Dawn – Twenty killed as train crashes into coach carrying Sikh pilgrims near Sheikhupura

Adnan Sheikh & Bilal Sheikh

Sheikhupura – Panjab – Pakistan, 03 July 2020. At least 20 people were killed on Friday when the Shah Hussain Express train rammed into a coaster near Sheikhupura in Punjab, police and rescue officials said.

Prime Minister Imran Khan said the deceased were mainly Sikh pilgrims who were travelling home from Nankana Sahib.

Azhar Mashwani, the focal person on digital media to the Punjab chief minister, said on Twitter that 30 people were travelling on the coaster from Nankana Sahib to Peshawar, out of whom 13 males and seven females died in the accident.

The deceased included 19 Sikh pilgrims and the driver of the vehicle, he added.

Ten people received minor injuries who were shifted to District Headquarters Hospital, Sheikhupura. The bodies are being shifted to Mayo Hospital Lahore, according to Mashwani.

The accident occurred around 1:30 pm as the Lahore-bound train, travelling from Karachi, crashed into a coaster at an unmanned level crossing between Farooqabad and Bahalekay, a press release issued by the Pakistan Railways (PR) said.

“The crossing was unmanned and the driver of the van took a hasty decision by driving onto the tracks,” PR spokeswoman Quratul Ain told AFP, adding that the passengers were all Sikh pilgrims.

Local police spokesman Wajid Abbas told AFP the deceased passengers were all from the same family. No train passengers were injured.

Rescue officials from both Railways and Rescue 1122 arrived at the scene and provided first aid to the injured.

All divisional officials were also directed to reach the site of the crash, which led to the railway track being blocked for an hour and 15 minutes.

Following the accident, the divisional engineer was suspended by the railways’ management, the PR statement added.

Meanwhile, PR Chief Executive Officer Dost Ali Laghari has set up a committee comprising three senior officers to investigate the incident.

It will present its initial report to the CEO by tomorrow “so that it can be determined which side was at fault”, according to the press release.

“Action will be taken in accordance with the law against whomever is held responsible for this accident,” the PR statement said.

It added that in the case of an unmanned level crossing, “it is the responsibility of the road user to carefully see the railway track and then cross”.

“Pakistan Railways installs warning boards at such unmanned level crossings but people crossing [often] do not look at them due to which similar tragedies have occurred in the past as well,” the press release stated, noting that such incidents besides causing losses of life and property also “bring a bad name to the Railways”.

Sheikhupura DPO Mohammad Ghazi Salahuddin, while talking to reporters, said that women and children were among the 20 people who were killed in the collision.

According to the DPO, the passengers in the coaster were Sikh Yatris who were returning from Nankana Sahib, where they had gone to visit relatives, to Peshawar.

He added that there were two more coaches that took a different route and are safely on their way.

As opposed to the initial reports that suggested that the crossing was unmanned, the DPO said that the gate was closed.

He said that it seemed like the driver had tried to take a shortcut instead of waiting at the crossing, which resulted in the crash. He added that facts will only be clear after an investigation.

Minister for Railways Sheikh Rashid has ordered authorities to take immediate action against those responsible for the accident.

Condolences pour in

In a tweet, Prime Minister Imran said he was “deeply saddened” by the train accident and that he had directed officials to ensure that proper medical care is provided to the injured.

“My condolences and prayers go to the families of the deceased. [I] have directed relevant authorities to ensure facilitation and care for all the families,” he said.

The premier announced that the Railways’ “operational safety SOPs will be reviewed immediately”.

Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar expressed sorrow at the loss of lives in the train accident and conveyed condolences to the families of the deceased.

According to a statement, the chief minister directed the health department to provide all facilities possible to the injured.

PML-N president Shehbaz Sharif said the news of the Sikh pilgrims’ death in the accident was “saddening”.

“I extend my most sincere sympathies to the bereaved families on their irreparable loss,” a tweet by his office quoted Sharif as saying.

Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari termed the incident “horrific”, saying many innocent lives were lost in the tragedy.

“Railway crossings both manned and unmanned need strict implementation of SOPs and PM has rightfully directed a review of all railway safety procedures,” she said in a tweet.

In a tweet, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he was “pained by the tragic demise of Sikh pilgrims in Pakistan”.

