Perhaps Bilawal and Maryam need to review this politics of salacious returns
When a plane goes down you don’t just investigate technical or operational failures but cast the net wide. The initiation of an accident begins with an error, technical or operational, but will lead to a sequence of cause and effects in a chain to why an error first emerged. For example — and this is just an example; the investigation is still in progress — if indeed the pilot of the ill-fated PK8303 violated procedures and disregarded every call given to him by the controller to correct his parameters of flight, it must lead one to ask why he did so. Was he grappling with an undeclared emergency? Why would he not declare a problem on board? Pilots and engineers are known to sheath problems to avoid answering questions later and continue to make do with what is possible ‘hoping’ the aircraft will get down safely. But when things go bad they usually do in hordes and saturate the response matrix.
If one is alone in the cockpit, as in a fighter aircraft, the price you pay, other than the loss of a very expensive aeroplane belonging to the state, is with your life. But if you are in a passenger aircraft many more will pay the price of one’s carelessness or outright callousness. It amounts to criminal neglect. Imagine, there wasn’t anything wrong with PK8303. Nothing at all. It was a perfect flying machine till it actually hit the runway on the first landing attempt. The landing gear, remember, came smoothly down immediately after it went around though this is when most agree it should have been delayed to fly the farthest with engines powering down. But the pilot out of habit or indiscipline or simply dismissive of the controller who was asking him to mind his parameters relied on his intuition and impulse and felt he could manage. When you challenge Physics you always lose. He and his innocent passengers lost.
If indeed this is how it went then the problem ‘is’ — note: ‘is’; not was — deeper and debilitating. Many more aircraft with innocent travelers will go down if not attended to and remedied forthwith. It has to do with the safety and discipline culture. I do realise this piece is about politics and not flight safety but let us bury this beast first. What is the force behind such disregard of operational and safety dictates? What empowers the pilot to dismiss a controller’s instructions? What grants such impunity to a pilot to play with the lives of his passengers? Every profession has rules and ethics and one may disregard those at one’s peril. But what if nothing at all can touch a pilot in command — forget the laws; they too have limitations. I talk of the culture. A culture of egotist privilege reigns. Imagine it was in the US or the UK where a doctor licensed to practise or to fly passengers was to err. His licence goes; he may never practise or fly again. He is charged for ‘manslaughter’ and is put behind bars. Ours fly away from behind bars.
And this brings me to the politics of accidents in a country as banana as a republic can get. There are at least six unions or groups which mark the aviation landscape. Each has its own nuisance value and will strike down if their interests are threatened. This includes the pilots too. What keeps an incident or an accident inquiry going public are the threats to halt work and operations if a colleague is threatened with retribution. Each comes to the rescue of the other and thus validates its relevance in the system. You cannot ground or decertify someone who may be a habitual offender of both procedures and discipline. The airline or the Steel Mill or Railways and WAPDA will come to a halt. This is what happens when running these entities is a government job. They know how to subdue governments and force their own agenda. Each of the major political parties of Pakistan sponsors a group or has sympathisers who may have first landed their jobs in these organisations because of political patronage. These entities thus serve as convenient employment exchanges for these political players in power. Even when not in power you do in Karachi as the political players of the city dictate if you wish to function in the city. That includes keeping these entities alive.
That is why you cannot privatise or dispense what are essentially bankrupt entities. We pay in hundreds of billions every year to keep these clubs which give away freebies in charity to their own. The Steel Mill has been closed for years now; has not produced a billet but continues to eat up some fifty billion every year. A CJ who once wished to keep this ‘family silver’ at home chose to intervene when someone was willing to pay for it. Now they want the land too attached. PIA eats up between 30 and 50 billion rupees every year and doesn’t make a khotta paisa. But someone has put it in someone’s ear that it is nation’s ‘flag carrier’ and must be saved at all cost. It is a flag bearer of massive failure and organisational bankruptcy. It cannot be recovered and made viable with the structure that it has. But will not be restructured to secure diverse interests and political influence. These are convenient avenues to malfeasance and pilferage. Black holes down which billions drain while the nation begs and borrows.
It’s obvious why under the pretentious rubric of labour rights the push-back of those whose interests are threatened begins the moment a thought occurs to dispense these monstrosities. And given the precariousness of our polarised politics what is right is dispensed at the hands of political manipulation. Instead governments tend to take the easy way out and shelve what is right. Call it pervasive political convenience.
Look at the sugar thing or the cement or the fertiliser or the oil marketing groups or the flour mills lobby, most of whom either have fangs in the political system or themselves were/are active politicians with interests on the side in any of these. They have both the control of the resource and the policy which governs resource utilisation. Add the power producers who are the new kids on the block with old ways. And everybody is in it for the kill. In each of these either politics is directly involved or is the malicious facilitator and abettor. While we may not be able to rectify our political system overnight we can at least dispense with these monstrosities which eat away at our critical resources. The people will not be able to pay for them any longer. Once in private hands see them going profitable and productive; when the owner hires and fires at will and no union can intercede. Enough of the ‘national’ this or that mantra. We have other things like Covid to fight against. Enough of leeching on us.
Perhaps Bilawal and Maryam need to review this politics of salacious returns. Perhaps they may know and do better than their parents.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 7th, 2020.