The horrendous PIA Airbus A320 crash in Karachi’s Model Colony near Jinnah International Airport jolted Pakistan to its very core. Horrible images of the gruesome incident were splashed across TV screens callously by the media, further dampening the spirits of a nation that is still reeling from the trepidations of the fast spreading Covid-19 pandemic. The PIA crash also threw into a sharper relief the current status of institutional degeneration in Pakistan and the tremendous cost the state is being made to pay for it.
Apart from being a collection of people, the state is also a conglomeration of institutions that jointly run its complex affairs. The efficacy and the governance archetypes of the state, therefore, depend on the operational brilliance of its institutions. The institutional strength of a state allows it to manufacture order from the fragments of chaos that are present within it. Institutions should be inherently dynamic; with the capacity to evolve overtime to deal with changing times. Stagnation, sluggishness and torpor breed inadequacy, ineffectiveness and impotence. Since state institutions deal with people; when they stagnate and fall into decline, it is the people who suffer. That is why states are so obsessively focused on institution building, institution management and institution sustenance.
Developed states ensure institutional excellence by sculpturing four simple instruments. One, uncomplicated mechanisms are designed to allow the people to assess the performance of state institutions and report it to the authorities. This assessment is reflected in the various reform programmes that nudge the institutions towards a methodical and painless change so they may continue to excel. Two, focused legislative measures are adopted to rectify institutional ineptness. The legislation also encompasses the appraisal of the people who deal with the institutions directly. Three, splendid human resource assets are provided to the institutions. This paradigm of institutions is talent-driven and is kept intact by periodic training and the intermittent addition of new talent. Four, comprehensive systemic protocols are put in place to continuously review the performance of the personnel running the institutions.
That the Karachi Airbus crash is a manifestation of the organisational failure of PIA cannot be gainsaid. PIA deals with the lives of people; it does not have the luxury to make a mistake. Every mistake it makes is a potential disaster. Suffice it to say that it is high time the national flag carrier was overhauled, reinvigorated and modernised in line with international standards. The government has constituted an investigation team to probe the crash. Whilst no one is questioning the professional integrity of this team, the fact remains that its members belong to an organisation which has visible linkages with PIA and the perception of a cover-up might raise its ugly head soon.
Seemingly, perceptions are more potent than the reality. In these circumstances, PM Imran Khan is the only state functionary who can satisfactorily handle this issue. He should constitute an independent Inquiry Committee consisting of local and foreign experts after suitably amending the CAA Rules, 1994. The Committee should: 1) unearth the causes of this dreadful crash; 2) establish clearly whether the mishap occurred due to a technical fault or human error; 3) identify the culprits if there are any; 4) recommend the initiation of inquiries against the culprits as per the relevant rules so that they could be brought to justice; 5) propose that the professional suitability of all PIA personnel be evaluated by a sub-committee comprising technical experts including psychiatrists; 6) furnish concrete recommendations regarding the prevention of such incidents in future; 7) suggest that all PIA planes be thoroughly checked and accurate assessments made regarding their airworthiness; and, 8) assess the working of the current fault identifying and management systems before green lighting further flight operations.
This committee should directly report to the PM. Nothing short of this will satisfy the people.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 28th, 2020.
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