KARACHI/ISLAMABAD - The government yesterday managed to dent the Joint Action Committee protest, succeeded in resuming flight operation partially and ruled out any sort of negotiations with the protesters, while the strikers pledged to continue their agitation, The Nation has learnt.

On the other hand, JAC alleged the government was using pressure tactics against individuals to resume the flight operation, adding it was not a big deal to operate three flights out of 140, said JAC.

Federal Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid, while talking to The Nation, said the government policy remained unchanged. He said the government had made it clear that no negotiations with the protesters would be held until the end of the strike.” He pointed out no talks between Privatization Commission Chairman and Minister of State Zubair Umar and Joint Action Committee were underway. He said the Joint Action Committee had no support of the PIA employees as the flight operation was in progress, but the violent agitation was stopping them to continue their jobs. He said: “We are doing our level best; even Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is constantly working on the issue.” He termed the allegations of JAC baseless, saying it would be impossible for pilots to fly the airplanes without the clearance of the engineering staff concerned. He also said no PIA staffer had been threatened with abduction.

About the previously recorded Nawz Sharif’s statements ahead of the privatisation of PIA, he said the government stance remained unchanged as it wanted to make it a successful and profitable organisation. There are multiple ways of privatisation, he said. “We will strike a deal with the party in an open competition.”

Earlier, PIA, after five days, partially resumed the flight operation. PIA Spokesman Daniyal Gilani told The Nation that the administration had partially restored its flight operations. Two Boeing 777 planes had been sent to Jeddah to bring back around 800 pilgrims while third Boeing 777 was leaving at night. Likewise, two of the national flag carrier’s flights operated between Islamabad and Gilgit. He added the PIA chairman and the Civil Aviation secretary saw off the flights while the other officials of the national airline were also present during the flights’ departure.

Rejecting the impression given by the protesting JAC, he said the pilots, crew and ground staff of both the flights belonged to national flag carrier. He said over 600 international and domestic flights had been cancelled during the last five days of protest by the employees, causing a loss of Rs 2.5 billion. The PIA staff returning to duty was being welcomed and provided with sufficient security, he added.

Commenting on the partial resumption of the flight operation, Joint Action Committee Joint Sectary Obaid Ullah Khan said the PIA management had compromised the safety and technical standards by flying those planes. He said the government was mounting pressure on the employees by threatening them with abduction if they did not resume duty. He said this so-called flight operation would not affect the protest drive launched against the privatisation of the airline. “We stuck to our demands and the drive will continue until the government withdraws its decision of privatising PIA,” he asserted.

Moreover, JAC spokesperson Nasrullah Khan said the officials, including the airline’s general manager and others were hurling threats on the employees to force them to join duty immediately or else their dismissal orders would be mailed to their residential addresses.

He said the JAC would hold a rally on Monday (today) outside PIA’s headquarters to press their demands. He revealed a petition had been filed in the Sindh High Court regarding disappearance of the four employees who went missing last Monday during clashes with the security forces.

However, Pakistan Airline Pilots Association (Palpa) disassociated itself from the ongoing shutdown. Palpa President Amir Hashmi said majority of pilots in Palpa were in favour of resumption of flight operation if they were provided with adequate security. The spokesman appreciated the commitment of the staff returning to the duty and said security would be provided to them. According to Palpa President Amir Hashmi, at least 410 out of 430 pilots were in favour of resuming flight operations.

The government insists that the employees should unconditionally resume flight operations before coming back to the negotiating table, while, the protestors rejecting the call, say the government should reverse the plan to privatise the national flag carrier if it wanted a dialogue.

A first information report (FIR) was registered against key government functionaries and top PIA management over the killing of two PIA employees on the first day of the protest.

An inquiry committee, set up to investigate the deaths, has begun probing the incident, a Rangers press release said.

The National Assembly on January 21 witnessed the passage of six bills, including one to convert the national flag carrier into a public limited company.

Under the bill, Pakistan International Airlines Corporation (PIAC) is to be converted into a public limited company as Pakistan International Airlines Company Limited (PIACL).

The government plans to split the ailing national flag carrier into two companies and sell the control of its core business to a global airline, but opposition to it has been intense.

Though the government has assured the PIA employees that no one would be laid off after privatisation, they demand acceptance of their four-point agenda.

The demands include withdrawal of the government bill passed on January 21; PIA employees should be provided with a chance to reform the airline. If the employees fail to do so, the government can do whatever it finds suitable. Privatisation, in any form is not acceptable to the employees. The government should immediately review the aviation policy and form a committee comprising members from JAC and PIA experts, Khursheed Anwar, Kamran Hasan and Salahuddin.