Talha Makhdoom and Amraiz Khan

KARACHI/Lahore - PIA flight operation remained halted across the country on fifth consecutive day on Saturday as more than 120 flights could not fly, leaving thousands of passengers in lurch.

Police registered an FIR of murder of two airline employees in Karachi on the first day of the ongoing protest against privatisation of the national flag carrier, and said it will investigate some key government and airline officials on charges of conspiracy and torture.

Information Minister Pervez Rashid, State Minister for Privatisation Muhammad Zubair, Senator Mushahidullah Khan, PM’s former special assistant on aviation Shujaat Azeem, Aviation Secretary Ifran Elahi, PIA GM Administration Brigadier (r) Asif and another PIA official Maqsood Ahmed alias Mama are named as plotters in the FIR.

Meanwhile, the half-hearted government efforts at starting negotiations with the employees of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) yielded no result with government setting resumption of flights as a precondition, which has been rejected by airline unions.

In a sign of rift between employees of PIA, head of pilots association Amir Hashmi yesterday told media that pilots could fly planes if provided adequate security by the government and complained of life threats to him from Joint Action Committee (JAC) which is leading the strike.

But executive committee of Pakistan Airline Pilots’ Association (Palpa) declined to endorse Hashmi, saying they are united and completely support the anti privatisation stance of all employees. It said Palpa members were neither instrumental in halting the flight operation nor they alone can resume it.

The committee however unanimously condemned the threats given to its president, Capt (r) Amir Hashmi, issued from the forum of JAC and demanded unconditional public apology. It urged the government to resolve the stalemate so that the flight operation of PIA may resume at the earliest.

Hashmi had said earlier in the day that “at least 410 out of 430 pilots in Palpa are in favour of resumption of flight operations” but they faced life threats from the protesters (JAC).

He said Palpa members were a part of the protest from the beginning but never supported the idea of a complete strike “which can have serious consequences on an airline which is already sinking”. “It was not possible to continue flight operations at a time when the situation was so charged.”

The pilots community opposes privatisation because they think PIA can continue to function if “apt professionals manage it”, Hashmi said. He said the association has written a letter to director general flight operations with commitment to resume flights on the condition that pilots are provided security.

To a query, Hashmi said those who forced them to call strike were also behind the threats while he has record of such threat calls. “A letter has also been sent to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in this regard and I will register a case over threat calls,” he added.

Amir Hashmi further said that pilots had already observed three-day mourning over killing of their fellows but “we will not further participate in the strike”. “Pilots are part of a professional body ... we are not a political party,” he said, adding that the PIA strike had turned into a political arena.

On the other side, police finally registered a case over the killings of the two PIA employees. Aircraft engineer Saleem Akbar and assistant manager Enayat Raza were killed when some unidentified gunman opened fire on protesters on Tuesday while the protesters were being preventing by police and Rangers from marching towards Jinnah Terminal of the Karachi airport.

“The case (FIR No 19/16 ) has been registered on the court orders. Sohail Baloch of the Joint Action Committee (of PIA) is the complainant in the FIR,” confirmed District Malir SSP Rao Anwar. “Apart from the (unidentified) murderer(s), the names of the government persons are also placed on the FIR on accusation of hatching conspiracy.”

JAC Chairperson Captain (r) Suhail Baloch had moved court on Wednesday when, according to him, the SHO refused to register a case against the proposed suspects. The case includes provisions of murder and attempt to murder.

Baloch named two ministers and a PML-N senator among the suspects behind the conspiracy which led to the killings. He also sought implication of the law enforcers who opened fire at the protesters and maintained that they ‘can be identified on seeing’.

Earlier, the police investigators utterly failed to trace the culprits of the murders despite passage of four days. They failed to find even a single piece of evidence. Even bullet shells were not secured from the crime scene, though on the day of the shooting DIG West Zone had claimed before the media of recovering bullet shells.

The police said investigators will now record the statements of the government persons and other officials nominated in the FIR.

In Lahore, employees gathered at PIA complex and staged a protest there yesterday. “Our colleagues are not allowed to enter the concourse hall area where they wanted to draw their salaries from different banks,” said Sajid Gujjar, president of Peoples Unity of PIA employees.

He said a meeting was going to be held between JAC office bearers and government dialogues committee members on Saturday to reach a consensus for initiation of talks.

A Palpa member said, “We are waiting for the call of government dialogues committee members but there is complete silence so far”. He said they were ready to hold dialogue but flight operation will only be resumed after written assurance by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif himself.

Passengers, who were mostly intending to travel to Saudi Arabia and UAE, held a protest at Lahore airport after their flights were cancelled. The affected travellers included dozens of pilgrims heading for Saudi Arabia.

A PIA management official on condition of anonymity told The Nation that management was unable to establish special counters to facilitate the passengers despite the announcement.