Suspension of Hajj flights from Peshawar a matter of grave concern

Tariq Saeed

As if the Central Ruet-e-Hilal committee’s step-motherly treatment, towards KP was not enough, Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) also jumped into the field to put its share of malice against the dwellers of this province, that is being ruled by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf led coalition government.
Rubbing salt to the wounds of the KP people, who have been feeling aggrieved by the behaviour of the Federal Government over the decades, the Civil Aviation Authority has reportedly refused to operate Hajj flights from Peshawar airport due to a lame excuse that it (CAA) puts as security reasons thus only adding to the resentment of the people against the Federal government. According to reports, the CAA has informed the Ministry of Religious affairs that the pilgrims from Peshawar and FATA will have to reach Islamabad airport for Haj flights to Saudi Arabia. The CAA management, officials said, took the decision due to security reason.
In fact this is not the first time that CAA whose administrative control is with the Ministry of Defense, resort to unilateral decisions vis a vis Khyber Pukhtunkhwa or former North West Frontier Province (NWFP). Also in the past the on some occasions the Hajj flights were diverted from Peshawar Airport to Islamabad under one pretext or the other causing great miseries for the pilgrims. According to the officials of the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony the Hajj flight operation would start from July 25. They said as many as 40,000 pilgrims would be airlifted to Saudi Arabia by Pakistan International Airlines (PIA). As many as 107,526 intending pilgrims would perform the sacred religious obligation through Government Scheme. While 71,684 would go to Saudi Arabia through private scheme.
A fair amount of the pilgrims belong to KP and it takes majority of them to cover long distance to reach Peshawar Airport as they come from different areas including Malakand, D I Khan and Bannu division as well as people belonging to seven agencies of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and FRs. Diverting the Hajj flights from Peshawar to Islamabad airport means causing them additional amount travel amount, time and inconvenience.
One wonders as to what are the security issues concerning the Civil Aviation Authority to suspend Hajj fights from Peshawar that has an International standard Airport. Owing to effective cleanup operations by the Army led security forces in FATA and best ever Policing in Khyber Pukhtunkhwa, the security situation has improved a lot in the recent years and is rather better than the other provinces.
Even the Ministry of Religious Affairs has reportedly expressed its concern over the recent move by the CAA and expressed the apprehensions that if the Hajj flights were diverted from Peshawar to Islamabad, the pilgrims from far-flung areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA would face difficulties in reaching Islamabad airport and it would double the miseries of the pilgrims that include large number of female as well.
In a high level meeting chaired by Advisor to PM on Aviation Sardar Mehtab Ahmad Khan on Wednesday for the current Hajj flight operation, Pakistan International Airline (PIA) has decided to shun down discretionary powers to allot business class seats to the favorite or influential passengers during Hajj flights as these seats will be allotted to senior citizens and aged-pilgrims. The participants are also reported to have deliberated over the suggestions given to improve facilities for the pilgrims during Hajj flights.
Since the affairs of the Civil Aviation Authority are also being looked after by the former Governor KP Sardar Mehtab Ahmad Khan who himself hails from this province, it is hoped that he will intervene in the matter and would stop the bosses at the CAA to resort to any step that may cause inconvenience to the Hajj aspirants and earn displeasure of the dwellers of this hitherto neglected province. As the two governments in Center and the Province are quite hostile to each other, such steps would only fuel the situation.

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