“My thoughts are with their families and friends in this hour of grief. I pray that those pilgrims injured recover at the earliest,” he added.

Frequent accidents

The incident comes four months after a bus crossing an unmanned railway crossing near Rohri in Sindh was crushed by the Lahore-bound Pakistan Express train coming from Karachi, killing at least 19 people and leaving more than 30 injured.

Train accidents in Pakistan have been frequent over the past couple of years.

Last year had proven to be one of the worst years for PR and its huge number of passengers as a number of accidents, including the horrible Tezgam fire tragedy in October, exposed wrong decision-making and incompetence allegedly on the part of the management while dealing with the department’s operations.

“Over 100 train-related incidents, including some fatal accidents, took place in 2019.

Besides this, 111 incidents of engine failure on the way were reported within first five months of the year alone,” an official source had earlier told Dawn.

In a rare and one of the most horrifying tragedies in PR’s history, 74 passengers were killed, with 90 per cent of them burnt alive, and over 40 injured when three coaches of the Rawalpindi-bound Tezgam Express caught fire near Rahim Yar Khan on October 31 last year.

Days later, the PR administration had suspended six grade 17 and 18 officials from service for showing negligence in the discharge of their duties that led to the massive fire in the three coaches.


Dawn – PTM says ready for talks but calls for confidence-building measures

Iftikhar A Khan

Islamabad – Pakistan, 27 June 2020. The Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) announced on Friday that the group accepted the government’s offer for talks but stressed that the authorities should first take confidence-building measures (CBMs) to demonstrate their sincerity.

Speaking at a press conference here, PTM chief Manzoor Pashteen said the government must take steps to bridge the trust deficit, adding that it was customary for parties to take CBMs before entering into talks.

At the press conference, he was flanked by PTM-backed members of the National Assembly Mohsin Dawar and Ali Wazir.

Mr Pashteen mentioned in particular the FIRs that had been registered against PTM activists, many of whom, he claimed, had been put behind bars.

PTM chief – two MNAs address press conference

He said the PTM was ready to describe in detail to the authorities in “black and white” all the problems being faced by the Pashtun from Chaman to Swat.

He said that freedom of speech and freedom of expression were constitutional rights which could not be taken away. “If there are excesses, there will be a protest,” he remarked.

In response to a question, he said Defence Minister Pervez Khattak and National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser had approached the PTM to formally offer a dialogue.

Speaking on the occasion, MNA Dawar claimed that the state had failed “to protect the people and provide them with fundamental human rights”.

He said there were “curbs even on freedom of association and assembly”. “FIRs with terrorism charges are registered when we hold a public meeting.”

Mr Dawar criticised Prime Minister Imran Khan for calling the slain Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden a “martyr” and asked the government to explain its priorities.

He said a shift in the state’s policy was a sine qua non (prerequisite) for peace and development. The country’s economy was “collapsing”, he claimed and said peace was essential for putting the economy back on track.

The parliamentarian asked the government to take all the stakeholders on board. Mr Wazir was of the view that the Baloch and Pushtun had always been deceived in the name of talks.

Defence Minister Pervez Khattak had recently extended an invitation to leaders of the PTM to come to the negotiating table and discuss all the contentious issues with the government.

“We Pakhtun belong to the same province; therefore, we should collectively work for the development of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa,” the minister said in a statement.

Mr Khattak said the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) had been merged with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in order to bring the tribal people into the national mainstream.

He said the people belonging to the tribal districts were lagging behind others in terms of education, healthcare and communication infrastructure, adding that it was high time for the leaders to work for their uplift rather than indulge in any confrontation.


Dawn – Initial report finds human error on part of pilots, ATC officials in PIA crash: aviation minister

Islamabad – Pakistan, 24 June 2020. Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan, while speaking in the National Assembly on Wednesday, said that the initial report of the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) 22 June plane crash found the pilots and air traffic control (ATC) officials to be at fault for not following set procedures.

Khan said that both the pilots and the ATC ignored “standard protocols”.

The PIA Airbus A320 crashed last month in Karachi’s Model Colony, close to the Jinnah International Airport, killing all but two of the 99 aboard.

Flight PK-8303 from Lahore came down about a kilometre short of the runway on its second attempt to land.

Preliminary findings

While detailing the possible circumstances that culminated in the air crash, the preliminary investigation report states that the safety investigation was not meant to “apportion blame or liability”.

