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Dawn Editorial 17 July 2020

Confusion abounds

THE erratic and ham-fisted handling of the scandal over the Pakistani pilots’ licences issue is sowing further confusion. The Civil Aviation Authority, in what seems to be a direct contradiction of Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan’s bombshell revelation a few weeks ago that nearly 40pc of Pakistani pilots had “fake licences”, has said that all licences it has issued to pilots are “genuine and validly issued”.
The assertion was made by CAA Director General Hassan Nasir Jamy in a letter to a senior official of Oman’s aviation authority, which has expressed concerns about the credentials of Pakistani pilots working in Oman-based airlines.
Further, Mr Jamy said that the CAA had verified/cleared the names of “96 Pakistani pilots out of 104 names received from various civil aviation authorities/foreign airlines”. According to him, the matter has been “misconstrued and incorrectly highlighted in the media/social media”.
The allegation against the media is patently untrue, a red herring meant to deflect from what has been a fiasco ever since Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan made his shocking claim on the floor of the National Assembly. He presented as established fact a matter that was still under investigation, saying unequivocally that 262 pilots had had proxies sit their exams. At a press conference a few days later, he gave a breakdown as to which Pakistan-based airlines the pilots concerned were working for, with the rest employed by foreign airlines, chartered plane services and flying clubs.
PIA grounded 150 of its pilots over their allegedly ‘dubious’ licences. In subsequent weeks, news began to trickle in about batches of Pakistani pilots, although only those employed by overseas airlines, being cleared by the CAA of having dubious credentials.
Meanwhile, the reputation of the country’s aviation industry — particularly its flag carrier — and Pakistan’s regulatory authority, has suffered a grievous blow. The European Union Aviation Safety Agency has barred PIA from operating to Europe for six months; the UK and US have also banned PIA flights.
There is also a semantic boondoggle at play here. The CAA is correct in stating that the licences are genuine, in that they have been issued by the authority certified to do so. Some of them may, nevertheless, be dubious. After all, the CAA recently apprised the Supreme Court of the measures it is taking to secure its examination and licensing systems — which is an implicit admission of procedural failures.
What is beyond doubt is that the aviation minister and the CAA are not on the same page. One wonders what Mr Khan’s objective was in publicly levelling such serious allegations when the facts had yet to be established. If it was to ‘expose’ previous governments’ culpability in the decline of the national airline, the resulting earthquake has created a crisis from which the country’s aviation industry will take a long time to recover.


Transpeople’s inclusion

REEM Sharif can be counted among the bravest people in the country as she speaks about a recent mission in an interview with a news agency. It involved her standing up to and pacifying men upset that the person “they thought was their brother had always been a sister”. Reem Sharif is hailed as Pakistan’s first trans police officer and works for Tahaffuz Centre, a pilot project run by the Rawalpindi Police to protect transgender people. Already, she has shown a lot of purpose. Apart from talking sense to the brothers of the transperson mentioned above, she has been instrumental in preventing another from being thrown out. It is not confirmed whether she was able to do that through the sheer power of her legal argument or the authority vested in police. However, success stories like these are essential to sustain the campaign. In a good sign for a force that could do with agents who — at least theoretically — have easier access to all dark and semi-lit corners of society than the average desk-bound constable, no less than 40 trans people have visited her centre “out of curiosity”. Also, 16 cases in two months is sufficient proof that transpeople have problems they would prefer to take to one of their own, as opposed to a person of another gender.
The apprehension of being humiliated and presumed guilty on account of one’s gender stems from societal attitudes not least painfully reflected in Reem Sharif’s own experience. Quite despicably, education and exposure appeared to have added to her woes; her college days were a time of great suffering for her. Her story, then, is a classic example of what a huge difference the state’s practical assertion can make to a campaign long fed solely on public-awareness messages. In the past few years, transpeople, said to number 500,000 in Pakistan, have been given active help by the state in discovering their identity and finding economic opportunities. Having them in authoritative positions in departments such as police will go a long way in establishing their credentials. But let us try and rationalise it. Trans police officers resolving problems of transpeople is a huge step. Yet it still puts these long discriminated against and gender-determined section of humans at a distance from the mainstream. True inclusion will only be achieved when a person is able to deal with another without any consideration of race, sect, ethnicity or gender.


US Covid-19 response

CONFIRMED Covid-19 cases in the US are reaching record levels, exposing the poor leadership amidst a horrific global pandemic. On July 15, a new peak of 67,400 cases was reported, which followed a week of over 62,000 cases per day — a figure triple the average number of cases from just a month ago. To the apprehension of doctors and scientists, US President Donald Trump remains casual and continues to attribute the increase in cases to ‘ramped-up testing’. Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Anthony Fauci has contradicted Mr Trump’s claim, and said the recent surge in cases is a sign of an expanding outbreak and not increased testing. Unfortunately, not only is Mr Trump’s laid-back outlook on the pandemic in sharp contrast to Dr Fauci’s concerns, the White House has even engaged in bizarre attempts to discredit the respected health expert.
That the US president is taking the outbreak of this potentially fatal virus lightly is a sad indictment of America’s present-day position as the so-called leader of the free world. From the very start, Mr Trump’s messaging on Covid-19 has been lackadaisical and starkly opposed to the ominous warnings being issued by top American experts who predict that the virus is taking on an even more dangerous trajectory. After indulging in a racist blame game with China over the source of the infection, Mr Trump is still not making responsible decisions. Not only is he rarely seen wearing a mask in public, his energy and time in recent weeks have been devoted to attacking the media and downplaying the Covid-19 threat. In fact, Mr Trump and his administration have called into question the decisions of the WHO, and pressured the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. The president’s reckless and irresponsible attitude towards the pandemic is a major reason behind the high number of daily cases and death rates in the country. Poor political leadership and weak messaging have resulted in American citizens paying a heavy price.


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