ISLAMABAD: The government is all but convinced that the recent protests by Pakistan International Airlines’ (PIA) employees were ‘engineered’, and Aviation Secretary Irfan Ellahi has been tasked with determining the factors that contributed to the complete collapse of national airline’s operations.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif ordered the aviation secretary at a top-level meeting on Monday to carry out an inquiry, an aide to the prime minister told Dawn. The inquiry, the aide explained, centred around the role of top PIA management officials, who panicked, instead of standing their ground in the face of the protesting Joint Action Committee (JAC).

“The government is in possession of evidence, which clearly suggests that a few senior management officials were ‘hand-in-glove’ with the JAC in bringing the national flag carrier’s operations to a grinding halt. However, a formal investigation is necessary in order to proceed against those responsible,” the aide said.

The absence of key directors, coupled with the sudden resignation of PIA Chairman Nasser Jaffer, smacks of conspiracy, which the government intends to unearth through this investigation, the aide said.

Aide says entire episode smacks of conspiracy; airline only able to restart operations in northern sector

Monday’s meeting was attended by Finance Minister Senator Ishaq Dar, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, Aviation Division Secretary Irfan Ellahi, PM’s Adviser on Aviation Shujaat Azeem, Senator Mushahidullah Khan and Privatisation Commission Chairman Mohammad Zubair.

Mr Zubair, who also met JAC representatives over the weekend, did not have the mandate to do so, contended a senior government official privy to the meeting. He added that the PM didn’t like the idea of Mr Zubair meeting JAC members.

The head of the Privatisation Commission, the official said, was part of a new crop that had emerged within the ruling party lately, who could be categorised as being ‘more loyal than the king’. The official said that while Mr Zubair might’ve thought that bringing protesting PIA employees back to work would be a feather in his cap, but events transpired otherwise.

However, Mr Zubair insisted that he had the PM’s blessing to meet the JAC members. “I met them on the orders of the PM. Since it is a sensitive issue, I could not have gone ahead with the meeting without the PM’s say-so,” he told Dawn.

Separately, when asked about the government’s possible plan to create a new state-run airline, a sitting PML-N lawmaker who is privy to the developments told Dawn that the government had long planned to raise a new airline, which could either be a PIA subsidiary or a new organisation. “The proposal is there, but only time will tell how the aviation division plans to put some meat on the bare bones of this ambitious plan.”

Meanwhile, the government was able to manage partial resumption of flight operations, mainly from the northern sector. PIA spokesperson Daniyal Gillani told Dawn that over the past couple of days, over 30 flights – both domestic and international – had taken off from Islamabad and Lahore airports. The northern sector, PIA claims, constitutes 70 per cent of the airline’s total operations.

So far, Mr Gillani said, only one flight had taken off from Karachi airport because JAC members were threatening employees who wished to return to work. However, the government was providing security to employees who returned, he said.

Published in Dawn, February 9th, 2016



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