In a first, Pakistan to select assistants for Hajj 2024 through National Testing Service exam 

In a first, Pakistan to select assistants for Hajj 2024 through National Testing Service exam 
The picture taken on May 9, 2023, shows a Hajj training center in Islamabad, Pakistan. (AN photo by Muhammad Ibrahim)
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Updated 03 March 2024
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In a first, Pakistan to select assistants for Hajj 2024 through National Testing Service exam 

In a first, Pakistan to select assistants for Hajj 2024 through National Testing Service exam 
  • Pakistan selects hundreds of assistants, doctors every year to facilitate Pakistani pilgrims during the Hajj pilgrimage
  • Religious Affairs Minister Aneeq Ahmed says picking Hajj assistants via NTS will ensure transparency, better performance

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan will be selecting assistants for this year’s Hajj pilgrimage through the National Testing Service (NTS) exam for the first time in its history, the country’s caretaker religious affairs minister said on Sunday.
Pakistan selects hundreds of assistants and doctors every year to facilitate local pilgrims in Saudi Arabia in performing rituals of the annual pilgrimage.
The individuals who intended to assist pilgrims during this year’s Hajj sat the NTS exam on Sunday to be able to proceed further.
“An important work is starting today. The selection of Hajj assistants is being done for the first time through the National Testing Service,” Religious Affairs Minister Aneeq Ahmed said, after witnessing the examination process at an NTS center in Islamabad.
“Keeping transparency in mind, selection is being done through NTS for the first time in history.”
Last year, Pakistan selected 794 Hajj assistants, while this year the country intends to pick 625 individuals to facilitate the pilgrims, according to the minister.
There will be 540 doctors on Hajj duty this year, who would be providing medical attention to pilgrims.
“Those passing the written test will perform better during the Hajj pilgrimage,” Ahmed said, promising to facilitate the pilgrims to the best.
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.
In December, Pakistan announced the results of a draw for Hajj 2024, with more than 63,000 applicants selected for the pilgrimage under the government scheme. The remaining candidates will apply through private tour operators.
Last month, the South Asian country began Hajj 2024 training workshops and educational sessions, designed by the government to educate pilgrims about the rituals and procedures of performing the pilgrimage.


In powerful display of solidarity, disabled Pakistanis rally in Karachi to demand ceasefire in Gaza

In powerful display of solidarity, disabled Pakistanis rally in Karachi to demand ceasefire in Gaza
Updated 26 May 2024
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In powerful display of solidarity, disabled Pakistanis rally in Karachi to demand ceasefire in Gaza

In powerful display of solidarity, disabled Pakistanis rally in Karachi to demand ceasefire in Gaza
  • The rally, jointly organized by the Disabled Welfare Association and Jamaat-e-Islami, called for boycott of Israeli products
  • Protesters with disabilities said those who were not disabled had no excuse to not come out in support of Palestinian people

KARACHI: Hundreds of persons with disabilities on Sunday rallied in Pakistan’s port city of Karachi to demand an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and urged people with no disabilities to come out onto the streets for the cause, in a powerful display of solidarity with the Palestinians amid Israel’s war.
The war broke out in Gaza after Hamas attack on Israel on October 7, which killed more than 1,100 people, in response to the deteriorating condition of Palestinian people living under Israeli occupation.
Israel launched a retaliatory offensive, widely viewed as disproportionate, in which more than 35,000 Palestinians, mostly women and children, have lost their lives, according to the Palestinian health ministry.
Sunday’s rally in Pakistan’s biggest city of Karachi was jointly organized by the Disabled Welfare Association (DWA) and the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) religio-political party.
“If all our persons with disabilities can participate in such gatherings, then why those, who are not disabled, are not coming out of their homes,” said Shaina Ali, who attended the rally in a wheelchair.
“They are not even sparing the women and children there,” she said, urging Pakistanis to completely stop using Israeli products.
She praised the Western world for coming out in large numbers in support of the Palestinians.
“We are sitting here hoping for good from other countries,” Ali said, questioning fellow Pakistanis, “What are you doing for Gaza?“
Dr. Rahat, a disabled elected councilor of the JI, said people with disabilities sent out a strong message against the “genocide” of the Palestinians by coming out in large numbers.
“Our presence in large numbers here shows that every Pakistani is out there to support the people of Palestine who are faced with genocide,” he said, addressing the attendees.
Rehan Gohar, a DWA official, said these persons with disabilities had come out to support Gaza in the face of Israel’s war.
“Our message to the Muslims of Gaza is that they should not lose hope,” he said, urging Muslims around the world to unite for Palestine.
Noor-ul-Ain, a 14-year-old protester, said she was out on the street so that the Palestinian Muslims could get their just rights.
“In Palestine, they are also martyring children. Our effort is to make sure our voices reach there so that the [Palestinian] Muslims can get their rights,” she said.
“The rulers must stop Israel’s war.”
Pakistan does not recognize the state of Israel and calls for an independent Palestinian state based on “internationally agreed parameters” and the pre-1967 borders with Al-Quds Al-Sharif as its capital.
In recent months, the South Asian country has repeatedly raised the issue of Israel’s war on Gaza at the United Nations through its permanent representative, Ambassador Munir Akram.


