476 Pakistani Hajj assistants arrive in Saudi Arabia to facilitate pilgrims

Special 476 Pakistani Hajj assistants arrive in Saudi Arabia to facilitate pilgrims
Pakistan’s Hajj support staff work to facilitate pilgrims in Makkah, Saudi Arabia on May 25, 2024. (Courtesy: Pakistan Hajj Mission)
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Updated 30 May 2024
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476 Pakistani Hajj assistants arrive in Saudi Arabia to facilitate pilgrims

476 Pakistani Hajj assistants arrive in Saudi Arabia to facilitate pilgrims
  • This year Pakistan chose 550 individuals to assist local pilgrims during Hajj pilgrimage
  • Four hundred and fifty-seven assistants are in Makkah, 19 in Madinah, says official

ISLAMABAD: Four hundred and seventy-six Hajj assistants or “Moavineen” have arrived in Saudi Arabia to assist pilgrims in the cities of Makkah and Madinah weeks before the annual Islamic pilgrimage begins, a Pakistan Hajj Mission official confirmed on Wednesday.
Pakistan selects hundreds of doctors and assistants each year to facilitate local pilgrims in Saudi Arabia during Hajj. These assistants provide Pakistani pilgrims with guidance regarding the pilgrimage, the holy sites in Makkah and Madinah as well as logistical support and medical aid if necessary.
Pakistan chose 550 individuals this year as volunteers to assist pilgrims during Hajj. In a first, candidates had to pass the National Testing Service (NTS) exam to qualify for the service.
“Five hundred and fifty support staff have been selected this year through the third-party NTS after conducting written and physical tests,” Pakistan’s director-general of Hajj, Abdul Wahab Soomro, told Arab News.
“Total 476 support staff have reached Saudi Arabia till date and out of these, 457 are performing duties in Makkah and the remaining 19 are presently posted in Madinah,” he added.
Soomro said 297 individuals have been assigned building management duties while 101 are responsible for transportation.
“Forty-five have been assigned food responsibilities, seven are in the mission’s control office, four are in the inspection cell, two are in the departure cell and one is in the lost and found cell in Makkah,” he said.
Soomro said the assistants’ deployment would be changed as per the requirements.
More than 41,000 Pakistani pilgrims have arrived in the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah since May 9, Pakistan’s Ministry of Religious Affairs has confirmed.
The month-long pre-flight Hajj operation is expected to last till June 9.
Around 179,210 Pakistanis will perform Hajj under both the government and private schemes, with this year’s pilgrimage expected to run from June 14-19.


Pakistan’s Punjab warns of urban flooding as 35 percent more rains expected this monsoon season

Pakistan’s Punjab warns of urban flooding as 35 percent more rains expected this monsoon season
Updated 21 sec ago
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Pakistan’s Punjab warns of urban flooding as 35 percent more rains expected this monsoon season

Pakistan’s Punjab warns of urban flooding as 35 percent more rains expected this monsoon season
  • Large swathes of the South Asian country were submerged in 2022 due to extremely heavy monsoon rains
  • Pakistan has also been in grips of heat wave since last month, with temperatures in some regions rising adobe 50°C

ISLAMABAD: The Punjab Disaster Management Authority on Sunday warned of urban flooding in parts of the province next month as monsoon rains start from July 1, with 35 percent more downpours expected this year in a country considered one of the most vulnerable to climate change impacts.

Large swathes of the South Asian nation were submerged in 2022 due to extremely heavy monsoon rains and melting glaciers, a phenomenon linked to climate change that damaged crops and infrastructure and killed at least 1,700 people, displaced millions and inflicted billions of dollars in losses.

“Heavy rains with thundershowers are expected in Upper Punjab, Central Punjab and South Punjab,” the PDMA said in a statement, announcing that the monsoons would begin in the province from July 1 and 35 percent rain more rain was expected this year compared to previous years. “Monsoon rains in July threaten urban flooding and hill torrents in South Punjab.”

The PDMA called on the district administration to ensure safety measures were put in place before the rains began. 

“Complete cleaning of rivers and drainage arrangements should be made as soon as possible,” the statement said. “Protection of life and property of citizens is the first priority and there is no room for negligence or irresponsibility.”

In 2010, the worst floods in memory affected 20 million people in Pakistan, with damage to infrastructure running into billions of dollars and huge swathes of crops destroyed as one fifth of the country was inundated.

Pakistan has also been in the grips of a heat wave since last month, with temperatures in some regions rising to above 50 degrees Celsius. 


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
Updated 11 min 39 sec ago
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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 21 min 11 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 23 June 2024
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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.