Pakistani officials say Makkah Route initiative approved for Karachi airport

Pakistani officials say Makkah Route initiative approved for Karachi airport
Muslim pilgrims gather around the Kaaba, Islam's holiest shrine, as they perform Eid Al-Adha morning prayers in Mecca, on June 28, 2023. (AFP/File)
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Updated 23 April 2024
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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.


Pakistan gear up for FIFA World Cup Qualifiers matches against Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan

Pakistan gear up for FIFA World Cup Qualifiers matches against Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan
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Pakistan gear up for FIFA World Cup Qualifiers matches against Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan

Pakistan gear up for FIFA World Cup Qualifiers matches against Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan
  • Pakistan will play a home match against Saudi Arabia on June 6 in Islamabad
  • It will be followed by an away match in Tajikistan on June 11, the PFF says

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan football team has begun practicing in Islamabad for the upcoming matches against Saudi Arabia and Tajikistan as part of the FIFA World Cup qualifier round-2, the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) said on Monday.

The Pakistan side is scheduled to play a home match against Saudi Arabia on June 6 in Islamabad, which would be followed by an away match in Tajikistan on June 11. Pakistan is in Group G along with Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Jordan.

A total of 36 football squads have been split into nine groups with four teams each in the second round of qualifiers. The winners and runners-up from each group would progress through to the third round of the World Cup qualifiers.

“Head coach Stephen Constantine is leading the team’s efforts, focusing on refining their skills and tactics for the encounter against one of the football powerhouses (Saudi Arabia),” the PFF said in a statement.

“Goalkeeping coaches Rogerio Ramos and Noman Ibrahim have been dedicating their efforts to the goalkeepers, while fitness coach Claudio Altieri is ensuring peak performance in preparation for the crucial match.”

Preliminary Pakistan squad

Goalkeepers: Hassan Ali and Tanveer

Defenders: Haseeb Khan, Mamoon Moosa Khan, Huzaifa, Waqar Ihtisham, Abdul Rehman, Umar Hayat, Muhammad Adeel, Muhammad Saddam and Zain ul Abideen

Midfielders: Yasir Arafat, Alamgir Ghazi, Ali Uzair, Rajab Ali, Moin Ali, Junaid Ahmed and Fahim

Forwards: Adeel Younas, Shayak Dost, Ali Zafar and Fareedullah

The PFF said the names of diaspora players joining the national training camp later would be included in the final squad.


Pakistan heat wave to ‘intensify’ from May 23 onwards — chief meteorologist

Pakistan heat wave to ‘intensify’ from May 23 onwards — chief meteorologist
Updated 20 May 2024
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Pakistan heat wave to ‘intensify’ from May 23 onwards — chief meteorologist

Pakistan heat wave to ‘intensify’ from May 23 onwards — chief meteorologist
  • Pakistan’s largest province, Punjab, has announced school closures from May 25-31 due to heat wave
  • KP, Balochistan provinces, Kashmir, Gilgit-Baltistan regions to witness higher than average temperatures

KARACHI: A heat wave is expected to hit parts of Pakistan starting today, Monday, Pakistan’s chief meteorologist said, warning that it will “intensify” from May 23 onwards in the South Asian nation at the searing edge of climate change.

Pakistan’s disaster management authority warned last Thursday temperatures in certain areas of Pakistan’s southern Sindh and eastern Punjab provinces could surge to 40 degrees Celsius between May 15-30. On Sunday, the Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) warned of an “intense” heat wave in the southern districts of Punjab, with severe risk identified in Bahawalpur, Rahim Yar Khan, Dera Ghazi Khan and Multan districts from May 21 to May 27.

Heatwaves, which occur in summer, are caused by slow-moving high-pressure systems leading to prolonged high temperatures. The World Meteorological Organization defines a heat wave as five or more consecutive days during which the daily maximum temperature surpasses the average maximum temperature by 5 °C (9 °F) or more.

“Heatwave conditions are expected from today over Sindh, except Karachi, and the plain areas of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces,” Dr. Sardar Sarfaraz, the chief meteorologist at the Met Department, told Arab News. 

“Maximum temperatures are expected to remain 4-6 degrees Celsius above average until May 22 and then intensify from May 23rd with temperatures 6-8 degrees above average,” he said, urging citizens to exercise caution.

Pakistan experienced its first severe heat wave in June 2015 when temperatures as high as 49 degrees Celsius struck the country’s south, causing the deaths of about 2,000 people from dehydration and heatstroke. A heat wave in Sindh’s provincial capital of Karachi that year alone claimed 120 lives. 

Increased exposure to heat, and more heat waves, have been identified as one of the key impacts of climate change in Pakistan, with people experiencing extreme heat and seeing some of the highest temperatures in the world in recent years. The South Asian country of more than 241 million, one of the ten most vulnerable nations to climate change impacts, has also recently witnessed untimely downpours, flash floods and droughts.

Climate change-induced extreme heat can cause illnesses such as heat cramps, heat exhaustion, heatstroke, and hyperthermia. It can make certain chronic conditions worse, including cardiovascular, respiratory, and cerebrovascular disease and diabetes-related conditions, and can also result in acute incidents, such as hospitalizations due to strokes or renal disease.

