An act of extreme embarrassment

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One wonders where our state owned enterprises are heading to. From PIA to Steel Mills to Railway, all are in doldrums, reason being government apathy. While Steel Mills is replete with financial problems due to government apathy, the PIA too like other PSEs is running in deficit. But what is more saddening is that the latter is in the news for yet another negative reason and that PIA’s latest downward spiral which is alarming and a matter of real concern. The huge cache of heroin seized from PIA plane at Heathrow Airport has become a matter of embarrassment for all Pakistanis. Just imagine, all passengers onboard Flight 785 from Islamabad to London were reportedly asked to disembark upon landing, while the authorities spent nearly two hours searching the flight crew and aircraft. The fact that the contraband was found hidden inside the structure of the aeroplane further adds to the gravity of the situation and signals towards a well-organised racket operating in cahoots with the inside men, as it is not possible without the involvement of the technicians and or maintenance personnel. Moreover, it’s even embarrassing that the aircraft was cleared by the Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF) in Pakistan, and indicates that the British authorities received concrete firsthand information to take action. For years, we have become familiar with the low-standards of the PIA in recent years, particularly under the current government, which is paying no heed to the PSEs. From time to time we hear stories of for poor performance, low safety standards the unprofessional attitude of its staff and what not. Members of PIA crew have been sacked previously for smuggling contraband and assisting money laundering operations. In this year alone, PIA has been involved in a number of controversies. Recently, it was criticised when it appeared that a senior pilot operating the Islamabad to London flight handed over the aircraft to an under-training pilot soon after the take-off and took a two-and-a-half-hour nap in the passenger compartment. The recent controversy has further deteriorated the image of the ailing national flag carrier. Although the administration has announced several strict measures, these incidents have continued to rock the boat consistently. If the crew members were let off by the British authorities, the blame comes towards the maintenance and ground staff and the authorities must take strict action to curb such practices. Experts say that immediate steps are needed to check the latest downward spiral of the national carrier, otherwise times are not far away when the flight carrier might be banned from operations in certain destination, which will badly tarnish the image of our country. As a matter of fact, this was not the first time PIA was ridiculed before the world and, most likely, not the last time either. And, unless the government takes this bull by the horns immediately, this airline will remain on autopilot and on a crash course indeed. One may advise those at the helm of affairs to conduct a thorough investigation into this latest low by the national carrier before it is too late. It’s not a minor issue as it is a matter of our prestige. That’s why those behind this heinous act need to be exposed.

Not a logical move

The holy month of Razaman is round the corner and every Muslim respects this month. However, our Parliament has come up with an uncalled for amendment in Ramazan Bill in recent days which has drawn much criticism and right so. It is outrageous in some way. That’s why one may agree with Bakhtawar Bhutto-Zardari who has severely criticised the Ehtram-e-Ramazan (Amendment) Bill which prohibits eating and drinking in public during the month of Ramazan. On Wednesday, the Senate Standing committee on Religious Affairs unanimously approved the Ehteram-e-Ramazan (Amendment) Bill, 2017which seeks to punish hotel owners violating the law with fines ranging from Rs500 to Rs25,000. Additionally, the bill also imposes a fine of Rs500 and prison sentence of up to three months for people seen smoking or eating in public during the holy month. Bakhtawar rightly insisted that the ‘law’ was outrageous as it failed to consider that not everyone will be fasting in the month of Ramazan. “Not everyone in Pakistan will be fasting? Children in school, the elderly, people with medical issues? Should we arrest them for drinking water?” Bakhtawar highlighted in her tweet. Under the Ehtram-e-Ramazan Ordinance, 1981, it is illegal for Muslims to eat or drink in public during daylight hours in Ramazan, though the heatstroke crisis prompted some clerics to advise people they should stop fasting if their health is at risk. Fasting in the month of Ramazan is a religious obligation for Muslims, it is strictly a personal matter and as such the state has no right of imposing such laws on the citizens. To be fair, this Amendment Bill doesn’t provide much that wasn’t already contained in the original 1981 Ordinance. In a move to reflect rising inflation – hotel owners serving food during the fasting period will see their fines increased from Rs500 to a whopping Rs25,000. On the matter of individuals smoking or eating in public – the penalty remains fixed at Rs-500 fine as well as up to three months’ imprisonment. The media coverage of the legal changes has been misleading. Such unfair provisions have long been there. The recent changes are not substantive and reinforce the earlier legal provisions. Many Pakistanis have paid a heavy price by being targeted, arrested or subjected to violence by fellow citizens in the past. It may be recalled here that the state patronising of such restrictions can potentially lead to mob violence. Last year, an elderly Hindu man was severely beaten up for eating in public during Ramzan. Moreover, the issue of dehydration took a grave turn in the summer of 2015 when hundreds of people died due to heatstroke in Sindh. The heat wave had coincided with the month of Ramzan. Following hundreds of deaths, some clerics had issued instructions not to fast in case it was detrimental to public health. There is no guarantee that such crisis will not appear again. It is virtually impossible to check if a person is fasting or not. And last but not the least, there is a need to reform the Senate Standing Committee on Religious Affairs to include people who can ascertain the situation logically. Moreover, the advice of qualified health experts must be given an equal weight before arguing on any such legislation. Besides, the Committee must provide representation to progressive Islamic scholars to shed light on the issue.

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