BY dropping a bombshell on the floor of the National Assembly last week, Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan opened a Pandora’s box of problems that the government seems ill prepared to tackle. Since it has come to light that one-third of pilots in Pakistan allegedly have ‘dubious credentials’, international aviation regulators have barred PIA flights as more than half of the suspicious licences are held by the national carrier’s pilots. The UK and EU’s civil aviation authorities have withdrawn PIA’s permit to operate from their airports. Moreover, UAE aviation authorities have sought to confirm the credentials of Pakistani flight operations officers and aircraft engineers who hold licences issued by Pakistan’s Civil Aviation Authority.
There is no doubt that strict action must be taken against those who are proven to have secured licences through fraudulent means. Even if the licences are genuine, which appears to be the case for some, pilots must be penalised if it is proved that they cheated in exams. No leniency should be allowed to those who have committed wrongdoing as it is a question of the safety of millions of travellers. However, the government’s handling of the scandal has been disastrous. The fact that a list of pilots was drawn up and made public at a stage when an investigation was still underway shows how little thought the government put into this matter. Mr Sarwar was keen to clarify that no new licences were issued by the PTI government, but in his attempt to draw attention to the poor decisions of past rulers, he inadvertently dealt a death blow to hundreds linked to Pakistan’s aviation industry — many of them having earned their licences and degrees through legitimate means. All the pilots — and now even other aviation staff — are being judged for having ‘acting fraudulently’ even before the investigation results.
With this fresh blow, the credibility of all Pakistani pilots and engineers has been called into question internationally. Yet, the story of the rot within PIA and the CAA is not just about pilots. The saga spans decades and is fraught with monumental mistakes made by those in the administration itself. It is unfair to cast doubt on every pilot and technician simply because the government decided to blurt out the workings of a pending investigation. The minister could have approached PIA with the information and given it a chance to suspend flights rather than letting it be banned. The names should have been made public after the probe concluded and action taken against guilty individuals. Unfortunately, it is too late to undo the damage. The task ahead is more challenging still: an intensive review of all protocols and staff training — as well as the planes themselves — is in order. The government must see this crisis through to its logical end.
THE list of atrocities carried out by Indian forces in India-held Kashmir seems to be getting longer, while it appears that New Delhi’s military machine has thrown all ethics to the wind. In a recent gun battle between Indian paramilitary forces and Kashmiri fighters in Sopore, security men reportedly dragged a civilian, Bashir Ahmed Khan, out of his vehicle and shot him in front of his three-year-old grandson. Extremely disturbing images of the toddler sitting on his murdered grandfather’s chest have been widely shared and illustrate the savagery India is willing to resort to, to keep its grip on the occupied region. Unfortunately, it seems that Kashmiri children are now used to seeing the bodies of their fathers, brothers and other relatives as India seeks to subdue the Kashmiri struggle for freedom and dignity through colonial-era violence. Though local police say reports of this atrocity are ‘false’, hundreds took to the streets for Bashir Ahmed’s funeral, demanding justice and freedom.
If such a reprehensible act had taken place in any other location, there would be a firestorm in the international media — and rightly so — over exposing a child to brutal violence perpetrated by representatives of the state. But when it comes to IHK, as well as Palestine, it seems the world plays by different rules. This blatant hypocrisy must end. Those responsible for this murder, and the brutalisation of a minor, must be brought to justice. But can justice be expected from a dispensation that considers violence against civilians in occupied Kashmir legitimate? According to rights groups, over 30 civilians have been killed in Indian military operations in IHK since January. Even the UN secretary general has taken notice of India’s violence against children in the region. In a report released last month, António Guterres asked India to do more to protect children from violence in the disputed region, while adding that minors had been detained by Indian security forces in IHK. The fact is that since those that call the shots in New Delhi can do little to dampen the Kashmiris’ desire for freedom, they tend to target the most vulnerable to vent their frustration. Much more needs to be done by the international community to let India know that violence against civilians — specifically violence against children — will not be tolerated. Indeed, it is more than ironic that a country that proudly flaunts its ‘democratic’ credentials does not flinch when exposing Kashmir’s children to violence.
Freedom for Iqbal
THERE are far too many harrowing stories of people languishing in jail for decades in this country before being discovered one day and set free. This is no less than a tragedy where sometimes a lifetime has been spent under the shadow of an impending execution. Freedom is ultimately the triumph of human hope. Or of common sense. In recent days, the story has repeated itself yet again. Muhammad Iqbal was 17 when he was arrested and sentenced to death — a punishment that should be abolished altogether — in 1998. It took the law of the land almost two decades to decide that the prisoner was eligible to benefit from a law enacted a couple of years later which allowed reprieve, even in retrospect, to juvenile offenders.
The sword hanging over his head, ie the death sentence, should have been rescinded then and there under a presidential notification of 2001, which provided remission to all juveniles sentenced prior to the ordinance. That didn’t happen. Justice Project Pakistan, the group that helped the now middle-aged man win freedom, has mentioned some of the efforts made to ensure justice for Iqbal. Letters written to the authorities as far back as 2003 were cited and appeals for leniency were filed in the months leading to the Lahore High Court commuting the death sentence to life imprisonment in February, and then finally culminating in his release on Friday. The case once again calls for a campaign to find similar cases inside jails all over Pakistan and relieve the suffering of prisoners. It doesn’t quite befit any country in this day and age to just wait for these ‘chance’ incidents to occasionally provide comfort to our conscience. It also doesn’t suit the system of justice to be going off in various directions in an effort to ‘reform’ while the basic mechanism which anchors civilisations and law and order remains sadly absent. There is so much that is wrong with our prisons and overall justice system that needs to be corrected.