PIA standoff: Classic PML-N — Doing the right thing the wrong way

Published February 3, 2016
A paramilitary soldier charges with a wooden baton on PIA employees. —AFP
A paramilitary soldier charges with a wooden baton on PIA employees. —AFP

Machiavelli said it is better to be feared than loved — this also appears to be our current government’s mantra.

First it threatened to imprison any of the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) employees who participated in any of the planned strikes against the ongoing push to not privatise the giant sloth that the airline has become.

Also read: PIA flight operations suspended indefinitely, strike enters second day

In the 1970s, PIA was among the world’s leading airline. Since then, it has descended into the depths of oblivion a long way down. Travelling on it feels like rowing on a kayak in the sandy hills of Thar — there is no telling how far you will get and when, but in any event, suffering is guaranteed.

Then, on February 2, in a clash between PIA employees and security personnel, two men succumbed to bullet injuries. Many more were injured, including journalists who were covering the event.

In what seems to be throwing a dog a bone, Chief Minster of Sindh Syed Qaim Ali Shah has awarded the families Rs2 million each. Too bad that it won’t nurse them back to life and that it is also unlikely to quench the resentment of the bereaved families.

Explore: After all, what is the big deal if a few of them die?

In Pakistan, a middle-class and lower middle-class life is not brutishly short in Hobbes’s definition; it is actually long and one that is stuck in a recurrent nightmare of bills, harassment and rising inflation.

Imagine the anticipation of losing the opium of your monthly wage, especially if you are the primary caretaker of many dependents. Then, there are the insecurities that poverty carries with it — above all, the threat of violence that can destroy whatever assets you hoard and then guard with your life.


What a tragedy then that the very body that has a contract to look out for the life of its citizens turns on its citizens.


Decreeing new legislation against the fundamental right to protest, looking the other way at police brutality and throwing in negligible compensation in one’s face when life is lost.

Also read: Model Town incident — Govt seems to be protecting the guilty: LHC

Regardless of the merits of privatisation, and there are many, there is not just a mismanagement of the national carrier, there is a mismanagement of the attempt to rectify the mismanagement.

Hopeless. No, wait, it's bizarre. Bizarre governments don’t get to sit at the table where big money and decision-making is, globally. So weren’t we doing this to make big money anyway?

Effectively, this points to our failure as a nation to be perhaps the world’s most pathetic negotiators. We cannot sit and persuade anyone, be it employee unions or stakeholders.

Know more: Air travellers stranded amid chaos at airport

This also means that our general disposition is to not waste time and cut to the chase and in that case, violence comes in handy. Coupled with the fact that — come next week, the country should have moved on to other woes — there is much to be gained from the iron fist.

There is an alternative kind of authority — it is called moral authority. As the word suggests, its premise is that governments build their reputation on being just, fair and then having the dispensation to be firm.

This memo needs to be urgently sent out to someone at the helm of affairs in Pakistan — preferably not via the national carrier.

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