ISLAMABAD - The official death toll of Pakistani pilgrims killed in the Mina stampede has risen to 80, the government confirmed yesterday amid anger over its failure to recover the bodies and trace more than 60 missing.

The latest toll was released by the Ministry of Religious Affairs in its most detailed disclosure since the tragedy which claimed more than 1,100 lives when pilgrims stampeded at an overcrowded intersection near Jamaraat Bridge. It is the deadliest tragedy at the haj since 1990 when more than 1,400 were trampled to death.

The disclosure was met with anger in the Senate where one member said the government cared more about protecting the Saudi Arabian government from criticism than suffering of victims’ families.

Senator Usman Kakar of Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party told the Senate that the Saudi government had failed miserably in recovering the bodies of pilgrims despite earning billions from the holy places.

He accused the Saudi government of concealing the true figures and claimed a fellow senator who was at the haj had told him the final toll would exceed 4,000.

“Our government is busy defending the failure of Saudi authorities rather than doing something helpful for Pakistani pilgrims killed there. We are still unsure of the exact number of Pakistanis killed in the stampede,” he said.

“We should firmly demand from Saudi government to help recover our dead or missing citizens,” he added.

His comments were echoed by some of the families whose relatives were listed among the dead.

Noor Muhammad, from Karachi, lost both of his elderly parents in the stampede but has not been told by the authorities if or when their bodies will be returned to Pakistan.

“We have made request to Pakistani and Saudi authorities to return the bodies of our parents but so far we have had no response,” he told The Nation last night.

Others however said their relatives had wished to be buried in Makkah if they died during haj. Abdul Karim Qureshi, a resident of Dera Ismail Khan, died in the stampede while rescuing his ailing wife.

“It was the will of my father to allow his burial in Makkah if he died there. The news about his death came from a relative who rang me up,” his son Wajahat Qureshi said. His mother has now safely returned to Pakistan.

Mrs Tabassum from Rawalpindi told The Nation that both her father and her father-in-law were performing haj when the stampede broke out. Her father-in-law was killed but it was several agonising days before she learned her father had survived.

“My father somehow escaped death and is alive but we only got to know it after many days. We don’t know what happened and how they went through it. We were out of our minds because we could not speak to them,” she said.

The government had, however, made great efforts to repatriate the body of former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gillani’s nephew Asad Murtaza. Officials said arrangements had been made because his family had made a request.

According to officials, 28 Pakistanis have been buried in Saudi Arabia while the bodies of Iranian victims are being repatriated. Officials said all Pakistani pilgrims sign an undertaking to be buried in Saudi Arabia in the event of their death.

According to the latest figures, 60 Pakistanis remain missing and 47 were treated in hospital for their injuries. Of those 40 have since been discharged.

Religious Affairs Minister Hasnaat Shah defended the Saudi government but said he hoped it would share the details of its inquiry into the tragedy.

“You cannot blame humans for the tragedy at Mina. It was will of Allah. We had arranged the best accommodation and transport for Pakistani pilgrims but we cannot foresee the unseen and unanticipated,” he said.

The minister said personnel of Pakistani Haj Mission initially participated in rescue and relief activities but the access was denied once Saudi Army and law enforcing personnel reached the scene of the tragedy.