“Accordingly, it is inappropriate to use the AAIB [interim] investigation report to assign fault or blame or determine liability,” it adds.

The preliminary report, seen by Dawn.com, found that:

  • The departure from Lahore and cruising flight of PK-8303 were uneventful. However, “The crew did not follow standard callouts and did not observe CRM ( Crew Resource Management) aspects during most parts of flight.”
  • On its first approach, the aircraft was cleared to descend to 3,000 feet by the time it reached Makli. However, “the aircraft ended up higher than the required descend profile” and was at 9,780 feet and a speed of about 245 knots at Makli.
  • In order to manage the descent and lose the additional height, “OPEN DES” mode was selected via the Fuel Control Unit, both autopilots were disengaged and speed brakes were extended.
  • The ‘Karachi Approach’ tower, also called the air traffic control, advised the pilot to do an orbit so that the aircraft could be adjusted on the required descend profile. However, no orbit was executed and the landing approach was continued.
  • The landing gears were lowered at an altitude of 7,221 feet at around 10.5 nautical miles from runway 25L, according to flight data.
  • Karachi Approach advised the pilot “repeatedly” about the plane’s excessive height but the landing approach was not discontinued. Instead, in a move termed by the aviation minister as “inexplicable”, the plane’s landing gears were raised and speed brakes were retracted when it was at a height of 1,740 feet and at a distance slightly less than five nautical miles from the runway. The plane then gave over-speed and ground proximity warnings.
  • Since the landing approach was continued, Karachi Approach instead of changing over the aircraft to ‘Aerodrome Control’ sought telephonic landing clearance from the Aerodrome Control, which conveyed a landing clearance for the aircraft “without observing the abnormality that the landing gears were not extended” to Karachi Approach. Subsequently, Karachi Approach cleared the aircraft to land.
  • According to the FDR and CVR recordings, “several warnings and alerts such as over-speed, landing gear not down and ground proximity alerts were disregarded” by the pilots. The landing was carried out with the landing gears retracted, leading to the aircraft engines scrubbing the runway surface at various points and suffering damage. Security footage showed sparks caused by the aircraft engines touching the runway while the scrubbing marks were also pictured on the runway.
  • The Aerodrome Control observed the scrubbing of engines with the runway but did not covey this abnormality to the aircraft. It was conveyed to the Karachi Approach via telephone, however, Karachi Approach did not relay this information to the aircraft.
  • The aircraft then discontinued landing and performed a go-around. At this point, data shows the landing gear lever was briefly switched to ‘down’ position, but it was immediately followed by its movement to ‘up’ position.
  • The pilot then conveyed his intention to make another landing approach on runway 25L, however, shortly after the go-around, both engines failed one by one. FDR data recording stopped at this point due to a design limitation.
  • With the aircraft unable to maintain the required height, the aircrew transmitted a Mayday call saying they had lost both the engines. The plane subsequently crashed about 1,340 metres short of the runway. It was a “slow-speed impact with [a] high angle of attack”, with the landing gears extended.
  • Evidence from the wreckage indicates reasons for the failure of the right engine, however, the left engine requires further examination. Additionally, the landing gear in extended position “did not demonstrate any malfunction of the landing gear system”.
  • The aircraft was “reportedly serviceable” for the flight; necessary scrutiny of the aircraft maintenance records is underway. The captain and first officer were “adequately qualified and experienced” to undertake the said flight.

‘Overconfidence and lack of focus’

According to Khan, there was no technical fault in the plane and both the pilots were medically fit to fly.

He added that data from the Digital Flight Data Recorder (DFDR) and Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) was decoded in the presence of foreign experts.

“According to the report, the plane was 100 per cent fit for flying. It had no technical fault. Flights were suspended due to corona, the plane took its first flight on 07 May and the crash happened on 22 May.

In between, it completed six flights successfully; five to and from Karachi and one to Sharjah.

“The pilot on the final approach did not identify any technical fault [as well]. At a distance of 10 miles from runway, the plane should have been at an altitude of 2,500 feet but it was around 7,220 feet. This was the first irregularity,” Khan said.

He said that the ATC told the pilot thrice that the plane was too high to land but he refused to listen.

Another important factor was that the pilot closed the landing gears at a distance of five nautical miles from the runway even though they were open before, he added.

