ISLAMABAD - Prime Minister Nawaz Sharifs’ efforts to restructure the crisis-trapped Pakistan International Airlines appear to have received a major setback following the resignation of six corporate members of PIA board of directors in protest over Shujaat Azeem’s stepping down as adviser to prime minister on aviation.

The said members have categorically cited Azeem’s resignation as a lone factor prompting them to quit the BoD. The ten-member PIA BoD was constituted recently following the government’s initiative to separate Pakistan’s commercial aviation sector from the controversial administrative ambit of the Ministry of Defence and create an aviation division.

The BoD office-bearers who stepped down were acting chairman Aslam Khaliq, Pakistan’s business magnets Mian Mansha and Arif Habeeb as well as Nasser NS Jaffer, Imran Khan and Sarfaraz A Rehman.

Exclusively available with this correspondent, copies of Khaliq’s and Jaffer’s resignation letters reveal their concerns over Shujaat Azeem’s resignation. Addressed to secretary aviation Muhammad Ali Gardezi, Aslam Khaliq’s letter of July 29 states, “It is with a heavy heart I have come to the sad conclusion to resign after learning of Mr Shujaat Azeem’s resignation with immediate effect.”

Nasser N S Jaffer’s resignation letter of July 29 is addressed to Younas Khan, secretary PIA BoD. It states, “I have noted because of the sad controversy surrounding ‘dual-nationality’ in our country and its exploitation by vested interests, honourable Mr Shujaat Azeem has resigned from the position of adviser to the prime minister on aviation. Since my appointment was on the recommendation of Mr Shujaat Azeem, I feel it is most appropriate for me to resign now as member of board of directors of PIA. In view of the above, I hereby resign as member of the board of directors of PIA with immediate effect.”

Mian Mansha, who is presently aboard, has reportedly faxed his resignation citing the same reason, Shujaat Azeem’s departure.

According to aviation insiders, Azeem had persuaded Mansha to join PIA BoD while the latter was not interested in becoming a board member. He is reported to have initially regretted to entertain Azeem’s request but later joined the PIA board on the insistence of PM’s former aviation advisor. “It’s a mess I don’t want to be part of it anymore. I was previously right when I decided not to join this board,” a source close to Mansha quoted him as saying.

Shujaat Azeem had stepped down as PM’s Aviation Adviser against the backdrop of a case against him being heard in the Supreme Court involving his dual-nationality, his court martial at Pakistan Air Force and his affiliation with Royal Airport Services (RAS). Azeem had categorically defended allegations levelled against him in this regard in a detailed statement exclusively published in The Nation on Friday.

The Supreme Court has also termed the appointment of Aslam Khaliq as PIA BoD chairman as unlawful while contending that PIA rules did not allow an interim appointment on the said slot.

After assuming charge as PM’s aviation adviser, Azeem had initiated a number of steps to revamp Pakistan’s commercial aviation sector including the execution of PM’s plan to privatise PIA and closure of loss-making and non-profitable PIA stations abroad. He has also played key role in formulation of National Aviation Policy that would be coming by this year-end.