In a significant development, Saudi Arabia has proposed a substantial reduction in the number of Hajj operators in Pakistan, from the existing 905 to a mere 46 which is approximately 95 percent.
The revelation came during a recent meeting of the Senate Standing Committee on Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony, presided over by Senator Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri.
Caretaker Federal Minister for Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony, Aneeq Ahmed, shed light on Saudi Arabia's intentions behind this move, citing a letter distributed to all Muslim nations. Saudi Arabia aims to enhance facilities for pilgrims, potentially streamlining the Hajj process. However, the proposed reduction has raised concerns within the Senate Committee.
During the session, committee members recommended an exemption for Hajj operators in 2024, allowing them to continue their operations as usual. Additionally, they urged Saudi Arabia to reconsider and increase the suggested number of operators to 100, taking into account the complex logistical requirements of the pilgrimage.
Officials also provided insights into the upcoming 2023 Hajj, revealing a quota of 179,210 pilgrims, with an equal distribution between the government and private sectors. This equitable distribution aims to ensure that both sectors can continue to serve the pilgrims effectively.
Furthermore, discussions centered on the expansion of the Road to Makkah Project, a critical initiative aimed at improving the overall Hajj experience. Plans are underway to extend the project's reach from Islamabad Airport to major cities like Karachi and Lahore, allowing more Hujjaj to benefit from its services.
In an effort to enhance accessibility and manageability, the Ministry of Religious Affairs proposed a shorter duration for the Hajj pilgrimage in the coming year.
Pilgrims will have the flexibility to choose a duration lasting between 18 to 20 days, aligning with the goal of providing a smoother and more accessible Hajj experience.
As Saudi Arabia's proposal to reduce the number of Pakistani Hajj operators continues to spark discussions, the Senate Committee remains committed to ensuring that the interests of Pakistani pilgrims are safeguarded, while also addressing the need for improvements in the overall Hajj process.
Further developments on this matter are expected in the coming months as negotiations between the two nations progress.