ISLAMABAD - Information Minister Pervez Rashid yesterday blamed the opposition parties of conspiring to cash in on the issue of Pakistan International Airlines issue.

Death of two employees during the protest against privatisation of PIA has shocked the whole nation but no one knew who killed them and who ordered to open fire. Security experts were raising questions.

Sindh police used water cannon to deter the protesting employees who were furthering towards Jinnah International Airport from the head office while Rangers resorted to baton charge. The law enforcers allegedly opened fire that claimed two lives and injured several others.

The Sindh government yesterday denied giving orders of firing during PIA employees’ protest in Karachi. The government said they had ordered police to stop using batons and water cannon. Police and Rangers also denied using any violence against PIA employees.

Flight operations of the PIA remained suspended across the country yesterday for the second consecutive day as employees of the national flag carrier continued their protest against the airline’s proposed privatisation.

Reports said at least 27 flights at the Islamabad’s Benazir International Airport were cancelled yesterday, as PIA workers gathered at their offices in different cities to resume the protest.

The PIA employees unions, after weeks of token strikes, urged the government to shun its proposals to complete the partial sale of the carrier by July, however the government denies any ‘privatisation’ plan. The move follows years of crushing losses and mismanagement that have battered the airline’s reputation. Following the killing of PIA workers, the airline’s Chairman Nasir Jafar announced his resignation.

Information Minister Pervez Rashid said some political parties wanted to use Karachi incident for their own gain. He said the government will not let anyone play dirty politics on the dead bodies of the victims and will go to any extent to foil attempts by some political parties to cash on the issue of PIA.

Rashid said how can the Pakistan People’s Party call a law flawed which they themselves used in the past. “Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is a devoted leader and his priority is people of Pakistan. We want to see a prospering Pakistan,” he said at a media interaction here.

He said the government has the strategy to foil attempts by some political parties to cash in on the issue of PIA. Rashid said representatives of PIA unions met Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif who gave them six months to cooperate in overcoming challenges facing the national flag carrier.

He said the representatives were told that the decision to find a strategic partner was being deferred for six months. “The government will assess the situation during this period and then take a decision,” he added. The minister said patriotic employees of PIA were cooperating and flights were proceedings as per schedule.

He questioned the justification for strike six months ahead of a development. He regretted some political parties are exploiting the situation for their own ends.

Also yesterday, former President Asif Ali Zardari strongly condemned the “brutal killing of two PIA employees” and called for “unmasking and punishing in accordance with the law the trigger happy personnel responsible for this totally unwarranted and criminal use of force against employees using their legal right of protest against their threatened unemployment.”

In a statement, Zardari said that he was profoundly shocked at the killing of PIA employees in what is alleged to be straight firing, saying those responsible for it must not go unpunished.

He warned the people will not permit cover up of the incident a Model Town Lahore incident sometime back that resulted in the killing of 14 innocent people. “The Pakistan People’s Party will not permit any cover up,” he said. “The incident has exposed the government’s inept handling, sheer panic and knee jerk response resulting in miserable failure in handling the PIA issues,” he added.

Zardari said the ‘double speak of the federal ministers on privatisation’, on finding ‘strategic investor’, invoking the Essential Services Act to browbeat the workers and the aviation advisor continuing to work despite having been restrained by the Supreme Court raise serious questions and falsify the claims to transform the national airline from a loss making state enterprise into a viable commercial entity.

“Resorting to gun fire at the airport when aircraft with hundreds of passengers were circling overhead is stupid and dangerous. The sheer stupidity and panic of the government is as appalling as it is unpardonable,” the former President said.

He said no doubt with accumulated losses of nearly Rs300 billion threatening national economy the PIA was in a serious mess and needed to be reformed. “The threat to national economy from the mess of over Rs500 billion circular debt also needs to be addressed,” he pointed out.

“Despite sitting on windfall gain of nearly 7 billion dollars due to massive fall in petroleum prices the government’s inability to turn around and reform loss making units with skill and confidence is pathetic,” the former President said.

Separately, Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf Chief Imran Khan also criticised the government for violently handling the protesting PIA employees in Karachi. Imran Khan said present rulers had become ‘dictators’ as instead of addressing reservations of the protestors, the authorities tried to ‘bulldoze’ them. A PIA spokesman said rumours about delay in payment of January’s salary to PIA employees were not correct.

“Salaries have been released by PIA and would soon be disbursed through banks after completion of necessary formalities,” he said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Information Minister Pervez Rashid emphasised the need for resolution of Kashmir dispute for the sake of sustainable peace in the region and beyond.

Addressing Kashmir Solidarity Seminar here, the minister said there was complete consensus amongst all political parties of Pakistan on Kashmir issue. He said every person with a conscience was supportive of the fundamental right of self-determination of Kashmiri people.