As I read about the fracas created by PIA employees in light of the decision to privatise it, I was reminded of how Air India (AI) employees react every time a similar proposal is mooted. I have travelled on both the airlines, and not because I am Indian, I will say that AI is infinitely superior to PIA in just about every respect — fleet size, aircraft configuration, network, cabin interiors and catering. AI even has an active social media presence and customer engagement, a pre-requisite for international airlines these days. It is brilliant on a good day and terrible on a bad day but PIA is consistently miserable. I’ve had the misfortune of travelling on PIA a few times and find it hard to pin down on any one of the trips being the worst.
With the state-run airline’s employee unions blackmailing the management by halting training centres and booking offices and further threatening to disrupt flight operations, Pakistan and its economy are being held to ransom by a bunch of lazy rebels who have comfortably slipped into dream jobs that pay handsomely for doing sweet nothing. The inconvenienced passengers are the biggest losers, and of course, the airline itself whose gargantuan losses are compounding by the minute. Not only is the airline top-heavy and overstaffed but there is corruption pervading every level. Its leadership appears to be hugely indecisive and incompetent. The politics and bureaucracy plaguing PIA have swiftly slid it into a point of no return, leaving it for brutal abuse by those in power. To keep white elephants like PIA going is an unnecessary burden on the depleting national exchequer, something a financially challenged country like Pakistan cannot afford. While privatisation is not necessarily a guarantee of profitability, it certainly promises relatively enhanced financial and operational performance. It is time for bold, decisive action on the ownership of PIA. The government needs to ignore the bullies (even if that means temporarily hurting travellers) and work actively to hive off the airline to private hands.
1) Italy’s desire to court visiting Iranian President Hassan Rouhani extended to covering up classical nude sculptures in the museum where he met Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. Why would Italy betray its cultural heritage in the name of political correctness? Above all, why did the two men do a press conference in a museum?
2) Educational institutions in Pakistan’s Punjab province have been informed overnight to take a five-day sabbatical in light of the severe winter. So is the cold wave expected to dispel on day six? Or does the government think that its people are so naive as to not guess the real reason behind the sudden closure? Terror attacks on educational institutions in Pakistan are alarming and the protests by the Sunni Tehreek in Lahore against the death penalty awarded to Mumtaz Qadri could have something to do with the paranoia. But to get schools and colleges to pull down their shutters is preposterous and immature — like a pigeon shutting its eyes on sighting a cat.
3) Airlift, the Akshay Kumar-starrer about the evacuation of 170,000 Indians from Kuwait when Iraq invaded the city nation in August 1990, has garnered global applause for the right reasons. The 120-minute docu-drama left me feeling proud to be Indian. And I think I speak for millions of Indians if the film’s stupendous box office result is anything to go by.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 28th, 2016.