Air travellers stranded amid chaos at airport

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KARACHI: Amid chaos at the Jinnah International Airport following the PIA workers’ protest against the proposed privatisation of the airline getting out of control and tightening of security on Tuesday, many passengers and their families were found confused about where to go or what to do.

Most PIA flights were postponed though private airlines were doing their usual business.

Checking tickets of passengers heading to the domestic and international departures, the Airports Security Force (ASF) wouldn’t let anyone other than their vehicle drivers accompany them. And even the drivers were expected to return immediately, while others who wanted to see the passengers off could forget about that.

“Our maternal uncle passed away in Islamabad this morning and our mother has to go there. She is not a frequent flier and is old and panicky anyway. Now in her confusion and rush, she left her handbag behind before getting off at domestic departures. We want to take it to her but how?” her son Mohammad Rashid, standing helplessly outside the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) gate up ahead on Airport Road with his two worried sisters, told Dawn.

“And this is not all of our problems. When we learnt of the casualty in the family, and with my mother wanting to see her brother’s face for the last time, I wasn’t able to get her a PIA ticket. The private airline wanted Rs16,000. I thought the fare was Rs8,000. I am a middle-class salaried employee. I only had Rs10,000 with me. But I couldn’t sit back watching my mother’s tears. I borrowed Rs6,000 from a friend and am sending her to Islamabad,” the son said.

On the footpath along Airport Road, there were also over a dozen men with green passports in hand. “They are 15 cousins in all. And they are here to catch a PIA flight to Jeddah. All have come down to Karachi from Rahim Yar Khan, as they will be performing Umrah in Saudi Arabia. They spent the night at my place. Now their travel agent has told them that their flight, in the evening is on schedule but if not, I am bracing myself to keep them at my place until things normalise here,” said Irshad Khan, a son of their old friend here in Karachi.

“Actually, I wouldn’t even have brought everyone to the airport had I known what had happened. But there was a maintenance K-Electric shutdown in my area since 9am so no one was watching TV news,” he said.

Several yellow cabs with roof racks started lining up against the footpaths as tired-looking passengers with heavy luggage could be spotted dragging their feet towards the gated exits, their eyes searching for any familiar face.

Another anxious gentleman, Meraj Malik, was there to receive his brother, Ismail, arriving here via Saudi Arabian Airlines. “His flight was expected last night but has been delayed. I can’t go inside to receive him and his Pakistani number is still off. He will wonder why no one has come to receive him when he lands. I am here on this footpath for him but am not being allowed inside. I hope he calls me. Meanwhile, I have been trying his number every 10 minutes,” the brother said.

‘Bullets were aimed straight at us’

The mood around the PIA head office was of anger and sorrow. “We have lost two colleagues, we face insecurity regarding our jobs, how do you think we feel?” asked Syed Adil Naeem, a senior PIA officer there with blood stains on the right shoulder of his shirt. “This blood is mine,” he said showing his head wound, “as well as of my late friend Inayat Raza, who lost his life for our cause,” he added.

“This is a democracy. It is our right to protest against anything unacceptable to us. The Rangers are supposed to use force against terrorists and enemies of the land, not peaceful, unarmed protesters,” he said.

“They used the water cannon on us, then came the tear gas shelling after which a Rangers official told me to move aside as they would be opening fire. We didn’t believe them. But they were right,” said Reena Hameed from PIA’s IT department.

“Inayat Raza, who lost his life in the firing, was communications manager in our department. He received the bullet in his chest while being our shield,” she wept.

“The Rangers didn’t even make any concessions for the women. They literally picked us up and threw us aside when we refused to disperse,” said Tassawar Atiq as some protesters behind her set fire to an effigy of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif amid loud chants of ‘Go Nawaz Go’.

‘Out to support his colleagues’

At the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre morgue, relatives of late Inayat Raza quietly stood in a corner. “He was with the PIA for 25 to 30 years and only had three to four years of service left but he joined his colleagues in fighting for the cause,” said Mohammad Maddat, the deceased’s son-in-law, told Dawn.

“He has three daughters, one of them still unmarried. He had only just returned from the US where he was visiting his aged mother and other relatives. Now he is no more. It seems unbelievable,” said his brother-in-law.

Another man who lost his life during the protest was identified as Saleem Akbar.

According to Dr Seemin Jamali, head of the emergency department at the JPMC, Mr Akbar had a bullet in the abdomen. “He had been bleeding internally. He couldn’t make it sadly,” she said. About Raza, she said, he died while being shifted to the JPMC from Aga Khan University Hospital where he was initially rushed.

“So we received 11 wounded and one body,” Dr Jamali said.

The injured identified through various sources were Nabila Zaidi, Shahid Hyder, Abdul Najeeb, Aslam Baig, M Owais Khalid, S. Jafar Ali, S. Adil Naeem, Nasir Matloob, Tanvir Rehman, M. Jawad Mazhar, Safdar Raza, Hafiz Qudus, Kamrat Masih, Salman, Asim M. Jilani, Arshad, Manzoor Ahmed, Jalal, Jalil Ahmed, Moinuddin, Amir, Khalil Ahmed, Dr Mazhar, M. Ismail, Kamran Khan, M. Naeem, Arshad Nazir, Zubair Shabbir and Shafiq Dilshad.