For the first time since the invasion of COVID-19 early this year, the National Assembly of Pakistan held a lengthy sitting Thursday, which went on and on for more than six hours. It also started with a lively ‘question hour’. Thanks to it, we had access to officially furnished data, related to multiple aspects of the law and order situation, especially in Islamabad, otherwise projected as a ‘model city’ for the rest of Pakistan.

As a permanent resident of this city since 1975, I was rather compelled to feel doubly nervousfor

realizing that Islamabad was not so “safe” a city, if you merely relied on the system of digital watching, installed by investing a mind-boggling amount of millions.

At least four-plus hours were also devoted to comprehensively discuss almost each issue connected to a crucial sector, the agriculture. Delivering a speech on this subject, Sanaullah Mastikhel, a PTI MNA, thoughtlessly triggered a controversy by pressing the need for building a mega dam at Kalabagh. That infuriated the PPP, even some vocal ones from the ruling party backbenches.

In the concluding hour, Ali Mohammad Khan, the state minister of parliamentary affairs, did struggle to damage control by asserting that PTI was fully aware and deferential to public sentiment, prevailing against the idea of building this dam in “three smaller provinces” of Pakistan.

As a regular observer of parliamentary business, however, I was extremely disappointed to note that Murtaza Javed Abbassi, a senior PML-N member, ruined the possibly explosive potential of a highly significant issue. Raising the same through a point of order, he rather sounded too casual and lightheartedabout it.

 

For appreciating the importance of the issue one is referring to, you have to recall the tragic crashing of a PIA plane on a gloomy afternoon of May 22, 2020. After around two weeks of the said tragedy, a national assembly session was summoned. During one of its sitting, Sarwar Khan, the minister in-charge of Civil Aviation, had to answer questions raised about it on June 10, 2020.

 

A four-member committee of aviation experts had already been established by then to find out the real causes of the crash after deep probing. The propriety required that Sarwar Khan had persuaded public representatives to wait for the report of the said committee.

 

Instead of sticking to the obvious, the minister preferred to recklessly drift to promoting the story that due to the alleged patronage of the previous governments of “looters and plunderers,” people with “fake degrees” and the license to fly, acquired through dubious means, had also joined PIA as fulltime pilots. Due to them, the rate of accidents with our national flag carrier looked above normal, at times frightening.

 

I had felt deeply upset with senseless behavior of the minister. Widely quoting his comments in this column, printed on June 11, 2020, I was rather forced to wonder: “Pray tell me that who would want to board a PIA plane after listening to the story(of fake licenses), as told by Ghulam Sarwar Khan?”

 

Yet, the minister did not stop there. Exactly two days after his heedless behavior in the national assembly, he rather held a lengthy press conference to furiously repeat the story of “fake licenses.” He did the same while tabling the ‘initial report,’ prepared by the four-member committee regarding the crashing of PK-803, in the lower house of parliament, during its sitting of June 21, 2020.

 

This time around, he rather tried to burnish his story with ‘data’ as well and arrogantly announced that “around 40 per cent of our pilots” had been flying planes after acquiring fake and dubious credentials. By using the figure of 262, he even attempted to “quantify,” his story.

 

For another time, I felt forced to forewarn in this column that the story told by Sarwar Khan with too much sound and fury would lead to serious consequences for the aviation industry of Pakistan.

 

The global media was rather too quick to hype a fear-inducing story by quoting numbers, the minister had narrated in Pakistan’s parliament. CNN, a favorite of global jet setters, later prepared a comprehensive news-segment, essentially highlighting “figures,” provided by the minister, “in parliament.”

 

Without being worried and apologetic, Sarwar Khan still kept sticking to his story. His behavior eventually motivated the European Union to suspend the entry of PIA planes to the airspace to its member countries.

 

Some prestigious airlines of various countries, especially in the Middle East, also grounded the pilots, they had hired from Pakistan. Only after many weeks of accumulating damage, the Civil Aviation Authority has now woken up to clarify via official communications.

 

Only the other day, Pakistan’s Civil Aviation Authority had also informed its counterpart in Oman that “ALL commercial/airline transport pilots of and from Pakistan were flying planes after acquiring genuine and validly issued” licenses.

 

Perhaps to sound “more credible,” the smart Aleck drafting the said communication also rushed to add: “None of the Pilot Licenses are fake, rather that matter has been misconstrued and incorrectly highlighted in the media/social media.”

 

In the childish attempt in blame passing, the concerned Aleck had conveniently disregarded the fact that the proceedings of our national assembly always had a written record of them. In this age of ‘live-streaming,’ PTV had also launched a platform, called ‘parliament.’ The whole record of its transmissions isavailable at YouTube.

 

From my personal experience, I can also tell you with absolute confidence that at least ten diplomatic missions based in Islamabad have dedicated staff to vigilantly watch, and record, live streaming of our national assembly proceedings. Officially placed smart Alecks can’t get away with embarrassment, exclusively caused by the heedless ministers like Sarwar Khan, by passing the whole blame on media.

 

Murtaza Javed Abbassi wanted to agitate about the same issue. During the previous PML-N government, he had been the Deputy Speaker of the national assembly as well. He should have learnt it by now that you couldn’t push a minister to a tight corner, by randomly referring to his ‘misleading statements’, through a casually raised ‘point of order.’

 

Parliamentary practices, all over the democratic world, take the act of making ‘false statements,’ before a ‘duly elected’ house as a very serious breach. Before declaring Nawaz Sharif, the former prime minister, “disqualified” for holding any public office for the rest of his life, Pakistan’s Supreme Court had also been referring to “false statements,” he was accused of making before the national assembly.

 

Sarwar Khan, the minister of Civil Aviation, had committed the similar “crime” by all means, when it came to the issue of the professional credentials of our pilots. He surely deserves exemplary reprimand.

 

The minister had seriously breached the sanctity and privilege of the house, he also is a member of, by making a false statement, which eventually embarrassed Pakistan before the world and seriously damaged the repute and potential of our aviation industry for many years to come.

 

Our number strong opposition needs to move against him with a well-thought-out strategy. Tabling of “the privilege motion” remains the one and only route. Taking the same with some vigor, “our representatives” would rather protect their own honor. Otherwise, no minister would ever hesitate to keep spinning half-truths or absolute lies while discussing highly significant issues on the floor of our parliament.