HEADLINES say that privatisation is still in the air, and, of course, PIA tops the list.

Has anyone thought why PIA was kept under the defence ministry and government control for all these years?

Have we forgotten that in 1965 our leaders were caught napping when India attacked our international border? A crippling arms embargo was slapped by the US, our main arms supplier and we were left stranded without sufficient supply of even basic ammunition and spare parts. That is when PIA came to the forefront.

Five PIA Boeings were in the air all night, every night, for the entire 17-day war. The aircraft were loaded feverishly all night and then took off from Istanbul, Teheran and Ankara airports, landing in Pakistan before dawn, to evade Indian fighter aircraft. The direly needed ammunition was immediately whisked off to the battle-front. The Indians were held at bay.

It couldn’t have been done without PIA!

Again in 1971 when the Indians closed their airspace to us, we were faced with a logisitcs problem of garguatuan proportions.

The small army contingent in East Pakistan had to be replenished in a hurry. Almost all PIA Boeings were continuously in the air over the Arabian Sea, around Sri Lanka and across the Bay of Bengal, flying at high altitudes, giving a wide berth to Indian fighter aircraft and the long-range artillery on their coastline.

In a little more than a week PIA had ferried four army divisions to East Pakistan: a record of sorts. In the process, PIA lost two aircraft as well as two fine aviators namely Capt. Mubashir, father of Jawed and Capt. Cheema, our unsung heroes, have their watery graves somewhere in the Arabian Sea.

Another war and we would desperately need PIA’s heavy jets once again. Imagine PIA in private hands, possibly run by foreigners, when we are at war.

PIA is crucial for our defence. Let’s not lump it with the Steel Mill and other money-losing concerns.

Capt. S. Afaq Rizvi
Karachi

Published in Dawn, March 8th, 2016

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