Talking about further mistakes, Khan said that the plane was on auto-landing but the pilot brought it back to manual landing before the crash. It should have come in at 40 degrees but it dived at 60 degrees, he added.

The minister also blamed the pilots’ “overconfidence and lack of focus” for the crash. “The pilots were discussing corona throughout the flight. They were not focused.

They talked about corona […] their families were affected. When the control tower asked him to decrease the plane’s height, the pilot said ‘I’ll manage’. There was overconfidence.”

The preliminary report, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, makes no mention of the pilots’ conversation or even that they were distracted as stated by the minister in the National Assembly.

The minister, however, added that the control tower was at fault too for not pointing out the damage to the plane after a failed attempt at landing.

“[Air traffic controller] should have informed when he saw the engines on fire. The control tower did not inform pilot [so it] was at fault too. When the plane took off again, both engines were damaged.

“He was an extremely experienced pilot. What is sad is that because of the overconfidence and lack of focus of pilot and co-pilot, such a big incident happened.

The interim report says cabin crew and control tower were also at fault,” he said, adding that the full report would be released before the end of the year.

The minister also spoke about past accidents, the Air Blue crash in 2010, Bojha Airlines crash in 2012, plane crash in Chitral in 2016 and the crash landing of a plane in Gilgit in 2019.

He said that Air Blue and Bojha Airlines crash occurred due to “human error and various breaches of flying discipline”.

He added that the technical fault in the Chitral incident was “so complicated” that the plane manufacturer itself has not been able to reach a conclusion yet.

The minister, however, promised that its inquiry report would be presented in August of this year.

‘Almost 40pc pilots have fake licenses’

The minister said that the government had observed that major airlines in other countries did not have such a history of crashes and therefore, started to investigate pilots.

There are 860 active pilots in the country, he said, adding that of these 860, 262 pilots did not even take their exams themselves.

Decrying that pilots were not hired on merit, Khan said that fake degrees and licenses were issued. “Almost 40 per cent of pilots have fake licenses,” he said, adding that they did not have flying experience either.

He added that the government had started to take action against all such pilots. “In the first phase, 54 such pilots were identified. Show cause notices were issued to 24 and nine others confessed that they were unqualified.

“I believe this issue should not be politicised. It is a matter of national security. The inquiry has been free, fair and transparent,” he concluded.

Shortly after the crash last month, the government had formed a committee, headed by Air Commodore Usman Ghani, who is president of the Aircraft Accident Investigation Board to determine the causes of the crash and issue a report in one month’s time.

An 11-member team of Airbus, the manufacturer of the A320 aircraft, had also visited the country and investigated the site of the incident to offer technical assistance to Pakistani investigators in the PK-8303 crash probe.

Earlier this month, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said in a letter to the PIA that the pilot of the crashed aircraft did not follow the instructions of the ATC.

The CAA letter said the duty approach controller had raised a non-compliance report in respect of the pilot of PK-8303. It claimed that the pilot was warned twice about his speed and high altitude for approach but he did not follow.


Dawn – UK authorities say they are treating park stabbing spree as terrorism


London – UK, 21 June 2020. A stabbing rampage in the southern English town of Reading, in which three people were killed and three others were seriously wounded, is being treated as terrorism, police said on Sunday.

A 25-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of murder after the stabbings on Saturday evening in a park in Reading, which is about 65 kilometres west of London.

A British security source told Reuters that the man, who remains in police custody, is a Libyan.

“Counter Terrorism Policing can now confirm that the stabbing incident that happened in Reading last night has now been declared a terrorist incident,” Thames Valley Police said in a statement.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has described the incident as appalling, held a meeting on Sunday with security officials, senior ministers and police to be updated about the investigation, a spokesman for Johnson said.

Initially police and the government had said the incident did not appear to be terrorism and they were keeping an open mind as to the motive. They said they were not looking for any more suspects in relation to the incident.

The stabbings took place on a sunny evening hours after a rally by anti-racism protesters in the park, Forbury Gardens, but appeared to be unrelated to that.

“The Black Lives Matter event had finished some three hours previous and was by all accounts a very well conducted peaceful demonstration and this is not a connected attack with that whatsoever,” Jason Brock, the head of the local council authority, told the BBC.

Current corona-virus restrictions mean venues like pubs are closed, so many people in Britain gather in parks in the evenings to meet friends.

