Islamabad: Pakistan government has been
embroiled in an embarrassing controversy over fraud in
arrangements for annual Haj pilgrims, with authorities
ordering two separate inquiries into graft allegations amidst
calls for the resignation of the Religious Affairs Minister.
A court in Islamabad today remanded Rao Shakeel Ahmed,
the former chief of the Religious Affairs Ministry`s Hajj
directorate, to custody for three more days.
Ahmed, who was removed from his post and arrested on
November 13, has been accused of wrongdoing in hiring
accommodation for thousands of Pakistani pilgrims from Saudi
Arabian firms. Ahmed`s successor Sultan Shah too has been
recalled to Pakistan from Saudi Arabia by the government.
At the same time, pressure is mounting on Religious
Affairs Minister Hamid Saeed Kazmi from within PPP-led
government to quit over the scandal, which is being described
as the country`s biggest fraud in Hajj arrangements.
Science and Technology Minister Azam Khan Swati
yesterday said action should be taken against Kazmi for
alleged corruption in the Hajj arrangements.
Swati and Kazmi engaged in a war of words before Prime
Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani stepped in today to end the feud.
An official statement said Gilani spoke to both
ministers this morning and asked them to refrain from making
statements as an inquiry had been started to fix
responsibility for "malpractices in the Hajj arrangements".
Official sources said Gilani also asked Kazmi to take
back a legal notice he had served on Swati, seeking Rs 100
million as compensation over corruption allegations.
The premier asked Kazmi, currently in Saudi Arabia, to
meet him as soon he returned to Pakistan and to submit a
report on the alleged corruption, the sources said.
Following protests by Pakistani pilgrims who performed
Hajj under a government scheme, President Asif Ali Zardari
ordered the Federal Investigation Agency to conduct a probe
while Gilani ordered a separate inquiry.
Under the government`s Hajj policy, accommodation
should be provided to pilgrims within two kilometres of a key
religious site. However, accommodation was hired three to
eight kilometres away from the mosque and the housing was said
to lack basic facilities like running water, sanitation and
Pakistan`s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Umar Khan Ali
Sherzai has held Religious Affairs Minister responsible for
poor arrangements made for pilgrims.
The pilgrims could not get transport and tents in Mina
due to the minister`s poor policies and "commission" of Rs
20,000 to Rs 25,000 were paid for every pilgrim, he alleged.
The PPP-led government, which has been dogged by
charges of corruption, recently said it would launch a special
drive to root out graft from all ministries and departments.
During the humanitarian crisis caused by floods
earlier this year, Western countries and donor agencies routed
most of their aid through NGOs instead of the government due
to concerns about corruption.