DUBAI/ISLAMABAD: At least three PIA aircraft were damaged in the Sunday night terrorist attack, including a Boeing-777, an Airbus-310 and a Jumbo 747, which could seriously hamper PIA operations but more serious questions are being raised about dozens of workers who were allowed access without security clearance.
The damage to the aircraft was confirmed by the Interior Minister Choudhry Nisar Ali Khan, but a PIA spokesman insisted that he could not go beyond the claim of the DG ISPR that no damage was done to any aircraft. The extent of the damage was not yet known or confirmed.
But PIA officials in Dubai and Karachi said a rocket attack had dug a hole in a parked 777 in the hangar, which could mean that PIA’s international flights will have to be rescheduled for a long time to come.
The Airbus-310 which is a short-to-medium haul aircraft could also be out of service if damage is serious but the Jumbo 747 was already not in use and was being prepared for the upcoming Haj operation.
While this damage could run into millions of dollars for PIA, the key questions being asked in the aviation industry in Dubai and elsewhere are how a whole army of workers were allowed temporary passes by the ASF to enter the engineering and hangar area without clearance of the intelligence agencies which have offices at the Karachi airport.
There was no official available to confirm that security passes had been issued without clearance but Karachi PIA insiders said the hangars were being re-painted and prepared for sale and privatisation under the new management of Shujaat Azeem, who is now wearing five caps, although he was disqualified by the Supreme Court when he was made adviser for aviation by the Nawaz Sharif government.
Even the Airport Security Force (ASF) has been handed over to the new aviation ministry after it was taken away from the defence ministry, a former PIA executive said.
“The new ministry is run by 5 or 6 people located at the Karachi PIA building and without any staff or expertise to handle such a massive job of operations, security and the entire aviation policy.
This has been done to satisfy some egos and such disasters are bound to happen,” the executive said in Dubai.
Shujaat Azeem, who is a blue-eyed boy of the prime minister, is wearing five hats at a time, although the Supreme Court had ordered that the secretary defence could not continue as PIA chairman, because he could not hold two positions at a time. These five positions are besides his business of airport handling services.
The five positions held by Azeem are Special Assistant to the PM, head of Civil Aviation Authority, head of ASF, head of Meteorology department and Maritime Shipping Department (what he has to do with aviation is yet to be known and may be explained later by official spokespersons). As such when a crisis like Sunday’s attack is faced, Azeem is the focal person who should be in the centre of the command and control office to direct the rescue and counter-terrorism attack.
Azeem was asked about the ASF performance on Monday and his response was that he would equip the ASF with most modern weapons now.
“This was an admission of guilt that the ASF was not equipped to face any such terror attack so far and if it was not for the speedy intervention and deployment of the army units, the terrorists would have blown up the remaining international airlines planes at the main terminal as well as the building,” PIA executives who wanted to stay anonymous said.
That is why PPP leader Raza Rabbani minced no words to demand that Azeem should resign after the attack as from whatever angle it is seen, he comes out as the person responsible for the huge security lapse.
Sources close to Shujaat Azim said he is serving as a Special Assistant to Prime Minister and thus several departments come under him. They said those who assist the PM as special assistants and advisors oversee several departments. This arrangement is made for better coordination of different departments. These departments, they said, also have their separate heads as MDs, chairmen etc. They said it is therefore wrong to say that Shujaat Azim wears five caps.
So far as the matter of passes issued to 50 persons was concerned, the Brigadier who heads the security forces might have allowed that. They said investigations are being made whether intelligence agencies clearance was required or not for this purpose.
They said heads of departments that come under Shujaat Azim including that of ASF are very competent. He said because of shortage of finances, latest equipment for ASF could not be acquired for the last many years. The world over agencies informed prior to the happening of such incidents and then local forces are activated.
They also said much before taking official responsibility during the PML-N government Shujaat Azim had resigned from his company.
PIA spokesman Tajwar acknowledged when asked about the damage to the aircraft but said the extent of the damage, if any, was being assessed and he would give details as and when available.
Tajwar while replying to The News questions said, “Security institutions last night have stated that no damage to any plane has been done. We were allowed to enter the premises in the evening and our technical staff and engineers are trying to figure out if any damage was done. We will share complete details with media as early as it will be possible.” The spokesman later confirmed that one Boeing 777 was parked in the hangar when the attack took place. He said PIA had nine 777 aircraft and all were operational and one was in the hangar for routine maintenance. He did not confirm the damage but said he would get back when details are available.
The spokesman did not respond immediately to the question whether more than 50 paint job workers were issued entry passes without clearance. If this was done even for some of them, they could have been infiltrated by some organisations who were involved in the Sunday attack as they could have done all the surveys and initial study while doing the paint job.
Questions were sent to Dubai-based Saffana Michael, who handles the media for Boeing Corporation’s business in Pakistan but she did not respond until this report was filed. Emails to two other top Boeing Executives, Elizabeth Fischtziur of the 777 Program (email@example.com) and Tim Bader of the Asia - Pacific/India(firstname.lastname@example.org) were also not responded.But later Tim Bader in US told The News that Saffana Michael would respond to the questions as she handled Boeing’s interests in Pakistan.