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

Special Saudi-based Pakistani group recruits over 2,500 volunteers to facilitate Hajj pilgrims this year
A man looks map of the Saudi holy city of Makkah as Pakistani volunteers attend a training session to assist pilgrims during this year’s annual Hajj pilgrimage in Jeddah on May 15, 2024. (Photo courtesy: Pakistan Hajj Volunteers Group)
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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)

 


Google partners with Pakistan to create smart classrooms, digitally transform education system

Google partners with Pakistan to create smart classrooms, digitally transform education system
Updated 21 June 2024
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Google partners with Pakistan to create smart classrooms, digitally transform education system

Google partners with Pakistan to create smart classrooms, digitally transform education system
  • Search engine giant partners with Pakistan to set up local assembly of over 500,000 Chromebooks by 2026
  • Pakistan has a staggering population of over 26.2 million out-of-school children, second-highest in the world 

ISLAMABAD: Google and Pakistan’s education ministry on Thursday announced they were partnering up to provide access to education for millions of students across the country, digitally transform Pakistan’s education system and build smart schools, state-run media reported. 

Pakistan has a staggering population of 26.2 million out-of-school children, the second highest in the world, according to Unicef Pakistan. 

Last month, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif declared an education emergency in the country, hoping to ensure access to education for these out-of-school children and improve educational opportunities for them. 

On Thursday, PM Sharif met a high-level delegation of Google for Education headed by its Managing Director Kevin Kells in Islamabad. 

“Ultimately, Google’s collaboration with the Ministry of Federal Education aims to drive a large-scale digital transformation of Pakistan’s education system, creating smart classrooms and fostering a healthy learning ecosystem,” the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) said in a report. 

The state media said Google, through its Google for Education’s country partner Tech Valley, will work with the Pakistani government to establish a local assembly of over 500,000 Chromebooks by 2026. It would also provide access to digital tools and resources for students and teachers in Pakistan.

Chromebooks are a type of laptop or tablet that runs on Google’s Chrome OS operating system and are more cost-effective than regular laptops. 

“As part of the collaboration, Allied, an Australian manufacturer of Google Chromebooks, will establish an assembly line in Pakistan to locally assemble Google Chromebooks, making them more affordable for educational purposes,” APP said.

It said the goal of such an agreement is to ensure that every student in the country has access to “cutting-edge classroom technology” to enhance their learning experience.

“Under the agreement, the teachers would be trained how to use technology effectively in the classroom, develop and implement innovative learning programs that leverage technology,” it said. 

Pakistan’s Education Minister Dr. Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui praised the development, saying it was an important step in ensuring educational access to children. 

“We believe that technology can play a vital role in improving learning outcomes and preparing our students for the future,” he said. 

Farhan S. Qureshi, Google Pakistan’s country director, said access to digital tools will ensure Pakistani children get acclimatized to the digital economy. 
“Also, creating a local assembly of over 500,000 Chromebooks will help Pakistan’s manufacturing industry grow and attract more investments in technology,” Qureshi said.
 


Pakistan’s president advocates ‘political dialogue’ for Balochistan’s stability during Gwadar visit

Pakistan’s president advocates ‘political dialogue’ for Balochistan’s stability during Gwadar visit
Updated 14 sec ago
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Pakistan’s president advocates ‘political dialogue’ for Balochistan’s stability during Gwadar visit

Pakistan’s president advocates ‘political dialogue’ for Balochistan’s stability during Gwadar visit
  • Balochistan is viewed as strategically vital for Pakistan but has witnessed separatist and militant violence for decades
  • President Asif Ali Zardari calls for improved law enforcement capacity, better prosecution system to counter violence

ISLAMABAD: President Asif Ali Zardari on Thursday emphasized political dialogue for peace, development and prosperity in Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan region, which has been recognized as vital for the country’s strategic interests but has also witnessed prolonged militant and separatist violence.

Pakistan’s largest province by area, Balochistan holds a strategic position that borders Iran and Afghanistan, making it pivotal for regional connectivity and central to the multibillion-dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which aims to strengthen the ties between Pakistan, the Middle East and Central Asia. The government has also taken initiatives to tap the province’s vast mineral and natural resources that largely remain underexploited, hoping to utilize them for the country’s economic growth.

However, Balochistan has witnessed a low-level insurgency carried out by Baloch nationalist groups who have long accused Pakistani governments of profiting from the province’s natural resources while leaving the region underdeveloped for its own residents.

