”

“BEDROCK OF SUPPORT”

Cash-strapped Pakistan desperately needs to shore up its foreign reserves and signal to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that it can continue to meet requirements for foreign financing that has been a key demand in previous bailout packages. Pakistan’s finance minister, Muhammad Aurangzeb, is currently in Washington to participate in spring meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank and discuss a new bailout program. A $3 billion ongoing loan deal expires this month.

Saudi Arabia has often come to cash-strapped Pakistan’s aid in the past, regularly providing it oil on deferred payments and offering direct financial support to help stabilize its economy and shore up its forex reserves.

“For Pakistan, Saudi Arabia has remained a bedrock of support,” Farooq told Arab News when asked about cooperation between the two nations.

“The kingdom has always supported Pakistan and provided much needed economic support and assistance. Kingdom has also played a critical role in helping us with international financial institutions.

“Even today, the Kingdom has a central role in the future economic plans of Pakistan. The new government in Pakistan has a strong desire to attract Saudi investment – both from the public and private sectors – to usher in a new era of economic growth and development.”

Farooq said the Saudi leadership was also keen on seizing this opportunity and further enhancing economic, political and security cooperation with Pakistan.

He said there were many areas for future collaboration including energy, renewables, IT, mining, agriculture, construction, and human resource development and export.

Asked about how investment between the two nations could be further enhanced, Farooq said Pakistan had created SIFC to act as a one window operation to facilitate Saudi and other foreign investments. 

“It is tailor made for this purpose,” he added. “We are developing a lot of projects across all sectors of the economy in which the Saudi public and private sector can invest. 

The Kingdom has shown great keenness and desire to work with Pakistan and realize these projects. I am confident that we will soon see a lot of investment going from Saudi Arabia into Pakistan.”


Reforms on top of agenda as Pakistan finance chief meets World Bank president 

Reforms on top of agenda as Pakistan finance chief meets World Bank president 
Updated 56 min 24 sec ago
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Reforms on top of agenda as Pakistan finance chief meets World Bank president 

Reforms on top of agenda as Pakistan finance chief meets World Bank president 
  • Finance minister is in Washington for spring meetings organized by IMF, World Bank
  • Pakistan is seeking at least a three-year multi-billion dollar bailout package from IMF

KARACHI: Structural economic reforms were at the top of the agenda as Pakistani Finance Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb met Ajay Banga, the president of the World Bank Group, on Tuesday during a visit to Washington for spring meetings organized by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.

An ongoing nine-month, $3 billion loan program with the IMF designed to tackle a balance-of-payments crisis which brought Pakistan to the brink of default last summer will expire this month. 

With the final $1.1 billion tranche of that deal likely to be approved later this month, Pakistan has begun negotiations for a new multi-year IMF loan program worth “billions” of dollars, according to the finance ministry. 

“The minister highlighted Pakistan’s progress under the 9-month [Stand-by Arrangement] SBA program and ongoing reforms in priority areas of taxation, energy and privatization,” the Pakistani finance ministry said in a statement after Aurangzeb met Banga.

“Both sides agreed on the need for a rolling Country Framework Plan for 10 years.”

The statement said the World Bank president assured his “full support” for Pakistan’s reforms and digitalization programs to stabilize the economy and enhance revenues. 

In an interview on Monday, Aurangzeb had said Pakistan would seek at least a three-year IMF program and plans to continue with necessary policy reforms to rein in deficits, build up reserves and manage soaring debt servicing. 

Since the ongoing $3 billion bailout was approved in June last year, Pakistan has implemented several IMF-mandated reforms, such as budget adjustments, increasing interest rates, and higher energy prices. 

Among expected reforms under a new program are strengthening public finances through gradual fiscal consolidation, broadening the existing tax base and improving tax administration, and debt sustainability, all while protecting the vulnerable. Pakistan also needs to restore the viability of the energy sector and prevent further accumulation of circular debt arising from subsidies and unpaid bills. Other reforms will include cutting inflation, stimulating private sector growth and adopting a market-driven exchange rate to help balance external accounts and rebuild foreign reserves.

Aurangzeb also separately met Masatsugu Asakawa, the president of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in Washington on Tuesday.

“Discussions focused on further strengthening Pakistan’s partnership with ADB, protecting country envelope of concessional financing and future project pipeline,” a statement from the Pakistani finance ministry said. 


Pakistan, Saudi Arabia call for ceasefire in Gaza, saying efforts so far are insufficient

Pakistan, Saudi Arabia call for ceasefire in Gaza, saying efforts so far are insufficient
Updated 17 April 2024
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Pakistan, Saudi Arabia call for ceasefire in Gaza, saying efforts so far are insufficient

Pakistan, Saudi Arabia call for ceasefire in Gaza, saying efforts so far are insufficient
  • Saudi foreign minister says ceasefire efforts “wholly insufficient”
  • Pakistan’s foreign minister describes killings in Gaza as “genocide” 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan and Saudi Arabia on Tuesday called for an immediate ceasefire and uninterrupted delivery of humanitarian aid in Gaza.

Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan, on a visit to Islamabad, said that international efforts toward a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas have been “wholly insufficient.”

“We are now actively discussing the potential for famine in Gaza, and it means people are starving to death because humanitarian assistance is not getting to them,” he said. “This is an unacceptable situation.”

Without directly mentioning an Iranian attack on Israel over the weekend, he said “we are already in an unstable region, and the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza is already inflaming the region. We do not need more conflict in our region, we do not need more confrontation in our region, so it is our position that the de-escalation must be everybody’s priority.”

Tensions in the region have ramped up since the start of the latest war on Oct. 7, when Hamas carried out a devastating cross-border attack that killed 1,200 people in Israel and kidnapped 250 others. Israel responded with an offensive in Gaza that has caused widespread devastation and killed over 33,800 people, according to local health officials.

Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Ishaq Dar described the killings in Gaza as “genocide” and said that the “world’s conscience must wake up” and there should be “an immediate and unconditional ceasefire” with aid flowing into the territory.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif earlier met with Prince Faisal and called for closer cooperation with Saudi Arabia to help his cash-strapped nation with investment, a government statement said.

Sharif last week met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Saudi Arabia, one of Pakistan’s closest allies and a leading supplier of oil to Islamabad. According to Pakistani officials, Prince Mohammed had assured Pakistan that Saudi Arabia would invest $5 billion in Pakistan.

In July, Saudi Arabia deposited $2 billion into Pakistan’s central bank to boost its foreign exchange reserves.