LAHORE - Various questions have arisen on the detection of heroin like how heroin was hidden or carried by the crew members in the plane recovered in Paris a few days back when the flight landed there, where the airport security force was and whose job is to check passengers and ensure that no weapons or narcotics are present in a plane.

The recovery of heroin from a PIA flight in Paris brought a bad name to the country despite the fact that there is no tolerance for the contraband at home. Tanvir Gulzar and Moin Alizai were arrested and are being interrogated in France.

The investigation conducted by The Nation shows that concealment of heroin in the hidden parts of the plane means the ASF either wilfully or because of negligence failed to check the man who took the heroin into the aircraft. It is worth mentioning here that apparently in certain cases in the recent past heroin was concealed during the maintenance of the plane when it was parked in the hangar. A hangar area also falls in the limit of airports and ASF authorities issue security passes to the PIA engineers and other technical staff to enter these areas. And it is also duty of ASF to control concealment of narcotics inside planes during parking. So far as recovery of narcotics from the possession of crew members abroad is concerned, it is also duty of ASF to check the staffers of PIA when they leave for international duties. They are bound to pass through ASF search counters and scanners before boarding any aircraft.

In routine matters, ASF staff remains very vigilant and does not allow even an official of PIA to violate security standard operating procedure. A few months back PIA investigation board members visited Lahore airport to inspect a plane which met an accident, but they were refused to visit the runway. The reason behind the refusal was that they had no security passes. And they were allowed to visit the runway on the intervention of the interior ministry and the defence ministry.

A PIA engineer seeking anonymity said, “Sometimes it happens that a flight engineer who is flying from Karachi to Lahore and the plane requires a simple checkup after landing, but ASF refuses to allow him, saying, he has no security pass for Lahore apron.

A retired PIA officer believed there might be a lot of problems with private airlines, but their aircraft are seldom used for organised smuggling. The heroin found in this plane had most probably been placed behind concealed panels in toilets, coat compartments and overhead bins in Karachi, the main maintenance base. These drugs and other contrabands enter an airport through numerous security checkpoints manned by the ASF, he claimed.

Although there are other departments like ANF, customs and FIA which can play their role of checking narcotics smuggling through PIA planes, but it is primary responsibility of ASF.

Apart from the recent incident of heroin detection in a PIA plane that reached Paris from Islamabad a few days back, there were series of narcotics and indiscipline incidents in the national flag carrier flights.

In August 2016, the UK authorities arrested at least 12 staffers of Pakistan International Airlines after the recovery of 6kg heroin in the toilet of an aircraft bound for Dubai.

Then the PIA announced, “Anyone proven guilty will face action, including dismissal and other legal consequences.” But PIA dismissed certain influential elements on smuggling charges and after some time they were reinstated.

In June 2015, the airline sacked five cabin staffers who had been detained in Britain on the accusation of trying to smuggle mobile phones and foreign currency.

In 2013, a PIA pilot was jailed for nine months in Britain after being found to exceed Britain’s legal alcohol limit by three times for flying, just before he was due to take off with 156 people aboard.

Adviser to Prime Minister on Aviation Division Sardar Mehtab Ahmed Khan Abbasi, immediately after the second last incident of narcotics seizure, held a press conference in Islamabad and said an inquiry into the reported incident had been ordered under Aviation Division Secretary Irfan Elahi. It had also been decided to include experts from other relevant departments in the investigation. Mehtab had admitted the national flag carrier had faced such cases, but exemplary punishments were not given to the culprits and said all such cases which had been sent to the cold storage in the past would now be taken to their logical conclusion so that those behind them could be exposed. “Now, no one will be allowed to use the PIA for their nefarious designs and malign the country,” he said.

Nobody knows the progress of that inquiry, but everyone knows that another untoward incident has taken place abroad, bringing a bad name not only to the airline but also to the country.

No ASF official was available to comment upon the issue. ASF Media Coordinator Rana Navid said he was not authorised to comment on the issue. ASF Acting Chief Security Officer (CSO) Col Tipu also refused to comment on the issue.