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PIA and Pakistan Railways 50 years back

DAWN has done a wonderful job by taking us back to “50 years ago today” (Jan 26), reproducing important events and happenings of the past.

On Jan 26, 1960, the significant event was the inauguration by the then finance minister of a 10,500-foot-long jet runaway of Karachi International Airport, completed much ahead of schedule, which was considered at that time to be one of the largest in the world. At the time of inauguration, flags of 12 international airlines were reportedly fluttered on the taxi-track of the runway.

The finance minister, while addressing the distinguished gathering, disclosed that before the inauguration of the new runway Karachi International was handling 55 aircraft of 20 international airlines every day.

Another noteworthy piece of news of the day was that the finance minister afterwards departed to Rawalpindi through train, then the most comfortable, efficient, and dependable mode of transportation. Those were times when people used to even tune their watches with train timings.

From the illustrations it is obvious that PIA and the Pakistan Railways, two modes of transportation/travelling, most vital for development of any country, were considered to be highly efficient, viable, inexpensive and vibrant systems.

Although the railways, a marvel of the modern age, was put up by the colonial masters in the 19th century, PIA was in every respect established after independence and was managed successfully by the locals.

The newly-created airline within a short span of time became one of the most trustworthy and efficient organisations having sufficient expertise to even help develop airlines such as Emirates and Singapore.

This was a clear manifestation of the fact that despite limited resources and expertise, there existed capacity and will to turn a newly-developed airline into a big success. After 60 years, however, both these commercially-run success stories, despite their vital national importance, are at the brink of annihilation.

PIA, with a small fleet of 44 planes, is at present one of the most overstaffed and inefficient airlines in the world, incurring massive losses every year and about whose service the less said the better. Similarly, the condition of the Railways is no better. Most of the trains have become inoperative because of non-availability of locomotives. Railway tracks are in an extremely bad shape for non-maintenance over a long period.

Owing to falling revenues and widespread corruption, the PR was not able to even pay salaries and pensions to its employees, besides being unable to store fuel for more than a day’s consumption.

Turning these vital state assets of the country into corruption-free, efficient and profitable organisations once again is an uphill task. The top brass should bring in honest and competent management, allowing them full autonomy to work and stop the political bosses from meddling into the affairs of organisations.

QAZI BASHIR AHMED
Old Hala

Dawn

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