November 22, 2010
The Hajj Fiasco
By Saeed Qureshi
Pakistan’s minister of Science and Technology Azam Khan Swati should be complimented for openly accusing federal minister for Religious Affairs Hamid Saeed Kazmi for being principally responsible for the predicaments of the Pakistani Hajjis in Mecca. While the Prime Minister Gilani, instead of instituting a timely inquiry into the sordid matter, has instead exhorted both the ministers to desist from exchanging condemnatory statements against each other. It patently appears to be a lowly attempt to sweep the dirt under the carpet instead of throwing it out of the window.
If an enquiry were ordered, it would at least lay bare the people responsible for the alleged financial swindles and the lack of proper arrangements for the pilgrims. Even one of the senators Abdul Rahim Mandukhel described the pitiable plight of the Pakistan pilgrims by saying,”as if they were thrown before the wolves.” He painted a graphic picture of what happened to the utterly helpless pilgrims and the manner they were maltreated with callous disregard.
Hajj is described to be one of the five principal pillars of Islam. It is the wish of every Muslim faithful to fulfill this religious observance if his health and economic status permit. Performance of Hajj has become a costly, hazardous, and rigorous undertaking, as it demands physical exertion and monetary cost that in the present time runs into several lakhs of rupees. The common devout Muslims save the money for this religious odyssey in several ways to travel all the way to the holy land, immerse in that divine and spiritual aura, and undergo that sublime experience to be rejuvenated by way of faith, righteousness, and spirituality. It is an exercise that washes off sins and makes one as pure as a newborn baby.
However, the crooks make use of this sublime mission to extort money out of the pilgrims who remain entirely at the mercy of the tour operators and the custodians of the religious affairs ministries both of Pakistan and of Saudi Arabia. A fundamental question arises as to why every time it happens with the Pakistani pilgrims. This time from the Hajjis a sum of 2000 or so dhirams were additionally charged for some kind of arrangements that were not even undertaken. A large number of Hajjis were exposed to such distress that their performance of this fundamental religious obligation was not up to the mark or did not meet the basic benchmarks of the performance of Hajj.
Not only that a federal minister charged the other minister for this mayhem but Pakistan’s ambassador in Saudi Arabia, Umar Khan Ali Sherzai also held the federal religious minister for mishandling the arrangements for Pakistani Hajjis. There cannot be more authentic voice than the Pakistani ambassador to name some one in this dirty episode of corruption and gross mismanagement. It outrightly betokens exploitation and harassment of the Pakistani pilgrims, some of whom must be aged while others had embarked upon the journey to a foreign country for the first time in their lives. Mr. Sherzai has called for an enquiry by a Supreme Court judicial commission to identify the culprits and to fix responsibilities for this unpardonable mishap. This is a genuine demand and must be honored.
The sitting government in Pakistan seems to be customarily stubborn and unmoved over this colossal dereliction of responsibly on the part of the functionaries of the Ministry of Religious Affairs including the minister. According to reports, the pilgrims were without shelter and toilets and had to walk more than ten miles daily in the absence of transport facilities. On top of this highhandedness, they were forced to pay an additional amount of Rs. 25000 per person. The paltry sum of 250 dirham as recompense is like adding insult to the injury. This should be viewed as a clumsy attempt to beguile and bluff the victims of this most ignoble scam, as it was perpetrated in the holy land of Saudi Arabia.
The afflictions of the returning Hajjis are further compounded by the delayed flights, the misplacement, or loss of their luggage and inhospitable atmosphere at the airports both in Saudi Arabia and in Pakistan. While the Saudi airport authorities take prolonged tormenting time to clear the outgoing pilgrims, in Pakistan the aggrieved pilgrims were baton charged when they tried to speak out the tales of their sufferings. Hajj is becoming a prey to the aggravating mismanagement besides the security paranoid.
The most disgusting and irksome part of this woeful story of the prodigious negligence is that only a director was arrested as a scapegoat. The director general Hajj, the minister, and other affiliates are being treated as the holy cows. This ignoble behavior with the Pakistani Hajjis in the holy land apart, the tendency to spare the villains and catch the vulnerable innocents has once again been demonstrated by the government.
(The writer is a Dallas-based freelance journalist and a former diplomat writing mostly on International Affairs with specific focus on Pakistan and the United States)
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Wednesday, December 8, 2010
The Hajj Fiasco
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