After the tragic PIA plane crash in Karachi a month back, a new aviation controversy has erupted, with the allegation by the minister for aviation that pilots in the country – including PIA pilots – hold ‘fake or dubious licences’. Now PIA has sought a list of such aviators who may be holding said dubious licences. The Pakistan Airlines Pilots Association (Palpa) has also called for the accountability of those who have facilitated such licences and allowed such licence-holders to fly planes. On top of it all, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has expressed concerns over these serious lapses in licensing and safety oversight (in Pakistan such oversight and regulation is the responsibility of the Civil Aviation Authority). The CAA has not as yet provided the list of all pilots with licences that are suspected to be dubious. The manner in which Federal Minister for Aviation Ghulam Sarwar Khan conclusively declared in the National Assembly that pilots flying planes for the national flag carrier have ‘fake licences’ made it international news before any indications of a serious investigation into these claims. Both the PIA and the CAA should initiate departmental actions after a complete, thorough and transparent inquiry. Such inquiry must not target the pilots alone, as there may be numerous other players involved in the entire scam.
As per some detailed and well-investigated stories by journalists, the problem appears to stem back essentially to a change made by the CAA in 2012 which required pilots to give seven to eight written papers. Until then, their flying hours had counted as being of greater value and the requirement was essentially a knowledge of English, a matric certificate and flying hours. As per some analysts, many pilots probably did not do well in the new format, as a result of which the usual corrupt mechanisms inherent in our system could have managed to pop up. The question is how the CAA went ahead with issuing these licences, who exactly made money off of this, what about the loss to the taxpayer who pays for the training of pilots and of course the danger we all face when we board a flight if there are indeed people with less-than-stellar credentials flying us.
The manner in which the information was presented and the very idea that licenses and accompanying documents could have been distributed on the basis of money rather than a genuine test are both serious matters. The big question here is precisely what the CAA was doing. There is also a real risk here that PIA flights may be prevented from landing at major airports around the world. So PIA essentially faces yet another debacle. It has fallen further from the skies compared to the days in the 1960s and 1970s when it was rated among the best Asian airlines and was the pride of the country. The problem is clear. Whether it should have been made public in this fashion is a matter of some dispute. The main lesson for now is that we need to remedy our system extremely urgently. We need the government to look into this matter with the seriousness it warrants – but without the tendency to issue statements without proper investigation and detail. That can only result in panic. We need to make sure that the inevitable loss of credibility due to these revelations is handled as carefully and maturely as possible. Otherwise, this issue can take years to rectify from even a purely PR point of view.
No space for students
Education and internet facilities in Balochistan and Fata are not at par with the majority of areas of other provinces in Pakistan. This is something known to everyone but the Higher Education Commission (HEC) which has been insisting that all university students must attend online classes and appear in online exams. And when students express their inability to do so they are not even allowed to protest peacefully. We saw this the way the police arrested over two dozen male and female students in Quetta a few days back during a nation-wide protest by students against the HEC’s online classes policy. These students were simply protesting against the unavailability of the internet for online classes. But the response to them in Quetta at least was violence and intolerance. Although the students were thankfully released soon after, there is a lot that is wanting in how Pakistan treats its young.
There is no secret that most of Balochistan does not have broadband internet to enable students in areas such as Gwadar, Loralai, Noshki, Sibi, Pishin, Turbat, and even in Ziarat. The same goes for students in many parts of the erstwhile ‘tribal areas’ or Fata. People in these areas have been complaining for long that they can’t even check an email due to the extremely slow speed of internet – and in some areas no internet at all. The students of these areas who were studying in various private and public sector universities across the country had to get back to their homes due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Once home, most of them were cut off from the outside world and unable to attend online classes. Finally, they had to voice their concern because the HEC was unwilling to take into account their legitimate grievances.
This disrespect of our students and teachers alike must stop if we are to be counted as a civilized nation. We must respect our people’s right to free expression and peaceful assembly. Without respecting and protecting our students we can’t expect them to be responsible citizens of this country. The right to peaceful assembly is constitutionally guaranteed and must not be violated under any pretext. Shutting out voices is not leading us anywhere, and no country can ever hope for progress without its students being taught how to think independently.
Published in The NEWS, June 27, 2020