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PIA’s descent

Updated May 18, 2017

THE national flag carrier has suffered another blow to its image with the news that a consignment of heroin has been seized from one of its aircraft at London’s Heathrow airport.

Earlier: British authorities say heroin found on Islamabad-London PIA flight

Apparently, the contraband was hidden inside the structure of the aircraft itself, since the authorities allowed all passengers to disembark before searching the plane. It is almost impossible that the contraband could have been placed in the aeroplane without the involvement of some members of the ground handling staff or maintenance personnel.

The Anti-Narcotics Force had cleared the plane before departure. The crew was not under suspicion because they were released after being briefly detained at the airport. All this indicates that the UK authorities had prior intelligence alerting them to the presence of the consignment in the aircraft, and the information was accurate enough to allow them to let all the passengers disembark before starting their search.

The episode illustrates the multiple dysfunctions that the airline has fallen prey to.

First, the strength of the rackets that operate within its abundant workforce is so powerful that it can be a conduit for narcotics smuggling.

Second, where the UK authorities had prior intimation of the presence of drugs in the plane, the Anti-Narcotics Force seemed to have had no idea. It is not clear who was supposed to retrieve the consignment at London Heathrow, but clearly, whoever was behind this attempt, had made arrangements. It is imperative that the matter be investigated thoroughly at Pakistan’s end, starting with the drawing up of a list of all those who came into contact with the aircraft before its departure and who could have been in a position to plant the narcotics.

This is about more than just the image of the airline. More such incidents involving PIA could have adverse consequences for all international flights operated by the airline. It will be difficult to investigate much over here without at least some cooperation from the UK authorities.

According to some reports, an inquiry has been launched by the customs department, but given that the concealment of the heroin in the panels and other recesses of the plane suggests the involvement of other airport personnel as well, clearly the investigation needs to be on a broader level. PIA has suffered enormously at the hands of the powerful rackets that operate within it, and it needs to be rescued from their clutches if it is to survive.

Published in Dawn, May 18th, 2017