All Yaseen Ali, a 32-year-old American of Lebanese origin, is still running from pillar to post to get personal effects of his father who died in PIA plane crash
All Yaseen Ali, a 32-year-old American of Lebanese origin, wants is an apology from the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), the Government of Sindh and the University of Karachi’s (KU) International Centre for Chemical & Biological Sciences (ICCBS), and his father Abdul Fateh Ali’s personal effects, which have a sentimental value for him.
Fateh Ali had lost his life on May 22, only two days before Eidul Fitr, when the PIA flight PK-8303 had crashed in Karachi. He had been doing business in Pakistan, but it was his first time travelling to the metropolitan city on that fateful day.
Ever since his son Yaseen Ali, a petroleum engineer from Colorado who lives in Texas, arrived in Pakistan on June 2, the abbreviation he has come to hate the most here is SOPs (standard operating procedures). He believes it’s used here only to tell people how things can’t be done.
Wearing a sky blue shirt, a pair of blue jeans and knee-long boots, the bespectacled grieving man shared his ordeal with The News during an exclusive interview at the Karachi Press Club. He lamented about the fact that he has been made to run from pillar to post for over a month to get a hold of his father’s body, which was already buried by some other family.
His family was informed about the plane crash in the evening of May 22. “We immediately got in contact with the PIA,” he said, adding that the family made arrangements so he could travel to Pakistan.
“My intention was to identify my father’s body and take it to Lebanon, where my grandmother and grandfather and many of my father’s siblings are buried,” he said, and recalled how he was recommended back in America not to travel to Pakistan. “This is my father. There was no other choice.”
After he’d arrived in the city, the PIA sent him to the ICCBS for a DNA test. “At KU they took a DNA swab. It was No. R-71,” he said, adding that it was later changed to No. R-72. He pointed out that many of the body tags were also changed during the course of the DNA testing.
The PIA people then took him to the Edhi morgue, where he was shown the remains of different victims. “We’re talking skeletal remains, exposed muscles, exposed brain tissues — it’s hard to see,” he said. The PIA management kept asking him about his father’s body. “But I didn’t know what I was looking at.”
He was told he’d have the DNA test result within 12 hours, but he’s still waiting for it. A woman named Ghazal Baig, whose brother Mirza Waheed Baig was also on the ill-fated flight, told Yaseen Ali that his result was with the ICCBS.
So, when he inquired about it, the doctor there told him that they were going to run a third test. Yaseen was concerned because discrepancies had already been reported at the ICCBS. Local family members of other crash victims helped him contact Lahore’s Punjab Forensic Science Agency (PFSA).
At 10pm on June 4 his DNA was in Lahore. Within 12 hours he had the result, according to which the PFSA was 99.995 per cent certain he was the biological son of body No. 137 at Chhipa.
Yaseen sent the report to the PIA, saying that he was going to bury his father the same day, and asked them whether they’d help him or he was on his own.
He didn’t hear back from anybody except the PIA district general manager, who phoned him to tell him that body No. 137 didn’t even exist. “How can I be a 99.995 per cent match to a body that doesn’t exist? I asked a lot of questions and none of them could be answered.”
The PIA people went to his room and told him some executive wanted to speak with him. By that time he had already made arrangements for the burial through his local contacts.
“These were people I hadn’t met, who didn’t even know my father, but were willing to come and assist me,” he said. A few of those locals were at Chhipa to locate the body, a few were at the graveyard, and a few went with him to see the PIA’s executives.
Yaseen said the PIA officials continued to lie to him that they wanted to match the PFSA and ICCBS reports. “Some SOPs they just made up. For me it doesn’t matter if they [the PIA officials] are wearing uniform. I told them they were lying to me and had already given my father’s body away. I asked them whose body they are going to give me now.”
The PIA people denied the claims. While Yaseen was in the meeting with “these executives and this doctor”, he said that one of the officials yelled at him, saying twice: “You have your people at Chhipa. Get them out now!”
Luckily, his local contacts at Chhipa had already gotten the actual story. “They found out that my father’s body had been given away, and they had reached out to the family that had taken the body.”
This family had identified his father’s body through physical means. “My father and this gentleman that he was mistaken for had a root canal in the exact same tooth, on the lower left side, and so it was based on this that he was positively identified,” he said, adding that both men had a prominent Adam’s apple.
He met with the family and was shown where his father was buried. “My family and I have no problem with this family. These are the only people who apologised to me, even though the apology wasn’t required. These are the people I have the utmost respect for.”
When he found his father’s grave, he offered Namaz-e-Janaza (funeral prayer) for him immediately. The following day he went there again to offer the funeral prayer for the man whom his father was mistaken for.
Yaseen seeks apologies from the PIA, the Sindh authorities, the ICCBS, and whoever else are in positions of authority and have dealt with the plane crash incident. He wants them all to demonstrate some compassion.
Even after more than a month has passed, he hasn’t received anything from the ICCBS. “Let alone a phone call, a note, an email, a text — I have received nothing from KU.”
He doesn’t even have his father’s death certificate with the proper name of the deceased. “What I’m told is to come tomorrow. It’d be here tomorrow, it’d be ready tomorrow.”
He has also not been able to get a hold of his father’s personal effects from the PIA. “They have SOPs that may or may not exist. Usually when there are SOPs, there’s a document associated with it, and I’m yet to see it.”
He said he has been given false information on a regular basis, and the authorities try to hide behind the SOPs. “The SOP is to lie to me!” he lamented.
Yaseen said that some people have been waiting for his visa to expire so he’s out of their hair. “The American consulate has told me that if I leave without my father’s belongings, they’re gone. Somebody else will collect them and then they’re history. They [the personal effects] have a very sentimental value for me and my family. These are what he [his father] had left behind.”
When asked how his father had perceived Pakistan, he immediately responded — as if he had learnt the words by heart — with a hint of nostalgia in his voice: “My father told me, ‘Yaseen, this is the cheapest country I’ve ever been to, I’ve ever lived in, but don’t let that fool you. This land is majestic, this country shines with beauty and the Pakistani people are priceless, but they don’t know it, because they’ve been lied to for so long’.”
Yaseen has found all of it to be true. “The people of Pakistan are humble and hospitable. They’re kind, sincere, caring and generous. They’re people with a deep sense of faith.”