Addressing National Assembly, Ghulam Sarwar Khan claims international concerns will be resolved once institutions ‘cleaned of corruption’
The first post-budget session of the National Assembly on Wednesday devolved into a war of words as opposition parties slammed Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan for “humiliating” Pakistan internationally by alleging more than a third of Pakistani pilots had “dubious” licenses.
Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) parliamentarians introduced a calling attention notice on the “the suspension of authorization for the PIA by the European Union Air Safety Agency and U.K.’s authorities to operate in Europe for six months.” The party’s Murtaza Javed Abbasi alleged the minister had issued the statement about pilot licenses in haste, bringing the country into disrepute.
Last month, the aviation minister had disclosed in Parliament that around 30 percent of Pakistani pilots had fake or improper licenses and did not have adequate flight experience. Following his disclosure, PIA has been banned from E.U. and the U.K. and several international airlines that employ Pakistani pilots have grounded them pending verification.
Responding to the calling attention notice, Sarwar claimed the suspension of PIA operations to European nations was “temporary,” adding such bans had happened earlier as well. He said he was in touch with authorities in Europe and urged the opposition not to criticize his statements unduly. “Other countries will be satisfied [with our pilots’ credentials] when we clean our institutions from corruption,” he said, alleging that the governments of the PMLN and PPP had “sold” jobs in the PIA during their tenure.
The minister claimed authorities had thus far detected 658 PIA employees, including 28 pilots and 96 engineers, with fake degrees. One of the engineers, he claimed, had not even completed his intermediate studies. He said “action had been taken” against 54 pilots, while 34 others were currently suspended.
To a question on Pakistani pilots and engineers who had been suspended or grounded by international carriers, Sarwar said the government had received lists requiring verification. He said the U.A.E. had sent a list of 54 pilots, of which 48 had been cleared, and nine of 11 pilots working for Vietnam Airlines had also been cleared. He said the process of verification of pilots working for Malaysian Air and Turkish Airlines was underway.
The minister alleged that the PPP and PMLN had inducted 658 employees into the PIA that had either fake degrees or dubious licenses. He also alleged that former prime minister Nawaz Sharif was “among the top 10 most corrupt” rulers of the world, provoking protest from the opposition.
The session also sparked a debate on the rights of religious minorities in Pakistan in light of an ongoing campaign against the construction of a Hindu temple in Islamabad. Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari assured the House that her ministry would act against anyone involved in social media campaigns against minorities.
“If minorities don’t feel safe in Pakistan then it is a matter of shame for us. It is our responsibility to protect their places of worship,” the PMLN’s Khawaja Asif said. Maulana Abdul Akbar Chitrali of the Jamaat-e-Islami agreed, but claimed that while existing place of worships should be protected, this did not mean the government should spend public money to build a temple in the federal capital.
Religious Affairs Minister Noorul Haq Qadri said there was “no question” about the construction of temple, adding the real concern appeared to be on using public funds for it. He explained that the government had not acquired the land for the temple, but some funding was required for its construction.
“The matter was referred to the prime minister and there has been no progress,” he said, adding the matter had now been sent to the Council of Islamic Ideology.
Responding to concerns from several lawmakers about excessive power outages in Sindh capital Karachi, Energy Minister Omar Ayub said the PTI government was trying to resolve the city’s power issues. Predictably, he blamed the PPP and PMLN for the PTI’s inability to curb loadshedding.
“Why did you [opposition] not make any common delivery points for K-Electric. Both parties—PPP and PMLN—have remained in power [for several terms],” he said, adding that the government had provided 100mmcfd of gas to KE as well as residual fuel oil to allow their power plants to run.
The minister said the cabinet had also granted permission for KE to build two common delivery points and two 500KVA grids to curb supply issues after 2022.
During proceedings, the minister for human rights also introduced the Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Bill, 2020, seeking “to establish an effective system of protection, relief and rehabilitation of women, children, elders and any vulnerable person against domestic violence.”