“Incidents of this nature are very rare, though I know that will be of little comfort to those involved and understand the concern that this incident will have caused amongst our local community,” said Chief Constable John Campbell of Thames Valley Police.

A witness said the attack began when a man suddenly veered toward a group of about eight to 10 friends and began stabbing them.

The nature of the attack was reminiscent of a number of recent incidents in Britain that authorities considered to be terrorism.

In February, police shot dead a man who had stabbed two people on a busy street in south London.

Last November, another man who had been jailed for terrorism offences stabbed two people to death on London Bridge before he, too, was shot dead by police.


Dawn – China blames Indian troops for deadly border clash

New Delhi – India, 17 June 2020. At least 20 Indian soldiers were killed in a “violent face-off” with Chinese forces along the disputed Himalayan frontier, the Indian army said on Tuesday, in the deadliest clash between the nuclear-armed neighbours for more than four decades.

China blamed India for Monday’s clash in the precipitous, rocky terrain of the strategically important Galwan Valley, between China’s Tibet and India’s Ladakh region, which analysts described as “worrying”.

An Indian army source in the region said the incident involved no shooting but “violent hand-to-hand scuffles”.

Brawls erupt regularly between the Asian giants across their disputed 3,500-kilometre frontier, but no one has been killed since 1975. India had earlier put the toll at three dead.

But in a statement later on Tuesday the army added that 17 more “who were critically injured in the line of duty at the stand-off location and exposed to sub-zero temperatures in the high altitude terrain have succumbed to their injuries, taking the total that were killed in action to 20”.

The Indian army said earlier that there were “casualties on both sides”.

China’s defence ministry confirmed the incident had resulted in casualties but did not give the nationality of the victims or any other details.

Beijing accused Indian soldiers of “attacking Chinese personnel”.

Indian troops “crossed the border line twice, provoking and attacking Chinese personnel, resulting in serious physical confrontation between border forces on the two sides”, China’s foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said on Tuesday.

“We again solemnly request that India follows the relevant attitude and restrains its frontline troops,” he added.

New Delhi’s foreign ministry spokesman Anurag Srivastava claimed the clash arose from “an attempt by the Chinese side to unilaterally change the status quo” on the border.

India and China have long squabbled about their border but recent weeks have seen an escalation.

On 09 May several Indian and Chinese soldiers were injured in a clash involving fists and stone-throwing at Naku La in India’s Sikkim state, which borders Bhutan, Nepal and China.

Alice Wells, the top US State Department official for South Asia, likely irked Beijing last month when she said China was seeking to upset the regional balance and had to be “resisted”.

But the Chinese foreign ministry said only last week a “positive consensus” was reached following “effective communication” through diplomatic and military channels.

India’s foreign ministry too sounded conciliatory, saying the two sides would “continue the military and diplomatic engagements to resolve the situation and to ensure peace and tranquillity in the border areas”.

Military experts say that one reason for the face-off is that India has been building roads and airfields to improve connectivity and narrow the gap with China’s far superior infrastructure.

At Galwan, India completed a road leading to an airfield last October. The Chinese side has asked India to stop all construction.

India says it is operating on its side of the Line of Actual Control, the de facto border.

The editor-in-chief of China’s Global Times newspaper said the Chinese military had suffered losses in the latest clash, though it was unclear whether those were deaths or wounded.

“Based on what I know, the Chinese side also suffered casualties in the Galwan Valley physical clash,” Hu Xijin said in a tweet.

He did not give further details. The Global Times is published by the People’s Daily, the official newspaper of China’s ruling Communist Party.


Dawn – Man killed in Rawalpindi bomb blast

Mohammad Asghar

Rawalpindi – Panjab – Pakistan, 13 June 2020. One person was killed and 12 others were injured, including three children, when an explosive device believed to be planted close to an electric pole went off in the busy Kola Centre of Kabari Bazaar, Saddar, at about 8.40pm on Friday night.

Regional Police Officer Sohail Habib Tajik told Dawn that it was not a suicide attack, but a blast in which an IED device containing 2-3kg of explosives was used.

The bomb could be a time device or it was detonated by remote control. He said bomb disposal experts reached the site of the blast and collected exploded parts of the device.

