Pakistan signs bilateral Haj agreement; no change in quota


Saudi Gazette

JEDDAH — Amid uncertainty about the country’s new Haj policy due to multiple lawsuits pending in courts, Pakistan has signed the bilateral agreement with Saudi Arabia on arrangements for its pilgrims during the upcoming annual pilgrimage.

Minister of Haj and Umrah Dr. Mohammed Saleh Benten and Pakistan’s Minister for Religious Affairs Sardar Mohammed Yo¬usaf signed the agreement in Makkah on Thursday.

Deputy Minister of Haj and Umrah Abdulfattah Mashat, Pakistan’s Religious Affairs Secretary Khalid Masood Chaudhary, and Director General of Haj Sajid Yoosafani were among those who attended the bilateral talks prior to signing the agreement.

The Haj quota for Pakistan will remain unchanged at 179,210 like last year though the delegation had requested a raise in the existing quota to 210,000 in view of an increase in the country’s population.

The Pakistan government has been according high priority to Haj in the last few years and as a result there has been a constant increase in the number of applications to perform the pilgrimage under the government scheme. This year there were more than 350,000 applicants, according to Pakistani officials.

If everything goes well without any implications from court rulings, as many as 120,000 Pakistanis will perform the Haj under the government scheme out of the total quota of 179,210.

The remaining 59,210 pilgrims will travel under private arrangements.

The government’s quota was increased to 67 percent this year in view of the rising demand.

Pakistan used to be among countries that reach agreements with Saudi Arabia early to organize various aspects of Haj. But this year the agreement was delayed due to multiple lawsuits in courts challenging the Religious Affairs Ministry’s new Haj policy.

The petitions filed in provincial courts claimed that the Haj policy was against the Shariah because it prevented individuals from performing the annual pilgrimage more than once within a specific period of time.

The Lahore High Court has ordered the ministry to stop the drawing of lots for 17 percent of the quota for the government’s Haj scheme until the matter is resolved.