KARACHI  -  Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has urged Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi to shelve the plan to privatise the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) and Pakistan Steel Mills or get ready to face stiff resistance from the opposition party both inside and outside the parliament.  

Opposition parties say the two organisations have been deliberately devastated financially and administratively over the last four-and-a-half-year rule of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).  

The PPP chairman said the common man as well as experts were taken aback by the decision of a man who himself was chairman of the PIA before he launched his own profit-making private airline, which became a profit-making organisation within no time. Likewise, he said, Sharif, whose family led a cartel of private steel mills in the country, dragged the largest state-owned industrial unit of the country, Pakistan Steel Mills, to a point of operational death. “Both Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and disqualified prime minister Nawaz Sharif are conspiring to sell PIA and Pakistan Steel Mills most probably to their hidden partners,” he said, adding that they were selling national assets with one hand and purchasing by the other. 

The PPP chairman told the PML-N government to stop personalisation in the name of privatisation and called upon the masses, especially trade unions, to join the PPP’s struggle against the economic terror being imposed on the people of Pakistan. 

Bilawal also directed the parliamentary party to raise its voice against the fraudulent privatisation of PIA and Pakistan Steel Mills in the parliament and all other available forums. 

Earlier on Friday, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi gave the formal go-ahead for privatisation of two major yet loss-making state-run entities — Pakistan International Airlines and the Pakistan Steel Mills — apparently on the pretext of ‘restructuring’. 

He granted the related approval while presiding over a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Privatisation at the Prime Minister’s Office. 

The development takes place at a time when the government has expedited the process to privatise state-run entities — including the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) — a move that has raised eyebrows given that CAA, being the commercial aviation regulator, contributes up to Rs60 billion to the national exchequer annually.  

During a recent meeting with a select group of journalists, the prime minister strongly advocated the privatisation of PIA and CAA, saying PIA was incurring a loss of Rs150 million daily to the national kitty. 

He also said that CAA lacked the capacity to run ‘modernised and advanced’ airports like the New Islamabad International Airport whose operations needed to be ‘outsourced’ (to the private sector). 

“Have a look at the condition of washrooms at our airports, if CAA is not capable of maintaining toilets, what else is it capable of?” he had asked. 

An official source said it is ‘unfair’ to compare a loss-making entity like PIA to that of a profitable organisation like CAA. The CAA employees are considering moving court against privatisation plan surfaced recently, he said. 

“Nowhere in the world are the profitable state-run entities handed over to the private sector. Let us not reinvent the wheel — only to oblige some business groups that have personal stakes in the aviation industry,” he said.