Pakistan conveys ‘deep appreciation’ to Norway for decision to recognize Palestine as a state

Pakistan conveys ‘deep appreciation’ to Norway for decision to recognize Palestine as a state
Updated 26 May 2024
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Pakistan conveys ‘deep appreciation’ to Norway for decision to recognize Palestine as a state

Pakistan conveys ‘deep appreciation’ to Norway for decision to recognize Palestine as a state
  • Ireland, Spain and Norway this week said they would formally recognize Palestine as a state on May 28
  • The additions would bring the total number of countries recognizing the Palestinian state to nearly 150

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Sunday held a telephonic conversation with his Norwegian counterpart Jonas Gahr Store and conveyed his “deep appreciation” for Norway’s landmark decision to recognize the State of Palestine, Sharif’s office said.
The prime ministers of Ireland, Spain and Norway announced on Wednesday they would formally recognize Palestine as a state on May 28, following recent recognitions by Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and the Bahamas. The additions have brought the total number of countries recognizing the Palestinian state to nearly 150.
During his conversation with PM Store, Sharif emphasized the importance of the two-state solution as the key to lasting peace in the Middle East and expressed his hope that Norway’s decision would encourage other countries to follow suit, paving the way for a full membership of the United Nations (UN) for the State of Palestine.
“This principled decision by Norway would send a strong message of hope and solidarity to the brave Palestinian people who have been enduring Israel’s brutality and suffering over seventy-five years of occupation and oppression,” Sharif was quoted as saying by his office.
The Pakistan premier welcomed the International Court of Justice’s decision on Friday to order Israel to stop its assault on Gaza and Rafah, and called for its “full and effective implementation.”
The case against Israel was initiated by South Africa in December 2023, where it labeled Israel’s actions in the Gaza Strip as “genocidal,” asserting that they intended to destroy the Palestinian people in ways specified under the 1948 Genocide Convention.
Pakistan does not recognize the state of Israel and calls for an independent Palestinian state based on “internationally agreed parameters” and the pre-1967 borders with Al-Quds Al-Sharif as its capital.
In recent months, the South Asian country has repeatedly raised the issue of Israel’s war on Gaza, launched last October, at the United Nations through its permanent representative.
During Sunday’s conversation, both Pakistani and Norwegian prime ministers reiterated their commitment to strengthening bilateral ties in various sectors, including trade, investment, education, and renewable energy.
“They also recognized the important role played by Norwegians of Pakistani origin in creating a vital connection between Pakistan and Norway and contributing to the economic development of both nations,” Sharif’s office said.
“The two leaders agreed to remain in touch and to meet soon, possibly on the margins of the UNGA [United Nations General Assembly] session later this year.”
The Pakistan premier also extended an invitation to PM Store to undertake an official visit to Pakistan at his earliest convenience.


Pakistan asks Afghanistan to hand over militants involved in Dasu attack on Chinese nationals

Pakistan asks Afghanistan to hand over militants involved in Dasu attack on Chinese nationals
Updated 9 min 50 sec ago
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Pakistan asks Afghanistan to hand over militants involved in Dasu attack on Chinese nationals

Pakistan asks Afghanistan to hand over militants involved in Dasu attack on Chinese nationals
  • Five Chinese workers were killed in the attack on Mar. 26 while they were on way to Dasu hydropower project in Pakistan’s northwest
  • Interior Minister Mohsin Naqvi says militants operating in Afghanistan have been specifically compromising security of Chinese nationals

