Caretaker Minister for Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony Aneeq Ahmed, in a bid to accommodate the growing population of Pakistan, on Monday called upon the Saudi government to expand the Hajj quota for pilgrims. In an exclusive conversation with APP, he highlighted the discrepancy between the current Hajj quota and the country’s population figures. “Presently, Pakistan’s allocated Hajj quota stands at 179,210 pilgrims, a number that falls short of accurately representing the nation’s population. The recently conducted census revealed that Pakistan’s population has surged to 241.49 million, with an annual growth rate of 2.55 per cent,” he added. Minister Aneeq took the opportunity to discuss this matter during a recent visit from his Saudi counterpart, Dr. Tawfiq bin Fawzan Al-Rabiah. Dr. Al-Rabiah, acknowledging the concern, assured him of an increase in the Hajj quota, subject to the completion of necessary procedural formalities. Highlighting the success of the ‘Road to Makkah’ project, which significantly streamlined the pilgrimage process during Hajj 2023, the minister proposed extending the initiative to encompass multiple airports across Pakistan, including Lahore and Karachi. This expansion would undoubtedly facilitate pilgrims embarking on the sacred Hajj journey, he added. Furthermore, he advocated for exempting individuals aged 65 and above from mandatory biometric verification for the Hajj pilgrimage as this move would alleviate the inconvenience faced by senior citizens, who often encounter difficulties with fingerprint recognition during the verification process. Addressing another crucial aspect, he recommended exploring alternative locations for the Pakistan Houses in Makkah and Madina adding that the structure had been dismantled to pave the way for the expansion of Haram Sharif particularly in Madina. Minister Aneeq emphasized that the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony was actively working on a range of plans aimed at reducing the cost of the Hajj pilgrimage and enhancing facilities to ensure the ease and comfort of all pilgrims.