Dr. Sarfaraz said other than Karachi, the rest of Sindh province would remain in the grips of scorching heat this month.

“While Karachi will not face a heat wave, the rest of the province and the plain areas of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa will be in the grip of the heatwave from today,” he said.

“In Jacobabad, the hottest city of the [Sindh] province, the temperature is expected to reach 50 degrees Celsius during this wave.”

Jacobabad is considered one of the hottest places in the world, with temperatures rising to 50 degrees Celsius between May and August, forcing nearly half the city’s 200,000 people to leave for cooler cities and towns, officials say. 

The federal capital of Islamabad, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan provinces and the Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan regions would also see temperatures 4 to 6 degrees Celsius above average from May 21-27, Dr. Sarfaraz said. 

SCHOOLS CLOSURES 

Separately, the Punjab government announced on Monday it would close public and private schools from May 25-31. 

“In view of the surge in temperature and heat wave in the province, all public and private schools shall remain closed for seven days with effect from 25th May 2024 to 31st May 2024,” a notification from the provincial education department on Monday read, adding that exams could be conducted during these days with necessary precautions in place. 

Punjab Education Minister Rana Sikander Hayat shared the notification on social media platform X, saying the safety of children would always remain the government’s “priority.”

According to the Global Climate Risk Index, nearly 10,000 Pakistanis have died while the country has suffered economic losses worth $3.8 billion due to climate change impacts between 1999 and 2018. 

In 2022, torrential monsoon rains triggered the most devastating floods in Pakistan’s history, killing around 1,700 people and affecting over 33 million, a staggering number close to the population of Canada. Millions of homes, tens of thousands of schools and thousands of kilometers of roads and railways are yet to be rebuilt.


Pakistan government says won’t take ‘unilateral’ decision on new digital media authority 

Pakistan government says won’t take ‘unilateral’ decision on new digital media authority 
Updated 20 May 2024
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Pakistan government says won’t take ‘unilateral’ decision on new digital media authority 

Pakistan government says won’t take ‘unilateral’ decision on new digital media authority 
  • Government drafting new law for social media platforms, including setting up digital rights body
  • Digital rights activists fear new authority could be used to stifle criticism and quell freedom of speech

ISLAMABAD: Minister for Information and Broadcasting Attaullah Tarar said on Monday the government had no intention to pass legislation “unilaterally” to set up a new digital media authority, reassuring journalists that all stakeholders would be consulted in the process.

The government initiated consultations this month over a new draft law aimed at regulating social media platforms, including by setting up a new digital rights protection body, prompting concerns from rights activists that the council would be used to stifle criticism and freedom of speech.

The popular social media platform X has been blocked in Pakistan for over three months after widespread allegations of election manipulation and calls for protests in the wake of Feb. 8 general polls.

Earlier this month, the government launched a new National Cybercrimes Investigation Agency to probe electronic crimes and confirmed that it was working on a draft law to regulate social media content.

“The government has no intention of unilateral legislation regarding the establishment of Digital Media Authority,” state-run Radio Pakistan said in report quoting Tarar after he met a delegation from the National Press Club Islamabad.

“He said all journalist organizations and press clubs will be taken into confidence on the matter.”

Last week, ruling party Senator Afnan Ullah Khan told Arab News the government was working on a draft law to regulate social media content “as we want to curb disinformation and hate speech being spread through these platforms.”

“A committee led by the federal law minister is discussing the draft law as we have to ensure people’s right to freedom of speech and freedom of expression as well,” he added, ruling out concerns the government wanted to muffle its rivals and critics.

Khan said the draft law would be tabled in parliament for debate within four weeks.

“Opposition parties or any parliamentarian can object to any clause of the bill once it is presented in parliament for vote,” he said.

“We want to protect digital rights of our users instead of imposing any restrictions, but at the same time we want those to be prosecuted who violate the law by inciting hate speech and pedaling disinformation, or any content against the national security,” he added.

The draft law may propose the establishment of a digital rights protection authority to ensure effective enforcement of laws, Khan said but “all this will be disclosed to the media and public once the bill is tabled in parliament for discussion.”


Pakistan’s Punjab closes schools for seven days amid heat wave warning

Pakistan’s Punjab closes schools for seven days amid heat wave warning
Updated 20 May 2024
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Pakistan’s Punjab closes schools for seven days amid heat wave warning

Pakistan’s Punjab closes schools for seven days amid heat wave warning
  • Schools will be allowed to conduct examinations as scheduled with necessary precautions in place
  • Disaster management authority said last week heat wave would hit Sindh, Punjab provinces in May and June 

ISLAMABAD: Public and private schools in Pakistan’s most populous Punjab province will remain closed from May 25-31 due to a heat wave expected to last until the end of the month, the provincial education department said on Monday. 

Pakistan’s disaster management authority warned last Thursday temperatures in certain areas of Pakistan’s southern Sindh and eastern Punjab provinces could surge to 40 degrees Celsius between May 15-30. On Sunday, the Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) warned of an “intense” heat wave in the southern districts of Punjab, with severe risk identified in Bahawalpur, Rahim Yar Khan, Dera Ghazi Khan and Multan districts from May 21 to May 27.