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Interior Minister Mohsin Naqvi on Sunday demanded the Afghan interim government to hand over Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militants involved in a suicide attack that killed five Chinese nationals and their driver in Pakistan’s northwest in March.
China is a major ally and investor in Pakistan but both separatist and other militants have attacked Chinese projects and personnel in recent years, including five Chinese workers who perished in the suicide attack on Mar. 26 while they were on their way to the Dasu hydropower project in Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
The Dasu hydropower project falls under the ambit of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a flagship project of China’s Belt and Road Initiative through which it has pledged more than $65 billion for road, rail and other infrastructure developments in the South Asian nation of 241 million people.
Speaking at a press conference on Sunday, Naqvi said Pakistan’s relations with China were very important and both countries supported each other economically, politically and diplomatically, however, the cross-border threat from Afghanistan was becoming increasingly dangerous for regional security.
“We want good relations with Afghanistan, but this is only possible if they too support us and won’t let their soil be used for terrorism against us,” he said. “It is important that these terrorists present there, they [Afghan government] must arrest them, hold a trial against them or hand them over to us.”
The Dasu assault in March was the third major one in a little over a week on China’s interests.
It followed a Mar. 20 attack on a strategic port used by China in the southwestern province of Balochistan, where Beijing has poured billions of dollars into infrastructure projects, and a Mar. 25 assault on a naval air base, also in the southwest. Both attacks were claimed by the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), the most prominent of several separatist groups in Balochistan.
Naqvi said militants operating in Afghanistan were specifically compromising the security of Chinese nationals in Pakistan.
“Pakistan has raised this issue with the interim Afghan government and pressed them to rein in these terrorists operating there, but so far we are not receiving any positive results,” he said, adding that Islamabad was making “all-possible arrangements” to ensure the security of Chinese nationals working in Pakistan.

Pakistan’s counter-terrorism chief Rai Tahir, who was also present at Sunday’s presser by Naqvi, said authorities had arrested 11 militants who were involved in the Dasu suicide bombing that killed five Chinese engineers. The investigation and evidence showed the militants had been taking instructions from TTP leaders in Afghanistan, he said.
Pakistan has witnessed a surge in militant attacks in its western regions that border Afghanistan, particularly after the TTP called off its months-long, fragile truce with the Pakistani government in November 2022.
Last year, Islamabad ordered all illegal immigrants to leave Pakistan by Nov 1, triggering an exodus of foreigners, mostly Afghans, from the country.
Pakistan brushed off calls from the United Nations (UN), rights groups and Western embassies to reconsider the expulsion plan and said many of these Afghan nationals had been involved in militant attacks and in crimes that undermined the security of the country. Kabul denies the accusations and says Pakistani security is a domestic problem.


Saudi-based Pakistani group recruits over 2,500 volunteers to facilitate Hajj pilgrims this year

Saudi-based Pakistani group recruits over 2,500 volunteers to facilitate Hajj pilgrims this year
Updated 26 May 2024
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Saudi-based Pakistani group recruits over 2,500 volunteers to facilitate Hajj pilgrims this year

Saudi-based Pakistani group recruits over 2,500 volunteers to facilitate Hajj pilgrims this year
  • The Pakistan Hajj Volunteers Group comprises thousands of expatriates living in the Kingdom who facilitate pilgrims each year
  • The PHVG offers guidance, wheelchair services, and other facilities to pilgrims during Hajj days irrespective of their nationalities

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Hajj Volunteers Group (PHVG), a Saudi Arabia-based group of Pakistani expatriates, has recruited more than 2,500 volunteers to assist pilgrims during this year’s annual Hajj pilgrimage, a senior PHVG official said on Sunday.
Established in 2011 with only 85 volunteers, the PHVG has expanded over the course of 12 years and currently includes thousands of members, who volunteer during Hajj pilgrimage every year. The group works in close coordination with the Pakistani consulate in Jeddah and the Pakistan Hajj Mission.
The PHVG assists and provides guidance to pilgrims during the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Mina Valley, and the Saudi cities of Azizia and Makkah from the 10th till 12th of the Islamic holy month of Dhu Al-Hijjah, when Hajj activities reach their peak.
“The PHVG registered and verified 2,838 volunteers for Hajj 2024 operation and also has around 100 key volunteers in our three regions (Hejaz, central and eastern parts of the Kingdom) who are engaged year-round for all the preparations for the guests of Allah,” Ashraf Ali Khan, the PHVG central coordinator, told Arab News.

