Updated 23 May 2020


The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Islamabad.
The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Islamabad.

GONE. Just like that — in an instant that snuffed out so many beautiful precious lives brimming with hopes, plans and dreams. What for? Because someone somewhere did not do what that person was supposed to do to ensure the safety and security of these beautiful precious lives? Because someone somewhere was too incompetent, too selfish, too uncaring to fix things that needed to be fixed so the PIA flight could land safely on the tarmac of Karachi airport and not go down in a ball of fire a few hundred metres short of the runway. These people — these beautiful precious people brimming with hopes, plans and dreams — they should not have died like this. Someone somewhere is responsible.

Is now the appropriate time to ask this question? You bet it is. Now is the time to proclaim loudly that these people would not have died if someone somewhere had done what that someone was supposed to have done. The nation grieves. It should also seethe. Seethe with anger and fury and rage at the criminal apathy and dereliction of duty that led to the PIA aircraft crashing on Friday. Seethe we must at all those who have contributed to the rot in all the institutions that are ultimately responsible for ensuring the safety of passengers flying on the national airline; seethe we must at those who have nourished this rot, aggravated it and lorded over the stench all the while knowing full well their actions could — would — one day lead to beautiful and precious lives being lost.

Red flags have been fluttering ominously for a while now. Here, there and everywhere. Lights flashing dimly. Sirens blaring silently. People screaming quietly. This is not right what we are doing, these lights and sirens and screaming people have been whispering to us. When you take institutions and staff them with underserving people recruited by unprofessional people for unmeritorious reasons then the outcome is fairly obvious. Human resource is compromised; systemic protocols are compromised and safety measures are compromised. The slow but sure degeneration of everything around us is an inevitable tragedy unfolding in slow motion.

Is PIA worth it anymore when it is bleeding lives, bleeding billions and bleeding all reasons to exist?

It is all coming crashing down. The standards, the expectations and the final outcomes. One big putrid heap of systemic carnage piled on top of decades of rot. It is such rot that obfuscates criminal negligence and dilutes the scale of responsibility. People die in crashes. They also die in vain. The living, somehow, have more to lose after the crash.

Prepare therefore to witness the rot in motion even before the dead are buried and mourned. Witness the slimy slithery tentacles of the system close around the rot in a protective embrace. Witness the finger-pointing, stonewalling and victim-blaming in all its remorseless glory as the shock of Friday’s crash gradually dissolves into the inevitable fatalistic acceptance of a man-made disaster.

So, you may ask: why the outrage? Crashes do happen across the planet. People do die. True. Except, not really.

What happens afterwards — or does not happen in our case — is why the outrage. Who is held accountable afterwards — or not held accountable in our case — is why the outrage. What lessons are learnt afterwards — or not learnt in our case — is why the outrage. What corrective measures are taken afterwards – or not taken in our case – is why the outrage. And what systemic improvements are put in place afterwards — or not put in place in our case — is why the outrage.

This outrage should now be sustained and channelised so it can force the nation to ask those questions that should have been asked repeatedly till an answer was forthcoming: is PIA worth it anymore?

Is it worth it anymore when it is bleeding lives, bleeding billions and bleeding all reasons to exist? Let us ask this question. Then let us demand a decision.

The decision will enlarge the circle of responsibility. Who will be in that circle? Who will have stakes in the final call? Who dare have the crash on his conscience?

Such decisions have consequences. Weak people cannot deal with consequences. They do not want to deal with consequences. So they brush the filth under the carpet knowing they will survive the crash as long as they are in their plush offices and not in the aircraft.

But why just ask about PIA? Why not about all other institutions and organisations that contribute to the safety — or lack of it — of the national airline? Why not put them in the dock and make them answer for the loss of those beautiful and precious lives? Why not throw a dragnet of accountability over their protected heads and demand answers they rather not answer?

Except, don’t hold your breath. Really, don’t. Things will happen as they do. Questions will be asked, but the not-so-hard ones; inquiries will be ordered, but the not-so-intrusive ones; people will be punished but the not-so-high ones; and measures will be taken but the not-so-critical ones. And then we shall do what we always do: move on.

In the end, nothing really crashes after the crash. Till the next crash.

So let us wallow in our grief and marinate in our fury till grief settles down to a dull ache and fury evaporates away into nothingness. The funerals, the wailing, the photo-ops and hollow words, the headlines and special reports and a few shows debating superficiality — yes, lie back and let it all sweep over you like the guilt it is. The futility of expectations from a system cemented together with rot is now an organic part of life here. Let not sanctimonious fools tell you otherwise.

Pay for a ticket. Pray for a miracle.

The writer is Dawn’s resident in Islamabad.


Published in Dawn, May 23rd, 2020