Pakistan religion minister applauds Saudi Arabia for innovation in facilitation of Hajj pilgrims

Pakistan religion minister applauds Saudi Arabia for innovation in facilitation of Hajj pilgrims
Pakistan’s Religious Affairs Minister Chaudhry Salik Hussain meeting with Saudi Minister of Hajj and Umrah Dr. Tawfiq bin Fawzan Al-Rabiah on May 21, 2024, in Makkah, Saudi Arabia. (Photo Courtesy: Pakistani religious affair ministry)
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Updated 21 May 2024
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Pakistan religion minister applauds Saudi Arabia for innovation in facilitation of Hajj pilgrims

Pakistan religion minister applauds Saudi Arabia for innovation in facilitation of Hajj pilgrims
  • Hajj is one of five pillars of Islam and requires every Muslim to undertake the journey at least once
  • Around 26,711 Pakistani pilgrims have arrived in Saudi Arabia ahead of the next month’s pilgrimage

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Religious Affairs Minister Chaudhry Salik Hussain on Tuesday met with Saudi Minister of Hajj and Umrah Dr. Tawfiq bin Fawzan Al-Rabiah and commended the innovative reforms implemented by the Saudi authorities to facilitate Hajj pilgrims, the Pakistani religious affair ministry said.
Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam and requires every adult Muslim to undertake the journey to the holy Islamic sites in Makkah at least once in their lifetime if they are financially and physically able.
According to Pakistan’s religious affairs ministry, 26,711 Pakistani pilgrims have arrived in Saudi Arabia ahead of next month’s Hajj, less than two weeks after Pakistan kicked off its pre-Hajj flight operation.
Hussain arrived in Saudi Arabia last week to review Pakistan’s arrangements for Hajj pilgrims and has since toured various departments as well as met with Saudi authorities.
“Hussain appreciated the innovative and exemplary reforms of the Saudi authorities for the facilitation of Hajj pilgrims arriving in the Kingdom from across the globe,” Pakistan’s religious affairs ministry said in a statement.
The two figures had a detailed discussion regarding bilateral relations and arrangements for Hajj 2024, according to the statement. Hussain lauded the Kingdom for extending the best facilities and excellent support to the pilgrims.
He described the progress on new Pakistan Houses, which house the country’s Hajj missions, in Makkah and Madinah as “positive.”
“Saudi companies responsible for providing services under the leadership of the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah are doing a good job,” Hussain was quoted as saying in the statement.
Hussain also discussed the matter of pending transport contracts for 40,000 Pakistani Hajj pilgrims facilitated by private tour operators, to which the Saudi minister assured him the matter would be resolved within the next few days.
“Pakistan’s Hajj group operators should reform and follow Saudi directives,” Hussain urged, saying his ministry would take action if pilgrims faced inconvenience due to private operators.
Pakistan has a Hajj quota of 179,210 pilgrims this year, of which 63,805 people will perform the pilgrimage under the government scheme, while the rest will use private tour operators. This year’s pilgrimage is expected to run from June 14 till June 19.


Two paramilitary soldiers killed in northwest Pakistan by militants ‘infiltrating from Afghanistan’ — police

Two paramilitary soldiers killed in northwest Pakistan by militants ‘infiltrating from Afghanistan’ — police
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Two paramilitary soldiers killed in northwest Pakistan by militants ‘infiltrating from Afghanistan’ — police

Two paramilitary soldiers killed in northwest Pakistan by militants ‘infiltrating from Afghanistan’ — police
  • Police say clashes reported on Saturday in different locations in Lower Dir but situation now “under control”
  • Islamabad says militants use safe havens in Afghanistan to launch attacks inside Pakistan, which Kabul denies

PESHAWAR: Two soldiers from Pakistan’s paramilitary Frontier Corps had been killed in two days of clashes between local security forces and militants who had allegedly infiltrated from neighboring Afghanistan into Pakistan’s northwestern border regions over the weekend, police said.

Islamabad blames an ongoing surge in militant attacks on Afghanistan, saying Pakistani Taliban, or TTP, leaders have taken refuge there and run camps to train insurgents to launch attacks inside Pakistan. The Afghan Taliban rulers in Kabul say rising violence in Pakistan is a domestic issue for Islamabad and it does not allow militants to operate on its territory.

The TTP pledges allegiance to, and gets its name from, the Afghan Taliban, but is not directly a part of the group. Its stated aim is to impose Islamic religious law in Pakistan, as the Taliban have done in Afghanistan.

Mazhar Iqbal, a district police officer in Lower Dir, told Arab News clashes were reported on Saturday in different locations in the district but the situation was now “under control.”

“Backed by police, FC has been carrying out clearing operations,” Iqbal said on Sunday. “We have no reports of exact number of casualties on either side as of yet … The situation has now returned to normalcy. Security forces and police have started patrolling to thwart any untoward incident.”

A report issued by police in Dir yesterday, Saturday, said two FC soldiers had been killed and another injured in the clashes.

“Both sides are locked in intense fire and a search and strike operation is underway in mountainous areas by police and security forces,” the report said, adding that helicopter gunships were pounding militant hideouts in Lower Dir district on the Pakistani side.

Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper and other media outlets also reported infiltration by militants from the Afghan side via the Shahi border area at Lamotai Top, Suripao and Safarai forest.

“According to locals, members of the banned TTP, hailing from Lower Dir and Swat districts, often use the Shahi and Binshahi route to enter into Lower Dir and move further toward Swat,” Dawn said.

The Pakistan army and FC have not yet commented on the latest clashes. 

The TTP is responsible for some of the bloodiest attacks in Pakistan, including on security forces, churches, schools and the shooting of Malala Yousafzai, who survived the 2012 attack after she was targeted for her campaign against the Taliban’s efforts to deny women education.

Pakistani forces were able to effectively dismantle the TTP and kill most of its top leadership in a string of military operations from 2014 onwards in the tribal areas, driving most of the fighters into neighboring Afghanistan, where Islamabad says they have regrouped. Kabul denies this.


23 of 49 suspects in Pakistan blasphemy lynching case arrested — police

23 of 49 suspects in Pakistan blasphemy lynching case arrested — police
Updated 10 min 2 sec ago
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23 of 49 suspects in Pakistan blasphemy lynching case arrested — police

23 of 49 suspects in Pakistan blasphemy lynching case arrested — police
  • Swat District Police Officer Dr. Zahid Khan confirms formation of joint investigation team to probe Swat lynching 
  • Rights groups say Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are often misused to persecute minorities or even against Muslims 

PESHAWAR: At least 23 out of 49 suspects identified in the case of the lynching of a man over suspected blasphemy earlier this week have been arrested, police said on Sunday, as the provincial government of the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province set up a special investigation team to probe the incident of mob violence. 

A local tourist belonging to Pakistan’s Sialkot city was dragged from a police station by a mob in the northwestern Swat district on Thursday before being killed and set on fire over accusations he had burnt pages of the Qur’an. 

“23 suspects have been arrested in connection with the lynching case,” District Police Officer (DPO) Dr. Zahid Khan told Arab News. “A total of 49 identified and 2,000-2,500 unknown suspects have been nominated in the first information [police] report.”

Khan confirmed that a joint investigation team had been formed by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa administration with members from the counter-terrorism, information technology and special branch departments.

Police teams were continuing raids to arrest remaining suspects, the DPO said, and authorities were using modern technology like facial recognition to identify people involved in the incident, videos of which were widely circulated on social media. 

Suspects in the case have been nominated under several Pakistani laws dealing with premeditated murder, rioting, unlawful assembly, being armed with deadly weapons and obstructing public servants in the discharge of public functions, among other charges. 

Lynchings are not uncommon in Pakistan where the mere accusation of blasphemy can lead to mob violence. 

Last month, a Christian man in his seventies was attacked by a mob on charges of burning pages of the Qur’an. He later died of his injuries in hospital. 

In 2021, a Sri Lankan factory manager was lynched in one of the highest-profile incidents in the country. Six people were sentenced to death for their part in the lynching after the incident sparked a global outcry.

Human rights groups say Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are often misused to persecute minorities or even against Muslims to settle personal rivalries.


Pilgrims arrive in Pakistan from India to mark death anniversary of Sikh empire’s first emperor 

Pilgrims arrive in Pakistan from India to mark death anniversary of Sikh empire’s first emperor 
Updated 52 min 38 sec ago
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Pilgrims arrive in Pakistan from India to mark death anniversary of Sikh empire’s first emperor 

Pilgrims arrive in Pakistan from India to mark death anniversary of Sikh empire’s first emperor 
  • Ranjit Singh was first Maharaja of Sikh Empire, which ruled northwest Indian subcontinent in 19th century
  • Death anniversary rituals will be centered around the famed Gurdwara Panja Sahib in Hasan Abdal city

ISLAMABAD: Around 447 Sikh pilgrims from India have arrived at the famed Gurdwara Panja Sahib shrine in the Pakistani city of Hassan Abdal to attend events marking the 185th death anniversary of Ranjit Singh, the first Maharaja of the Sikh Empire, state media reported on Sunday.

Sikhs are a small minority mostly based in the Punjab region that is divided between Muslim-majority Pakistan and Hindu-majority India, but several key Sikh holy sites are in Pakistan, including the famed Gurdwara Panja Sahib, some 45 kilometers northwest of Islamabad. The shrine is one of Sikhism’s holiest sites and it is believed that the handprint of the founder of the religion, Guru Nanak, is imprinted on a boulder there.

Nanak was born in what is now called Nankana Sahib in present-day Pakistan. Ranjit Singh, popularly known as Sher-e-Punjab or “Lion of Punjab,” was the first Maharaja of the Sikh Empire, which ruled the northwest Indian subcontinent in the early half of the 19th century.

“As many as 447 Indian Sikh pilgrims have arrived at the Gurdwara Punja Sahib in Hassan Abdal to participate in rituals in connection with the 185th death anniversary of Maharaja Ranjit Singh,” Radio Pakistan said on Sunday. 

