- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 13, 2002

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
KABUL, Afghanistan All Afghan pilgrims wanting to get to Mecca for this year's hajj will arrive in time, despite delays in the issuing of visas, a Saudi official said here yesterday.
Ajarbou Ali, head of a government delegation specially sent by Jeddah to resolve the issue, said his six-member team was working "without sleeping" to ensure that all 15,000 Afghan pilgrims get their visas within the next few days. The delegation arrived on Monday after being held up in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad. A special flight by the Afghan national airline, Ariana, eventually brought the officials to Kabul.
"The government of Saudi Arabia aims to help all the pilgrims. They do not want anyone to miss out on the hajj," Mr. Ali told AFP.
Most of the pilgrims were convinced they would never get to Saudi Arabia in time for the pilgrimage to Islam's holiest site, because of Saudi Arabia's failure to reopen its embassy in Kabul.
Since the end of January, they have been gathering at the Department of Pilgrimages here, anxiously seeking news. When word of the Saudi delegation's arrival reached them, their despair turned to joy.
Yesterday, an announcement by officials that "at least 700 or 800 of you" will be sent "to Saudi Arabia today" was greeted with cheers and applause.
Ghollam Gellani, deputy commercial secretary of Ariana, said Monday that charter flights were on standby to take off as soon as the visas were issued.
Pilgrimage department officials said more Afghan women than men had registered for this year's hajj. The visit is costing each Afghan $1,500 for flights and accommodations.


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