Even as Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) pilots resumed some flights on Sunday, Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Khursheed Shah laid into the government for its shoddy privatisation plan and the way it has handled the airline workers’ strike so far.
Speaking to the media in Sukkur, Shah reminded the prime minister that he served the entire country and was duty-bound to safeguard public interests.
Referring to Tuesday’s violent clashes, during which two PIA employees were killed by ‘mysterious’ gunshots when scores of PIA workers clashed with law enforcers outside the Karachi airport during a violent protest, Shah said that it seemed the government believes in a policy of confrontation.
On February 2, PIA employees went on a country wide strike to protest against the government’s plan to sell a stake in the airline spurring fears of mass lay offs. The protests grounded the entire fleet of the national carrier, with Shah claiming it had caused the exchequer loss of billions.
In this regard the leader of the opposition offered to mediate between the workers and the government.
He also criticised the government’s decision to revive an obscure law from 1952, the Essential Service Maintenance Act, to quash the protest by PIA workers.
While conceding that the act had also been imposed by Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) patron Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Shah reminded that it applied equally to the military, civil aviation authority, police, power plants and that unions could be formed in institutions which have collective bargaining agent certificates.
He welcomed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s claim of launching a new airline, noting that it would benefit the people but raised questions on the government’s eagerness to sell off the national carrier.
“What was the need of passing the PIA privatisation bill in the national assembly in such haste,” Shah asked.
Commenting on the recent development projects initiated by the government, Shah said that setting up a power plant in Sahiwal would be detrimental to the agriculture in the area instead it should be setup in a place like Tharparkar.
He also criticised the government over the proposed Orange Line Train in Lahore, stating that the funds being used for the project belong to the entire nation and not just the people of Lahore as he made a case for setting up the train in other parts of the country as well. He added that if the government was willing to provide subsidy for the Metro bus, why was it reluctant to extend the same facility to PIA.
He added that if PIA’s situation remains unchanged after another bailout package, he promised to stand by the government on the national carrier’s divestment.
Pointing to the power crisis in the country, Shah urged the government to scrap all other development projects and focus on building dams.
Referring to the verbal jousting he had with Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan and other Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) ministers, Shah said that he did not want to give the interior minister a political edge by commenting on his statements, nor on the comments of other PML-N ministers.
Citing PM Nawaz Sharif’s directives to his ministers to desist from issuing controversial statements, Shah said “they [PML-N ministers] should also take back their allegations levelled against me”.
“I am waiting for the prime minister to come to the parliament and if those allegations are proved right against me, then I will quit politics.”
Published in The Express Tribune, February 8th, 2016.