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Privatising PIA

March 02, 2014

THE defence of our borders by our valiant armed forces in 1965, against an adversary many times stronger, would make any country proud. Here PIA deserves some mention as well.

Our international border had been left undefended. When India attacked, we were caught on the wrong foot. Our ally and friend, the US, immediately slapped a crippling arms embargo on us. We were completely stranded.

Five PIA Boeings flew all night, every night, during the entire 17-day war. The aircraft were parked on runway dumb-bells at Istanbul, Ankara and Tehran. The crew slept in the cockpit while our aircraft were loaded feverishly and then took off in the early hours to land in Pakistan before dawn, to avoid interception by Indian fighters. Trucks waiting next to the runway immediately whisked off the much-needed ammunition to the battle front. We never ran short. It couldn’t have been done without PIA.

Again in 1971, 10 PIA Boeings were in the air continuously over the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea. They had to give wide berth to the Indian fighters lurking on the coastline around the Indian peninsula and then dodge ground fire from the Mukti Bahini on landing and takeoff from Dhaka. Nearly four army divisions were transported to East Pakistan in less than a fortnight.

Capt Mubashir, F/O Jawed and N/O Cheema, our unsung heroes, still lie in their watery graves somewhere near the Karachi shores. A crashed PIA B-707 lay for months near the Urumqi airport. PIA kept the supply line alive between China and Peshawar despite all odds. They operated from Tehran where the PIA fleet had been given shelter. Iran was always our friend in need.

PIA served as the de facto ‘Transport Command’ of Pakistan Air Force in 1965 and 1971. Their fleet of heavy, long-haul jets will always be our dire need in eventualities to come. There is a lot more to PIA than just profit and loss. We must think twice before placing it mindlessly in private hands.

Capt S. Afaq Rizvi