The Saudi government has taken the decision to significantly reduce the number of Pakistani Hajj Group Organizers (HGOs) from 905 to just 46. The Senate Standing Committee on Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony met to discuss the implications of this decision, shedding light on the challenges and potential measures to address them.
Chaired by Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri, the committee convened with the participation of senior officials and representatives from the Hajj Organizers Association of Pakistan (HOAP), in addition to the additional secretary of the religious affairs ministry. During the meeting, it was revealed that the religious affairs ministry had already dispatched a letter to the Saudi Hajj and Umrah Ministry, requesting a deferral of this reduction for the current year and proposing a gradual decrease in the number of group organizers in the following years.
While Pakistan eagerly awaits a response from Saudi authorities, it has been emphasized that the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah is unlikely to reconsider its decision. In light of this, the committee recommended that the ministry prepare for the possibility of the Saudi ruling remaining unchanged.
After thorough deliberation, the committee suggested that the Caretaker Minister of Religious Affairs, Aneeq Ahmed, engage with his Saudi counterpart to advocate Pakistan’s stance on this matter. Furthermore, the committee directed the Hajj director-general to address the concerns of Hajj pilgrims with the relevant Saudi authorities.
In an additional development, it was disclosed that Saudi authorities had approved a proposal for the launch of the ‘Road to Makkah’ project, initially commencing at Lahore and Karachi airports. The committee proposed the extension of this facility to airports in Peshawar and Quetta, aiming to facilitate a more convenient and streamlined Hajj experience for Pakistani pilgrims.
The decision to significantly reduce the number of Pakistani Hajj Group Organizers has raised concerns and questions within the community of pilgrims and organizers. As Saudi Arabia plays a pivotal role in the annual Hajj pilgrimage, the adjustment in the number of group organizers necessitates a reevaluation of logistical arrangements and accommodations for Pakistani pilgrims.
While efforts have been made to appeal to the Saudi authorities for a postponement and a gradual reduction, the prevailing sentiment suggests that the decision may stand. Consequently, it becomes crucial to prepare for the implications of this transformation in the organization of Hajj groups.
Caretaker Minister Aneeq Ahmed’s engagement with his Saudi counterpart signifies Pakistan’s commitment to ensuring the best possible arrangements for its pilgrims. The close collaboration between the two countries will be instrumental in addressing the challenges that this reduction in HGOs may present.
Additionally, the proposal to expand the ‘Road to Makkah’ project to airports in Peshawar and Quetta showcases a commitment to enhancing the convenience and accessibility of the Hajj experience for pilgrims originating from different regions of Pakistan.
As the situation unfolds, the Pakistani government and relevant authorities will continue to work diligently to ensure a smooth and well-organized Hajj for all those embarking on this sacred pilgrimage.