Zardari, who went to the region’s strategic Gwadar port city on a daylong visit, chaired a meeting on the security situation in Balochistan on Thursday.

“Political dialogue is the way forward to bring prosperity, development and peace to Balochistan,” he was quoted as saying by his office after the meeting.

However, the president also spoke about enhancing the capacity of law enforcement agencies (LEAs) in the area, emphasized the deployment of “competent officers” in the province and called for a better prosecution mechanism to counter violence in Balochistan.

“Compensation for the families of martyrs of LEAs in Balochistan should be enhanced, bringing it at par with the rest of the provinces,” he said.

He also instructed the authorities to take necessary measures for the safety of religious tourists from other province who travel to the Middle East from Balochistan.

The president also maintained it was necessary to focus on skill development of people, adding that trained human resources should be equipped with foreign language skills to help them find jobs in other countries.

“There is a need for providing financing and equipment to local fishermen, apart from promoting sustainable fishing practices and checking the production of illegal fishing nets,” he added while speaking about one of the leading livelihood sources for people in Gwadar.

The meeting was also attended by Pakistan’s interior minister Mohsin Naqvi, Balochistan’s chief minister Sarfaraz Bugti and senior military officials.


Crowd in Pakistan’s northwest kills man accused of burning Qur’an – police

Crowd in Pakistan’s northwest kills man accused of burning Qur’an – police
Updated 21 June 2024
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Crowd in Pakistan’s northwest kills man accused of burning Qur’an – police

Crowd in Pakistan’s northwest kills man accused of burning Qur’an – police
  • The mob took the man away from a police station in Swat where he had been detained for his protection
  • The police say they fired warning shots into the air to disperse the crowd, but it further angered the people

PESHAWAR: A Pakistani man accused of desecrating the Holy Qur’an was slain and burned Thursday by a crowd that removed him from a police station where he had been detained for his protection, authorities said.

“On the evening of the 20th, locals in the Madian area detained a man, alleging he had burned the Qur’an. The police intervened, rescued him, and took him to the local police station,” a police source in Swat told AFP, noting the man was not from the area.

But the crowd, urged on by local mosques, converged on the police station and pelted it with stones.

“To disperse the angry mob, police fired warning shots into the air, which further incited the crowd. The mob overpowered the police, dragged the man out, and beat him to death with sticks,” the source said.

Later, some people poured oil on his body and set it ablaze, the source added.

A local official confirmed the incident, saying: “After killing the man, the enraged protesters started stoning the police, forcing them to abandon the station.”

The situation in the area remained tense, with protesters blocking the main road, according to the official.

Blasphemy is a highly sensitive subject in majority Muslim Pakistan, where even accusations without evidence can stir up anger among crowds and spark outbreaks of violence.

In late May, a Christian accused of burning pages of the Holy Qur’an was also lynched by a mob in Pakistan’s eastern Punjab region, before succumbing to his injuries in early June, according to police.

Also in Punjab, in February 2023, a crowd beat to death a Muslim accused of having desecrated the holy book.


Pakistan’s ruling party, key ally to hold further talks to bridge budget differences

Pakistan’s ruling party, key ally to hold further talks to bridge budget differences
Updated 56 min 10 sec ago
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Pakistan’s ruling party, key ally to hold further talks to bridge budget differences

Pakistan’s ruling party, key ally to hold further talks to bridge budget differences
  • Pakistan Peoples Party, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz agree to form committees to resolve differences 
  • Bhutto-Zardari led PPP has accused government of ignoring its recommendations in federal budget

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s ruling party and one of its major coalition allies, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) on Thursday agreed to form committees to bridge their differences over the fiscal budget and other matters related to the allocation of development funds, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) said in a statement. 

Differences between the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the PPP parties arose last week when the government unveiled its much-awaited Rs18.877 trillion ($67.76 billion) federal budget for the fiscal year 2024-25 on Wednesday. 

The tax-heavy budget is expected to play a pivotal role in Pakistan’s negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a fresh financial assistance program with the global lender. The PPP alleged that the government did not take it into confidence regarding key aspects of the budget.

PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari called on Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif with a delegation of senior party leaders on Thursday to discuss the main points of contention between them, ahead of the key vote on the budget slated for next week. PPP lawmakers’ votes will be crucial for the government, without which it would not be able to pass the document. 