Pakistan Hajj Volunteers Group official briefs Pakistani volunteers during a training session to facilitate Hajj pilgrims in Jeddah on May 15, 2024. (Photo courtesy: Pakistan Hajj Volunteers Group)

The PHVG started its registration campaign on February 9 that ended on May 10, according to the official. The organization used print, electronic, and social media to register Pakistani volunteers from all over the Kingdom.
“Any Pakistani legally present in the Kingdom can become a volunteer and they also need to be registered on the Saudi social services website for further permissions,” Khan said, adding all volunteers were required to complete two mandatory training sessions and an online exam before the final selection.
The official said his organization trained volunteers using audiovisual training sessions and instructed them on the Mina map reading and the usage of its mobile application, PHVG Hajj Navigator.

Pakistani volunteers attend a training session to facilitate Hajj pilgrims in Jeddah on May 15, 2024, ahead of annual Hajj pilgrimage. (Photo courtesy: Pakistan Hajj Volunteers Group)

“The volunteers are neither allowed to perform Hajj nor compensated for their services as they are devoted to helping and guiding pilgrims to seek the reward and pleasure from Allah,” he added.
The volunteers mainly help Hajj pilgrims in five different areas, including providing training through videos and presentations, according to the official.
Along with this, volunteers also provide guidance in Mina, especially through translation, to pilgrims who come from around the world, and guide them to their tents, hospitals and assist them with wheelchairs.
“Additionally, we offer Tawaf-e-Ziyara to pilgrims who fall ill during the pilgrimage,” Khan said. “Each sick pilgrim is accompanied by two volunteers who escort them from the hospital and return them after completing the Tawaf.”

Pakistan Hajj Volunteers Group official briefs Pakistani volunteers during a training session to facilitate Hajj pilgrims in Jeddah on May 15, 2024. (Photo courtesy: Pakistan Hajj Volunteers Group)

 


Greek authorities release Pakistani woman athlete after two-day detention

Greek authorities release Pakistani woman athlete after two-day detention
Updated 26 May 2024
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Greek authorities release Pakistani woman athlete after two-day detention

Greek authorities release Pakistani woman athlete after two-day detention
  • Mona Khan, who also works with Pakistan state TV, was arrested on Friday while going to Greece’s Mount Olympus with a team of climbers
  • Pakistani athlete says she was arrested ‘due to her Pakistani identity, questioned about a written profession of Islamic faith in her bag’

KARACHI: Pakistani woman athlete and journalist Mona Khan, who was arrested in Greece this week, has been released from prison, she said on Sunday, a day after the Pakistani Foreign Office said its mission was actively engaged with Greek authorities on the case.
Khan said she was stopped by Greek officials at a checkpoint on Friday afternoon, when she was going to Mount Olympus along with a team of climbers, and upon checking her passport, Greek authorities held her for investigation, from where they took her to jail.
The athlete, who also works with Pakistan’s state TV as a host and participated in the Athens marathon last year, said she wanted to wave the Pakistan flag and Kalima Tayyaba, a profession of the Islamic faith written on a cloth piece that means “there is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah,” on the highest mountain peak in Greece, some 433 kilometers away from Athens.
On Saturday, Mumtaz Zahra Baloch, a spokesperson for Pakistan’s Foreign Office, told Arab News the Pakistani mission in Athens was actively engaged with Greek officials to secure the release of the Pakistani athlete.
Speaking to Arab News after her release on Sunday, the Pakistani athlete said her release was “conditional” even though she had violated no rules of the host country, while she would also not be able to return to Greece for five years.
“They arrested me just when they saw my Pakistani passport and later questioned me when they found Kalima Tayyaba in my bag,” Khan said. “I am completely clueless as to why they arrested me, deprived me of a chance to accomplish my goal, and then asked me to leave.”
She said she was asked to sign documents that she would not enter another European country despite having visas and would return to Pakistan within 20 days.
“It’s my right to know what laws I have violated,” Khan said. “I was there for a healthy activity, but what happened to me caused me mental stress.”
Greek authorities have not issued any statement on Khan’s detention, while the Pakistani Foreign Office spokesperson did not respond, when asked about reasons for her detention and whether Pakistan planned to lodge a protest with Greek authorities in case Khan had not violated any laws of the host country.
“Jailed for doing nothing and just because of being Pakistani,” Khan said, after reuniting with her son, who was waiting for her to return after completing the mission to wave the Pakistani flag and the Islamic scripture on Mount Olympus.
“He asked for the video where I was supposed to wave the flag. I didn’t end his excitement and didn’t tell him about my ordeal.”