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Desolate in the Dock

by Newsweek Pakistan

Asif Hassan—AFP

It’s time to privatize the dinosaurs Pakistan could easily do without

A Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) plane was searched at the United Kingdom’s Heathrow airport, its interior literally pulled apart, before border police found a cache of heroin in it. The Prime Minister’s Adviser on Aviation, Sardar Mehtab Abbasi, has appeared on TV and accepted that the airline has smuggled heroin in the past and has promised London that “those who use the national flag carrier for such criminal activities will not be spared.” Why were those found smuggling heroin in the past not punished? The courts let them off, he said, which is a familiar excuse in Pakistan. The opposition is on the attack after this latest scandal but will not allow privatization of an airline that died long ago.

The Senate in Islamabad was shocked to hear last January that PIA had liabilities of over Rs. 300 billion and was incurring additional loss of over Rs. 5.6 billion every month. It earned Rs. 7.5 billion a month against expenses of over Rs. 13.14bn. The accumulated loss of over Rs. 300 billion included Rs. 186 billion of bank-loans and another Rs. 65 billion to ancillary agencies. Shockingly, the airline had 26 aircraft and 18,331 employees—or 705 people per aircraft while the global average stood at 150 employees.

It is not only the PIA bleeding Pakistan’s economy. Pakistan Steel Mills too is belly-up while the country goes on resisting advice to privatize the dinosaurs it could easily do without. It is in the dock for going against its own best interest.

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