“All political parties have to work together for the country’s progress, prosperity and public welfare,” Sharif was quoted as saying in a handout issued by the PMO after the meeting concluded. 

The prime minister said the government has taken measures in the budget to provide relief to the common man.

“Further consultation will continue through the committees,” the statement said. 

It pointed out how Pakistan’s benchmark index rose to a historic high on Thursday, saying that it was proof that the budget had been validated by traders and investors. 

Pakistan’s benchmark share index rose 2.8 percent to a new record high on Thursday, as investors welcomed the budget since it avoided an anticipated increase in capital gains tax, despite an ambitious tax revenue target.

Pakistan’s parliament held a debate session on the budget after a hiatus of a week on Thursday. Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Omar Ayub described it as “economic terrorism.”

“This budget in actuality is economic terrorism against the people and the future of the country,” Ayub said. 

'RUBBER STAMP IN PARLIAMENT'

PPP lawmaker Sehar Kamran told Arab News earlier this week that the government had ignored her party in pre-budget consultations and wanted to use them as a “rubber stamp” in parliament to have the budget passed.

“Shehbaz Sharif’s government wants to use us as a rubber stamp in parliament to pass the budget, but we won’t do it if our reservations are not addressed,” Kamran said.

Kamran said the two parties also disagreed over the distribution of development funds and various projects related to Pakistan’s provinces.

The PPP, which voted Sharif into power after the contentious national election in February, is not part of the federal government but has its government in Pakistan’s southern Sindh province. 

“If the government needs our votes in parliament to pass the budget, then it will have to listen to us first to address our grievances,” she had said.


Baloch separatist outfit kidnaps 10 tourists in southwestern Pakistan

Baloch separatist outfit kidnaps 10 tourists in southwestern Pakistan
Updated 20 June 2024
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Baloch separatist outfit kidnaps 10 tourists in southwestern Pakistan

Baloch separatist outfit kidnaps 10 tourists in southwestern Pakistan
  • All 10 persons, including Pakistan Customs official, hail from eastern Punjab province, says Levies official 
  • Banned outfit Balochistan Liberation Army, which has targeted Punjab-based laborers in past, claims responsibility

QUETTA: Separatist militant outfit Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) this week kidnapped 10 tourists in southwestern Pakistan who hailed from Punjab, an official of a local law enforcement force confirmed on Thursday.

The incident took place on Wednesday night at a famous tourist point named Shaban, 35 kilometers from the provincial capital of Quetta in southwestern Balochistan province, Levies official Ajmal Khan confirmed. 

Khan said around 50-60 armed men kidnapped 14 people from a rest house in Shaban. After checking their identification cards, four were released while 10 were detained, he revealed. 

“Ten people, including one Pakistan Customs personnel, belonging to Punjab were taken to an unknown place,” Khan, who is the head muharrar or person responsible for documentation at the Levies station in Harnai district where the incident took place, told Arab News. 

Khan said the BLA was responsible for the kidnapping, adding that the militant group had hoisted its flag atop the rest house. He said it is difficult for authorities to carry out a search operation as the area where the incident took place was a far-flung one. 

“Here BLA has camps and we have warned tourists to not come to this place,” the Levies official said. 

In a separate statement, BLA claimed responsibility for kidnapping the tourists. 

“In an intelligence-based operation in Quetta’s Shaban area, Balochistan Liberation Army’s Fatah Squad took into custody 10 suspicious persons,” the group stated. 

It said the detained persons were being questioned, adding that a detailed statement would be issued to the media “soon.” 

Pakistan’s restive Balochistan province, which shares porous borders with Afghanistan and Iran, has been wracked by an insurgency launched by ethnic Baloch militants since decades. 

These Baloch nationalists have long accused the Pakistani government and Punjab province of monopolizing profits from Balochistan’s abundant natural resources, saying it has led to political marginalization and economic exploitation.

However, Pakistani administrations have denied these allegations, citing several development initiatives launched in the province to improve local living conditions.

In April and May, three separate attacks in Balochistan targeted laborers from Pakistan’s Punjab province. A group of unidentified gunmen attacked and killed seven laborers in a residential quarter in Gwadar, a coastal town in Pakistan, on May 9. 

In April, the BLA claimed responsibility for the killings of nine Punjab residents traveling to Iran from Quetta. In another incident that took place in April, two workers from Punjab were targeted in Balochistan.