Newspaper article International New York Times

Hajj Tragedy Tarnishes Saudis' Image in Pakistan

Newspaper article International New York Times

Hajj Tragedy Tarnishes Saudis' Image in Pakistan

Article excerpt

Scores of Pakistani pilgrims were killed in the disaster, and many families still do not know what happened to their relatives.

For years, Saudi Arabia has had a hallowed status here, considered above question or criticism. Yet the hajj stampede near Mecca last month has taken some of the luster off the exalted image of the kingdom.

Scores of Pakistani pilgrims were killed in the disaster, and many families still do not know what happened to relatives. That has set off an unusual public outcry that prompted the Pakistani government to warn the privately run, characteristically rambunctious television networks to avoid criticizing the Saudis in news programs and talk shows.

Pakistan has long been a close ally of Saudi Arabia, which has provided generous amounts of military and other aid over the years.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has his own close ties: After his previous government was overthrown in a military coup in 1999, he went into exile there. Still, Mr. Sharif disappointed his former hosts in April when Pakistan's Parliament voted not to send troops, aircraft and warships to Yemen, as the Saudis had asked.

Immediately after the stampede on Sept. 24, Pakistani officials tried to play down its scale, initially claiming that only 10 Pakistanis had died while acknowledging that at least 300 were missing. Since then, senior officials have been careful in their statements regarding the stampede.

On Monday, officials said the Pakistani death toll had risen to 76 while the whereabouts of at least 60 other Pakistanis remained unknown.

The Saudi Health Ministry has put the official overall toll at 769 dead and 934 injured, despite statements from more than 20 countries that, added up, brings the number of dead to more than 900.

The directive to suppress local news networks has been met with strong criticism in the Pakistani news media.

"The Pakistani government, which should be hounding the Saudis, is instead covering their tracks and in the process is showing incalculable apathy for the Pakistani pilgrims," read an editorial of The Nation, a conservative English-language newspaper in Lahore.

On Tuesday, the Pakistani Ministry of Religious Affairs asked a court in Lahore to reprimand a citizen who had filed a petition accusing the government of hiding the facts regarding the stampede, local news media reported.

The petitioner, Arif Idrees, said that foreign news outlets had reported a far higher number of Pakistani casualties than what had been acknowledged by the officials here.

The ministry, in its response, accused Mr. Idrees of "trying to strain the sensitive relationship between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia."

On the other hand, Saudi diplomats, in meetings with senior officials, have denounced "malicious rumors" about how the aftermath of the stampede has been handled. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.