Here we go again. PIA’s partial sale has been agreed on. The national flag-carrier, with astronomical losses, in an attempt at salvation will offer up 26% of its stock for private investors. Previously suggested and subsequently shot down in the Senate, privatizing PIA is the only and obvious solution to reduce the burden of billions of rupees in loss on the national kitty. Overstaffed, mismanaged, burdened with bureaucratic inefficiencies and untouched by managerial success, PIA is but a shadow of its former glory days, many decades ago. With a record of cancellations, delays, bad service – in fact, even on occasion, the odd engine catching fire – it is difficult to accept the protestations of the anti-privatization lobby as anything but pandering to the overwrought, selfishly motivated, but ultimately illogical arguments offered by PIA trade unions.

Perhaps, still romantically obsessed with the idea of nationalization, the PPP has sworn to resist the sale of 26% of the stake; in defense of this stance, opposition leader Khurshid Shah of the PPP, claims that the PML-N’s suggestion to invite private management to look into the affairs of the airline is nothing but a conspiracy against “labourers”. With overstaffing of thousands, according to the most conservative estimates, Mr. Shah’s definition of “labourers” is unlikely to include the disadvantaged upon closer scrutiny. Where in its last tenure of government, the PPP administration showed little interest in approving the affairs of PIA – beyond improving its number of “labourers” – it would be wise to let one of the sensible ideas of the current administration see its way through. Admittedly, the transparency of the sale, the selection criteria of possible investors and the speed and efficiency with which the sale is conducted will all have great bearing on how successful this strategy is in saving PIA. It would be a greater national service for the opposition to verify that these conditions are met than to cry hoarse and lurid about the privatization of a state-owned asset as some great national tragedy. It’s not.

With the economy in tatters and IMF conditions to be met, debt piling up, and investments scarce, there are few options for the government but to reduce expenses in areas where they bring no benefit. Compared to modern-day competition, PIA is old-fashioned, and suffering a loss in traffic, while taking up resources that could be utilized to greater effect. With the current management’s total lack of interest in making PIA successful as a business instead of as a means of largess for political party workers, there is no option but to hand the reins to someone else.