The pilgrims were welcomed by officials of the Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee as well as the Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB), a key government department that administers evacuee properties, including educational, charitable or religious trusts left behind by Hindus and Sikhs who migrated to India after partition.

Group leader Sardar Khushwint Singh thanked the government for allowing a large number of Sikh pilgrims to visit religious sites in Pakistan, the report said.

The Sikh pilgrims arrived in Pakistan by foot on Friday through the Wagha Border, according to the ETPB, where they were welcomed by Additional Secretary Shrines Saif Ullah Khokhar, along with the head of the Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, Sardar Ramesh Singh Arora, who is also the provincial minister for minority affairs. 

Khokhar told media the pilgrims would be provided free accommodation, meals, transportation and medical facilities during their stay in Pakistan. 

“After completing immigration and customs formalities, the sikh pilgrims departed for Gurdwara Panja Sahib on special buses,” the ETPB said. “The main ceremony for Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s death anniversary will be held on June 29 at Gurdwara Dera Sahib in Lahore.”

Pakistan’s government has taken significant steps in recent years to make Sikh holy sites more accessible to devout Sikhs, particularly those from India. In 2019, Pakistan established the Kartarpur Corridor, a visa-free border crossing and religious corridor that devotees from India can use to visit a famous gurdwara in Kartarpur, 4.7 kilometers from the India-Pakistan border on the Pakistani side.


Azhar Mahmood to pursue legal action against ‘false allegations’ following Pakistan’s T20 WC exit

Azhar Mahmood to pursue legal action against ‘false allegations’ following Pakistan’s T20 WC exit
Updated 23 June 2024
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Azhar Mahmood to pursue legal action against ‘false allegations’ following Pakistan’s T20 WC exit

Azhar Mahmood to pursue legal action against ‘false allegations’ following Pakistan’s T20 WC exit
  • Coach mulling legal options amid widespread allegations families of players, coaching staff traveled to US on PCB expense 
  • Pakistan team and management in line of fire this month as squad failed to qualify for second round of ICC T20 World Cup 2024

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan cricket team’s assistant head coach, Azhar Mahmood, warned on Saturday he would pursue legal action against those levelling “false” allegations against him and his family for traveling to the United States (US) at the expense of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) during the ongoing T20 World Cup series. 

The Pakistan team and management have been in the line of fire this month as the national squad failed to qualify for the second round of the ICC T20 World Cup 2024. The criticism has revolved around the team’s performance as well as that the families of players and coaching staff traveled to the US on the PCB’s expense. 

“I will be pursuing legal advice against those responsible for making these false allegations toward me and my family, and strict action will be taken accordingly,” the former cricketer said in a post on X. “We will not be further discussing this matter on social media.”

He called the allegations “baseless and false,” and said the culture of falsely accusing and misleading people was turning “ridiculous and dangerous.”

Pakistani media has also widely reported this week on captain Babar Azam mulling legal action against YouTubers and former players who had accused him of misconduct during the T20 World Cup.

Pakistan fell to the tournament’s biggest upset when the United States, a tier-two member of the game, beat the 2009 champions via Super Over. Defeat by arch-rivals India then left Babar’s side with a mountain to climb to advance.

Babar had stepped down as captain of all three formats after Pakistan failed to make the knockout stage of the 50-overs World Cup in India last year, but was reinstated as white-ball skipper ahead of the 20-overs showpiece in the US and West Indies.


Number of Pakistani women officers taking combat courses in US up 150 percent in decade — report

Number of Pakistani women officers taking combat courses in US up 150 percent in decade — report
Updated 23 June 2024
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Number of Pakistani women officers taking combat courses in US up 150 percent in decade — report

Number of Pakistani women officers taking combat courses in US up 150 percent in decade — report
  • 55 women attended IMET courses from 2020-2023, which is more than double the 22 women who participated from 2013-2019
  • Over the last two consecutive years, Pakistan led the region in sending female military officers for courses in the United States

ISLAMABAD: The number of Pakistani women officers who received military training in the United States increased by 150 percent in the last decade, according to a report released this month by the US State Department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs.

Since 2013, the number of Pakistani female military personnel participating in the International Military Education and Training program (IMET) has significantly grown. The State Department-sponsored program is designed to build military-to-military relationships with partner nations by funding international military students to attend American military training and education courses.

“Fifty-five women have attended IMET courses from 2020-2023, which is more than double the 22 women who participated from 2013 to 2019,” the report said. “In addition, over the last two consecutive years, Pakistan has led the region in sending female military officers for courses in the United States.”

The report said Pakistani women officers had been attending specialized courses focused on topics such as anti-terrorism and anti-piracy, military justice, information technology, cyber strategies, public affairs, gender-based violence, and medical-related courses.

Two women attended the US Naval Postgraduate School and completed their MBAs in financial management. Another student from the Judicial Commission returned to Pakistan to take an appointment in a train-the-trainer capacity and was tasked with updating Pakistan’s own curriculum. In addition, two female officers had qualified for Pakistani staff college this year, which would open the opportunity for them to attend staff college in the United States as well.

“With women now in the combat arms ranks in the Pakistani military, female officers are attending professional military education courses and returning to the force to be considered for leadership positions,” the report added.