“Today’s explosion was like the 12 March 2020 Kabari Bazaar explosion and occurred almost close to that spot and also similar to a cracker attack that happened in Morgah area early this year,” CPO Tajik said.

Two of the 12 injured said to be in critical condition

Rescue 1122 quoted eyewitnesses as saying that the explosive device had been planted close to a parked motorcycle near the busy Kola Centre crossing.

The explosion that had occurred on 12 March in Saddar Bazar left at least seven people injured. A market, where old uniforms of law enforcement agencies are sold, is also located near the site of the explosion.

The explosion caused fear among shopkeepers and buyers who started running in panic; however, shortly afterwards, police, rescue ambulances, bomb disposal squad and Counter Terrorism Department officials reached the scene and cordoned off the area.

The injured were taken to the District Headquarters Hospital, where two of them were stated to be in critical condition.

The man, who lost his life in the explosion, was identified by police as Arfeen Akram, a resident of Allama Iqbal Colony. The body was shifted to the DHQ Hospital for post-mortem.

Police, CTD and intelligence officials collected evidence from the scene, while bomb disposal experts collected exploded pieces of the device.

The explosion left a small crater on the site and also damaged motorcycles parked close to the scene.

Among the injured were three children, Abbas Imran 6; Safiayan Imran 8; and Waliullah 7. They were in the market with their father Imran to buy some stationery items.

The other injured were identified as Shamraiz 30; Nazir Afsar 30; Shabbir Ali 35; Khuda Baksh, Hameed, Hur and Ahmed Din.


Dawn – Kohistan clerics to help eliminate honour killings

Ulema and religious scholars of Lower Kohistan district have announced that they will be part of the police’s special campaign against honour killings.

A Correspondent

Mansehra – Khyber Pakhtunkhwa – Pakistan, 09 June 2020. “We appreciate the police department’s efforts to eliminate the killing of men and women in the name of honour and educate people that such killings are illegal and against Islamic injunctions,” Maulana Dildar Ahmad told a meeting called by district police officer Salman Khan in Pattan, the district headquarters of Lower Kohistan, on Monday.

The participants, including clerics Maulana Abdul Wadood, Maulana Ameez Khan, Maulana Didlar Ahmad, Maulana Kareemdad, Maulana Hadees Khan, Maulana Rizwan, Maulana Israr, Maulana Zoohr Allai and Maulana Abbas, declared honour killings a violation of Islamic teachings.

DPO promises strict action against culprits

“Killing men and women on suspicion only is a great sin and the culprits are liable to be punished strictly,” Maulana Kareemdad said.

Earlier, DPO Salman Khan said DIG of Hazara division police Qazi Jamilur Rehman had asked him and district police officers of Upper Kohistan and Kolai-Palas for an effective crackdown on honour killings.

“This [honour killings] is a stigma attached with Kohistan society. You should create public awareness to prevent this,” he said.

The DPO asked ulema to highlight the issue in Friday sermons and other programmes.

Three killed: Three people were killed in separate incidents here on Monday.

Miro Khan, 32, died of critical injuries shortly after falling into a deep ravine while cutting grass in the mountainous Mohri area of Siren valley. Meanwhile, an elderly man was found dead in the Kunhar River in Garhi Habibullah area.

He was identified as Khalilur Rehman in the civil hospital. The police handed over the body to the family after completing medicolegal formalities.

Also, young man Umar was gunned down in Dodial area.


Dawn – Decoding of PIA plane’s black box completed: investigators

The Newspaper’s Staff Reporter

Karachi – Sindh – Pakistan, 06 June 2020. French investigators probing the 22 May Pakistan Intern­ational Airlines (PIA) plane crash have announced that downloading and decoding of the black box of the ill-fated aircraft has been completed.

The French Bureau of Enquiry and Analysis for Civil Aviation Safety (BEA) on Friday said in a tweet that downloading and decoding of the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder, the two components of the PK-8303 black box, “has ended. Analysis will continue”.

It said that the Pakistan’s Aircraft Accident and Investigation Board (AAIB) “will publish at a later date a preliminary statement on the event based on downloaded data/Pakistan’s AAIB is leading the investigation/current communication on their behalf”.

Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan had already announced that the preliminary report of the plane crash would be tabled in parliament on June 22.

Ninety-seven of the 99 passengers and crew members onboard the PIA flight were killed when the plane crashed into houses in Karachi’s Model Colony area on May 22. A teenage girl also lost her life on ground.

