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Protests keep PIA operations at standstill

Updated February 04, 2016

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KARACHI/RAWAL­PINDI: The angry employees of Pakistan Interna­tional Airlines (PIA) held demonstrations outside airports on Wednesday against the government’s proposed plan to privatise the national flag carrier and offered funeral prayers in absentia of their colleagues who were shot dead during a protest rally in Karachi the previous day.

The airline’s flight operations at all airports across the country remained suspended for the second day in a row, causing hardship to travellers who are allegedly being fleeced by private airlines.

At least four leaders of the Joint Action Committee (JAC) of PIA employees “went missing mysteriously” in Karachi. The JAC leaders believed that they had been picked up by “government agencies” after Tuesday’s brawl with police and Rangers “in a move to suppress their movement and harass them”.

The committee did not name any individual, but blamed the government and held its “agencies” responsible for their disappearance. “The four men belonged to the People’s Unity, including its president Hidayatullah Khan and senior vice president Zameer Chandio,” said a spokesman for the JAC.


Four JAC leaders go missing mysteriously in Karachi


“They were part of our protest and played a key role in mobilising workers. They returned home last night, but today [Wednesday] we are not aware about their whereabouts. We approa­ched every single official concerned and contacted law enforcement agencies as well, but to no avail.”

The spokesman accused the authorities of trying to suppress the protest and harassing workers through such “negative tactics”.

The protesting workers, wearing black armbands, held a sit-in at the Old Terminal near the PIA chairman’s office in Karachi and offered funeral prayers of their deceased colleagues — Inayat Raza and Saleem Akbar — in absentia. Addres­sing the protesters, JAC leaders vowed to remain undeterred in their “struggle” despite risks of losing jobs.

FLIGHT DISRUPTION: The employees’ strike further squeezed the cash-strapped airline as a senior PIA official confirmed the “disruption” of more than 100 flights during the past 24 hours, causing losses of millions of rupees to the organisation.

Passengers were seen stranded on airports across the country as the government’s claim of having made alternative arrangements to ensure smooth flight operations failed to meet reality checks.

“As per our record 27 flights in Rawalpindi, 29 in Lahore and six in Karachi could not take off due to the strike. Flights from Sukkur, Multan, Bahawalpur, Gilgit and Chitral were also suspended because of lack of mandatory staff, including pilots,” the official said.

JAC MOVES COURT: Meanwhile, the JAC moved a district court to lodge a case against two ministers, the prime minister’s adviser on aviation, and senior officials of the Civil Aviation Authority and PIA over the killing of the two employees.

The district and sessions judge (Malir), Khalid Hussain Shahani, ordered the SHO of airport police station to submit his comments on the application on Thursday.

Through his counsel Sheikh Jawaid Mir, JAC leader Captain Sohail Baloch filed an application under 22-A of the Criminal Procedure Code, along with a 154 CrPC statement, in the court.

The counsel said thousands of PIA employees were protesting against the privatisation of the national flag carrier on Tuesday, adding that they were inflicted with straight firing that left Inayat Raza and Saleem Akbar dead and several others injured.

He said the applicant had sent a statement under Section 154 of CrPC to the SHO of the airport police station for registration of a case against the accused, but police refused to register a case. He requested the court to direct the SHO to lodge an FIR as per the statement of the applicant.

The applicant in his statement named Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid, Privatisation Commission Chairman Mohammad Zubair, Senator Mushahidullah, Special Advisor to the PM on Aviation Shujaat Azeem, Civil Aviation Secretary Irfan Elahi, PIA’s General Manager (admin) retired Brig Asif and PIA official Mama Maqsood as accused for hatching criminal conspiracy.

Without naming any law enforcement agency or its personnel, the applicant also proposed as accused those who made indiscriminate firing upon the protesters in pursuance of criminal conspiracy.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for Sindh Rangers said Director General of the paramilitary force, Maj Gen Bilal Akbar, had taken note of the firing incident and ordered setting up of a high-powered team to investigate the matter.

The committee will be headed by a brigadier or an officer of equivalent rank. It would investigate the incident to reach the facts within the shortest possible time, the spokesman said.

In Rawalpindi, PIA workers took out a rally from Dhoke Hafiz Chowk to Benazir Bhutto International Airport and held a sit-in at the airport’s main gate. They called upon the government to withdraw its decision to privatise the airline.

Security forces, including riot police, were alerted when the rally reached there.

The sit-in briefly blocked the road leading to the airport, causing inconvenience and leaving hundreds of passengers stranded at the airport. The passengers who arrived on a PK-212 flight from Dubai last night were among those affected as their baggage were still lying on the plane because the PIA’s ground handling staff were also on strike.

The passengers who arrived from Birmingham by PK-792 flight were lucky as their luggage were offloaded by a private handling agency on time, but the travellers from Manchester on a PK-702 flight had to wait for three hours to get their baggage offloaded.

Leaders of opposition parties in parliament visited the sit-in and criticised the government’s move to privatise the national flag carrier. They included Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Syed Khursheed Shah, Qamar Zaman Kaira and Farhatullah Babar of the PPP, PTI leader Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Awami Muslim League chief Sheikh Rashid and Jamaat-i-Islami Emir Sirajul Haq.

Mehmood Qureshi said his party was against the privatisation of PIA.

Farhatullah Babar called for a judicial inquiry to bring the culprits involved in the killing of PIA employees to justice.

Sirajul Haq said holding protest was a democratic right of people. “The government should eliminate corruption instead of privatising PIA.”

“Privatisation is an anti-state policy of the Nawaz government,” Sheikh Rashid said.

Khursheed Shah said PIA employees were not demanding property or wealth from the government, but only continuation of their employment. “Killing of innocent workers will not go waste.”

Later Sirajul Haq led a Ghaibana Namaz-i-Janaza of the two PIA employees. The protesters dispersed peacefully in the evening.

PESHAWAR: Five domestic and international flights of PIA could not take off from the Bacha Khan International Airport in Peshawar on Wednesday because of the workers’ strike, officials said.

The protesting workers offered funeral prayers in absentia of their deceased colleagues. They held a demonstration outside the PIA’s main booking office and chanted slogans against the government. They sought action against the officials who allegedly ordered use of force against the protesters that resulted in the death of the two employees.

LAHORE: The PIA employees and leaders of different opposition parties held a demonstration outside the Lahore airport against the killing of their colleagues in Karachi. Jamaat-i-Islami Secretary General Liaquat Baloch led Ghaibana Namaz-i-Janaza.

PPP leaders Manzoor Wattoo, Latif Khosa, Dr Nafeesa Shah and Samina Ghurki and PTI’s Chaudhry Sarwar held the PML-N government responsible for the killing of PIA employees and called for action against those involved in it.

They said the government would not be allowed to ‘sell’ the national flag carrier.

A heavy contingent of police was deployed at the airport and the PIA’s main office on Egerton Road.

Published in Dawn, February 4th, 2016