Hajj in doldrums for Pakistanis for second consecutive year
Hajj in doldrums for Pakistanis for second consecutive year

Islamabad: With the new strain of coronavirus and Pakistan being on the red list of the Saudi Arabia government, uncertainty still surrounds Hajj preparations for 2022.

Pakistani authorities fear an extraordinary increase in Hajj cost and they have hinted changes in arrangements related to Hajj operation for 2022, the Senate Committee on Religious Affairs and Inter-Faith Harmony was informed on Tuesday.

The officials of the Ministry of Religious Affairs informed the Senate panel that so far the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) hasn’t made a formal announcement for Hajj quota for countries including Pakistan.

The Pakistani government has taken up the matter of Chinese vaccination with the Saudi government for Pakistani aspirants for Hajj for next year and it has agreed to accept the Chinese jab after stipulating the matter with single dosage of vaccines approved by the KSA.

Saudi Arabia has decided to allow entry to foreign travelers fully vaccinated with either Sinopharm or Sinovac vaccines, provided that they also receive a booster shot of either of the four vaccines approved by the KSA.

A top official of the ministry told the panel that although Pakistan continues to be on the red list in terms of travelling restrictions the Saudi government has relaxed these restrictions a bit and now the pilgrims would be quarantined for five days only after landing in the country.

While highlighting factors behind an increase in the cost of Hajj the official told the Senate panel that the kingdom has made it mandatory to follow certain SOPs including social distancing and less people would be accommodated in a hotel. Moreover, pilgrims will be allowed to have only frozen and packed meals instead of having other meals which generally Pakistanis enjoy in routine life.

It was also told that Pakistan’s preparation on Hajj policy for 2022 is complete and soon a one-day conference on Hajj would be organized provided coronavirus situation remains steady in the country.

The panel was informed that the Royal Council of KSA has not approved an extension of a Road to Makah Project to other cities of Pakistan including Karachi, Quetta, Peshawar and Lahore. Currently, this project is effective for Islamabad Station only in Pakistan.

They said that last year only 60,000 local pilgrims of KSA had performed Hajj and no pilgrim outside Saudi Arabia was allowed in this respect.

The panel was briefed that the age restriction for Hajj-2022 will be 18 to 65 years and only those persons would be assigned job of assisting people on Hajj from Pakistan who are well aware in the field of health and IT.

The panel was also informed that notification about Hajj Policy for 2022 and formulation of Hajj Policy Formulation Committee (HPFC) has already been issued. Moreover, notification of Procurement Committee has also been issued besides issuing of notification of the committee which would be responsible for selection of airlines, banks and welfare staff for Hajj operation.

The ministry while briefing on another agenda of the committee told the members that religious minorities in Pakistan can visit any country for religious purposes in world except Israel. They were told that currently there is no as such matter for religious minorities in Pakistan for which immediate policy making measures are required to enable them to travel abroad with ease to visit their sacred places. The committee assured the religious minorities for its full cooperation in resolution of their problems in this connection.

While discussing Guardians and Wards (Amendment) Bill 2021 which was moved by Senator Mohsin Aziz and referred by the House to the standing committee the concerned official of the ministry told the panel that Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) has expressed its reservations over the bill. The bill seeks to amend Section 19 Act VIII of 1890, the Guardians and Wards 1890.

The chair Senator Molana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri while commenting on the bill said that the bill is seeking guardianship of a child to mother if the father is deceased or mentally challenged till the children attain puberty. To it the committee was informed that there was no mentioning of matter like it in the bill. The bill was differed after deciding to ask representatives of CII to brief the committee on the bill.

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