Sunday September 19, 2021

Ascertaining truth in Shujaat Azeem controversy

There is lot of talk going on in the media about aviation and PIA. While some people are raising their fingers on its possible privatisation, albeit partially, others have unleashed a series of discussions about Shujaat Azeem, recently resigned Adviser/Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Aviation, in such a manner that the Adviser has started appearing like a controversial figure.

The News carried out a study on this issue and also came in contact with General Manager, Public Affairs of PIA, Danyal Gilani, a career Information Group officer, who was asked different questions in the light of information at hand.

One of the questions asked was whether Azeem had any ambitions in the field for which he might have sought advisership. Gilani replied, “He did not seek advisership himself. He rather accepted this challenge on an honorary basis on the request of the Prime Minister. Not only that he took up this work without asking for any remuneration, he has also not been using any official vehicle and, moreover, he has been paying for the expenses of his personal staff from his own pocket. In fact, he has made his entire investment in various businesses inside Pakistan and employed as many as 3500 employees. Working as PM’s deputy on aviation is thus not his need but commitment to see a tangible turnaround in the national aviation industry and, as such, in the national airlines, PIA. 

The fact is that Shujaat Azeem’s businesses have suffered due to this assignment since he has been focusing his energies and abilities more on improvements in aviation”.

When asked about the other title, that of Special Assistant, the PIA GM said that the Prime Minister re-designated Azeem as his Special Assistant, requesting him to bring about improvement in aviation industry and PIA in the light of his tremendous insight and multifaceted experience in the industry.

Did this multifaceted experience benefit the national aviation industry of the national exchequer in any way? Gillani replied, “Since Azeem’s joining in February 2014, a turnaround has been witnessed in the field of aviation. PIA’s losses reduced by 37% in FY 2014-15, revenue increased by 6% and without legacy loans, PIA would have been at a break-even. Rather, PIA posted an operating profit of Rs2.83 billion in quarter 1 of 2015. Financial losses in 2013 to the tune of Rs44 billion reduced to Rs18 billion in 2015 whereas the fleet size expanded sizably from 18 to 38 and on-time departures have improved from 69 % to 82 %. In the same area ie the area of profitability, profitable code sharing agreements have been signed by PIA with other airlines to allow its passengers to travel on PIA tickets to several such destinations where PIA flights do not operate. These include China Southern Airlines, Thai Airways, Turkish Airways and Etihad Airways. At his point, Gilani added, Shujaat Azeem has spent millions from his own pocket and used his international connections to bring benefits to Pakistan.

And non-profitable routes have been closed that are related to Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Hong Kong and Bangkok. At the same time, PIA’s offline offices in Chicago, Sydney and Istanbul have been closed. 

“In addition, major improvements have been brought about in the affairs of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), Airports Security Force (ASF) and Meteorology Department which would not have been possible without his personal supervision. This is amply manifested by the list of projects undertaken by him during this period. The list of these achievements include, among others, National Aviation Policy 2015 that was announced after a lapse of 15 years. The new policy focuses on safety, security and quality standards and encourages investment. Then, Multan Airport was completed on March 9, 2015 and new terminal building, allied facilities, airside infrastructure and passenger boarding bridges have been added.

In addition to that, Benazir Bhutto International Airport Islamabad has been renovated to include fast track facility for passengers, new washrooms, new business lounge, new car park and taxi track delta, which will save millions every year, Haj Lounge at Lahore airport has been renovated.

The News then asked a question about New Islamabad International airport and about the upgradation of other airports. Gilani said that work on New Islamabad international airport was 85% complete whereas work on the upgradation of Faisalabad airport has also been started.

As regards the upgradation at Quetta international airport, it includes expansion of domestic & international briefing areas/lounges, construction of new public concourse hall with allied facilities, renovation of existing terminal building and provision of passenger boarding bridges etc. Other projects undertaken under Azeem’s supervision include: Remodeling of existing terminal building & addition of new block to cater for international/domestic arrivals/departures besides provision of allied facilities at Bacha Khan International Airport, construction of New Gwadar International Airport that is underway and at Jinnah International Airport, Karachi, passenger aero bridges have been replaced; replacement has also been done of VORs (Radio Navigation Aids) at Karachi, Quetta and Peshawar airports; Instrument Landing System (ILS) CAT III B has been installed at Lahore airport which greatly reduces flight disruptions due to fog and ILS is also being installed and replaced at Karachi and Peshawar airports; 25 years old radar system at Karachi and Lahore airports has been replaced and Integrated Security System has been installed at Lahore airport and planned for other airports.

According to Gilani, other improvements made in the Aviation system under guidance and instructions from Shujaat Azeem include: Installation of JICA security equipment at Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad airports; 360 degree aerodrome simulators are being installed at CAA Training Institute Hyderabad, average fleet age of 14 years in 2013 is projected to come down to 9 years by end of 2015. 

Responding to The News query about the court-martial controversy, Gilani said, “Shujaat Azeem was court-martialed not for committing any crime or moral turpitude but for insubordination. He wanted to quit Air Force but was not being allowed to leave even though his juniors were allowed to leave. He has already been pardoned for this by the competent authority.

And, as regards the case filed by PALPA against the appointment of DG Civil Aviation Authority, the Additional Attorney General erroneously mentioned Azeem’s name as DG CAA due to which things took a different turn. In fact, PALPA had its own grudge against his holding this office and the credentials of Syed Mahmood Akhtar Naqvi of Khudai Khidmatgar organisation are not so good either.” In the end of the discussion, GM PIA Public Affairs posed a question: “How can Pakistan’s institutions get strengthened when anybody who wants to improve them becomes victim of corrupt mafias and vested interest. Shujaat Azeem worked day in and out for bringing about improvement in various departments under Aviation Division but the same department’s pilots’ union PALPA agitated against his appointment and filed a writ petition against the Prime Minister of Pakistan. Finally Shujaat Azeem had to resign”.