RAWALPINDI - Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, the opposition member of national assembly and AML President, was barred from boarding a Toronto-bound flight at the Benazir Bhutto Islamabad International Airport (BBIIAP) on Friday after his name appeared in the no-fly list of Transportation Security Administration (TSA), US Department of Homeland Security.
Rashid was supposed to catch a flight - PK-781 ISB-Toronto - to address a convention of his party men scheduled to be held on March 23 in Calgary (Canada).
He was debarred from taking the flight when a representative of US Department of Homeland Security rang on PIA’s helpline asked the airline not to give a seat to the MNA in the plane as his name was placed in the no-fly list.
Over this, Sh. Rashid protested with PIA and Immigration authorities but nobody heeded to his hue and cry.
Sheikh, however, when contacted by this scribe, lost his temper and used abusive language.
When asked there were some reports that he tried to leave Pakistan without clearance from Canadian authority, Rashid started using abusive language and said, “Do you think I am a stupid guy? Do you think I am a fool.” Do not ask such questions from me,” and then Sheikh ditched the call of this scribe.
Sajid Ullah, Station Manager of PIA at the airport, during an interaction with The Nation, confirmed that Sheikh Rashid was stopped from boarding the PK-781 flight to Toronto after his name was put on the no-fly list.
He said that Sheikh reached the airport and tried to get a boarding pass for the said flight. However, firstly his name was put in “Inhabited” list, means no-fly list, and later Mr Jeff, a representative of TSA, US Department of Homeland Security, contacted PIA on helpline and asked the airline that Sheikh should not be allowed to board the flight.
“After this, we sent Sheikh to home with respect” Sajid said.
The no-fly list is a list, created and maintained by the US government’s Terrorist Screening Center (TSC) during the era of George Walker Bush of people who are not permitted to board a commercial aircraft for travel in or out of the USA and Canada. The list has also been used to divert away from US airspace aircraft not flying to or from the US.
It was the second time that Sheikh Rashid faced such an embarrassment. In November 2007, Sheikh was denied visa to travel to India for watching cricket series there.
Rashid, the then Railway Minister, had requested for the visa, saying he had been invited as a guest by the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB). But the Indian government had refused to entertain the request in view of some controversies related to him.
On the other hand, a PIA spokesman in a statement issued from Karachi denied the allegations leveled by Sh. Rashid against PIA for off-loading him on PIA’s Toronto-bound flight PK-781.
He said that the factual position was that at the time of check-in at PIA counter, the APIS (Advance Passenger Information System) an online system of Transportation Security Administration, US Department of Homeland Security, did not give clearance for passenger, Sheikh Rashid, booked on the said flight.
This system clearance is a pre-requisite for all passengers for Toronto-bound flights overflying US airspace and after clearance the system generates boarding cards. The system did not give any reason for non-clearance to the airline.
The system check is followed not only by PIA but all other airlines also, he stated.
According to him, PIA considers customer services as a paramount feature and all passengers are well taken care of.
PIA regrets the inconvenience caused to Sheikh Rashid, which was beyond the control of the airline, the PIA spokesman concluded.