EDITORIAL: The government functionaries including the prime minister do not tire claiming credit for pioneering the limited lockdown strategy to contain the coronavirus pandemic and that the world, according to them, is now, emulating this strategy. However, they do not offer any explanation for Pakistanis being singled out internationally for travel to destinations outside Pakistan.
If the strategy is indeed such a smart idea then why are some countries refusing to take passengers flying out of Pakistan? The incident last week, when as many as 30 Pakistanis on an Emirates flight to Hong Kong tested positive upon arrival, set off alarm bells across the world. And since the passengers originated from Pakistan and transited in Dubai before reaching Hong Kong, the UAE authorities promptly moved to ban all sorts of passenger traffic from Pakistan, even for transit. The fact that even countries like Australia and South Korea are also thinking of enforcing similar restrictions means there's now the very real danger of a lot more countries doing the same thing. But why is the government so silent about all this? Surely, it should have already contacted other countries and explained to Pakistanis, especially those who need to travel abroad, just how long they might have to stay put at home because the rest of the world is more concerned than we are about how we're battling the pandemic.
And the official handling of the crash of the PIA Airbus 320 in Karachi in late May, especially the issue of "fake licences," has only brought even more isolation. On top of the suspension on entry of Pakistani people in a few places, country after country is now grounding Pakistani pilots in foreign airlines till their licences are checked. According to news reports, the European Union (EU), the UK, Vietnam and even Gulf allies Qatar, Oman and the UAE have either already suspended Pakistani pilots or are reviewing their testimonials and the European Union restrained PIA (Pakistan International Airlines) from entering its airspace. If only Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan hadn't stirred such a storm about the suspect licences in the National Assembly, and proceeded with the necessary investigation and action first, things would never have come to such a pass. The international press is not really known for having a very long memory or it would have reminded concerned governments of how India faced much worse pilot-licence problems less than a decade ago, which forced it to check credentials of thousands of pilots, yet no country stopped its flights or threw out its pilots. And the reason is simply that they did not make so much noise about it at home. The Pakistani government, on the other hand, is guilty of inviting all this trouble simply by announcing its own problems for everybody to hear. It would have been far better to clean the mess first and then go public with the whole thing. Even senior ministers in the cabinet thought so.
The problem is this government's penchant for taking everything to the media at the first possible opportunity, whether it is cases in NAB (National Accountability Bureau) against opposition leaders, or a probe into sugar millers' activities, or even an inquiry into suspected tax evasion by businessmen. And the fact that a good number of people and institutions it parades before the media are eventually exonerated does not seem to bother it at all. It is precisely this attitude that has now earned the country an unhealthy dose of bad press across the world and put PIA in the dock, even though it has nothing to do with licensing at all. And it's not really difficult to understand what all this must do to investor confidence just when the country's falling economy needs all the help and financial injections, it can get. Not that anybody is in any way arguing in favour of pilots with fake licences. That is a serious crime and must be dealt with according to the law. But the government needs to urgently come up with a plan to handle these issues and keep any harm from coming to the country and its institutions.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2020