“In view of the surge in temperature and heat wave in the province, all public and private schools shall remain closed for seven days with effect from 25th May 2024 to 31st May 2024,” a notification from the provincial education department read, adding that exams could be conducted during these days with necessary precautions in place. 

Punjab Education Minister Rana Sikander Hayat shared the notification on social media platform X, saying the safety of children would always remain the government’s “priority.”

The PDMA’s Sunday statement urged citizens to take precautionary measures. 

“Avoid exertion and exercise in strong sunlight,” it said. “Do not step out of the house unnecessarily. Wear light colored cotton clothes.”

Increased exposure to heat, and more heat waves, have been identified as one of the key impacts of climate change in Pakistan, with people experiencing extreme heat and seeing some of the highest temperatures in the world in recent years. The South Asian country of more than 241 million, one of the ten most vulnerable nations to climate change impacts, has also recently witnessed untimely downpours, flash floods and droughts.

Climate change-induced extreme heat can cause illnesses such as heat cramps, heat exhaustion, heatstroke, and hyperthermia. It can make certain chronic conditions worse, including cardiovascular, respiratory, and cerebrovascular disease and diabetes-related conditions, and can also result in acute incidents, such as hospitalizations due to strokes or renal disease.

According to the Global Climate Risk Index, nearly 10,000 Pakistanis have died while the country has suffered economic losses worth $3.8 billion due to climate change impacts between 1999 and 2018. A deadly heat wave that hit Pakistan’s largest city of Karachi, the capital of Sindh, claimed 120 lives in 2015.

In 2022, torrential monsoon rains triggered the most devastating floods in Pakistan’s history, killing around 1,700 people and affecting over 33 million, a staggering number close to the population of Canada. Millions of homes, tens of thousands of schools and thousands of kilometers of roads and railways are yet to be rebuilt.
 


Pakistan, Turkiye set new goal to enhance bilateral trade volume to $5 billion 

Pakistan, Turkiye set new goal to enhance bilateral trade volume to $5 billion 
Updated 20 May 2024
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Pakistan, Turkiye set new goal to enhance bilateral trade volume to $5 billion 

Pakistan, Turkiye set new goal to enhance bilateral trade volume to $5 billion 
  • Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan arrived in Islamabad on Sunday on two-day visit
  • Pakistani and Turkish FMs says current $1 billion trade volume does not reflect potential

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan and Türkiye on Monday set the goal of enhancing bilateral trade volume to $5 billion, vowing to hold a High-Level Strategic Cooperation Council (HLSCC) meeting in Islamabad in the “very near future.”

Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan arrived in Islamabad on Sunday on a two-day official visit amid Pakistan’s efforts to boost foreign investments and better manage its $350 billion economy. 

The South Asian nation has seen a flurry of foreign visits in recent weeks, including by the Iranian president, Saudi foreign minister, a delegation of top Saudi companies as well as officials from Qatar, China, Japan and Central Asian countries, among others. 

On Monday, Pakistan and Turkiye engaged in delegation-level talks focusing on trade, investment, connectivity and defense ties, with Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Mohammad Ishaq Dar representing Pakistan and Foreign Minister Fidan leading the Turkish delegation.

“We are taking measures to increase our trade to reach $5 billion and planning to hold the next session of the bilateral trade talks in the coming days,” Dar said at a joint media stakeout, without specifying a time period in which the new trade target would be achieved.

“We are planning to hold an HLSCC meeting in Islamabad in the very near future which would carry out a comprehensive review of our ongoing cooperation, including a holistic review of our bilateral, strategic, and economic framework.

“With each passing day, trade, investment and defense relations, as well as people-to-people contacts constitute the basis of our ongoing bilateral cooperation.”

Speaking at the press conference, Fidan said Pakistan held “major strategic and economic importance” due to its location bordering China and the Arabian Sea, positioning it at a junction of energy-rich countries and major economies.

He endorsed Dar’s statement that current bilateral trade volume of $1 billion did not reflect potential and should be enhanced to $5 billion:

“We have taken a principal decision in order to broaden our relations not only in trade but also in defense ... Pakistan is our strategic partner, and our cooperation supports regional stability and safety as well. I would like to once again highlight that we stand with Pakistan in their combat against terrorism.”

Dar also highlighted the history of Pak-Türkiye collaboration on defense projects.

“Pakistan and Turkiye are working on various joint ventures and continue to support each other to defend our territorial sovereignty and fight against terrorism in all its manifestations,” the Pakistani official added. “Our two countries have always supported each other on core issues and have assisted each other in the fight against terrorism.”

Pakistan narrowly averted default last summer, and its economy has stabilized after the completion of the last IMF program, with inflation coming down to around 17 percent in April from a record high 38 percent last May.

It is still dealing with a high fiscal shortfall and while it has controlled its external account deficit through import control mechanisms, it has come at the expense of stagnating growth, which is expected to be around 2 percent this year compared to negative growth last year.

The South Asian is also in negotiations with the IMF for a new, longer-term program of at least $6 billion.