Airbus, being the manufacturer of the A320 aircraft had sent an 11-member team to Pakistan to offer technical assistance to AAIB investigators.

The team had earlier this week left for France along with the FDR and CVR of the aircraft. AAIB President Air Commodore Usman Ghani also accompanied the French team.


Dawn – Navigating an unsettled world

Op/Ed Maleeha Lodhi, 01 June 2020. In an unsettled world where strategic tensions between big powers are mounting, Pakistan faces daunting foreign policy challenges in a turbulent global and regional environment.

The pandemic has injected greater volatility into an international landscape already afflicted by threats to multilateralism, trade and technology wars between big powers and attempts by regional powers to reshape the rules of the game in their neighbourhood.

Understanding the dynamics of a world in disarray where unilateral actions and rejection of international norms by big powers and populist leaders hold sway is important as they have implications for the pursuit of Pakistan’s foreign policy.

Four key policy areas pose immediate challenges and have to be simultaneously addressed:
1) Navigating the US-China confrontation
2) Dealing with occupied Kashmir and managing relations with an implacably hostile India
3) Helping Afghanistan win the peace but also preparing for less hopeful scenarios
4) Balancing relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Rising tensions between the US and China have a direct bearing on Pakistan. Even as Islamabad does not want this stand-off to affect its relations with either of the two countries, that is easier said than done.

What has been described as a new cold war will intensify in a US election year when President Donald Trump has made China-bashing a central plank of his re-election campaign.

He is both playing off a bipartisan political consensus and fortifying anti-China public sentiment that preceded the pandemic and has been strengthened by it.

Pakistan faces daunting foreign policy challenges in a turbulent environment.

The pandemic has also reinforced US plans to reduce economic dependence on China by reconfiguring or diversifying global supply chains and pursuing a more overt contain-China policy.

When this gets underway it may result in India emerging as a stronger economic partner of Washington.

This will also bolster the longer-standing American strategy to project India as a strategic counterweight to China especially as India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi seems willing to play that role.

The implications for Pakistan of the US-India entente are already evident by Washington’s tepid response on Kashmir and continuing augmentation of India’s military and strategic capabilities.

Thus, closer US-India relations will confront Pakistan with a regional environment of greater strategic imbalance.

Concern about CPEC and China’s Belt and Road Initiative has prompted frequent US criticism of these megaprojects.

A White House report sent last month to Congress is more explicit, asserting that BRI will give China “undue political influence and military access”.

Statements by American officials that CPEC will impose a heavy debt burden on Islamabad represent unsubtle though vain efforts to drive a wedge between Pakistan and China.

While Islamabad will want to avoid getting in the cross hairs of US-China friction it is obvious that Pakistan’s strategic future lies with China.

CPEC is emblematic of China’s aim to strengthen Pakistan, economically and strategically, and must be our overriding priority.

Pakistan’s relations with China remain on a positive trajectory but will need regular reinforcement. Close consultation with Beijing on key global and regional issues, including Afghanistan, will be important.

Ties with the US have improved, but lack substantive content. For now, the main commonality is Afghanistan.

That too will be tested in coming months when hurdles are encountered in the fragile Afghan peace process. Nevertheless, it is important to keep engagement on a positive track while accepting the limits of the relationship.

On Afghanistan, Pakistan should extend whatever assistance it can to the much-delayed peace process, still facing a host of challenges.

The recent Eid ceasefire between the Taliban and Kabul and the accord between President Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah have however brightened prospects.

What Pakistan’s establishment must come to terms with is President Trump’s intention to pull out US troops regardless of whether intra-Afghan talks advance or produce a negotiated end to the war.

The latest indications of this are the US military withdrawal proceeding ahead of schedule and Trump’s reiteration that it was time for Afghans “to police their own country”.

Washington’s stance is unlikely to change if Trump loses the November election to Joe Biden as they have similar views on disentangling the US from its costly involvement in Afghanistan.

Islamabad thus needs to think long term and prepare for different scenarios that might emerge in Afghanistan keeping in view machinations by regional countries acting as spoilers in Afghanistan’s peace effort.

Pakistan’s most imposing challenge however will remain managing relations with India where the Modi government is bent upon crushing the Kashmiri resistance by unprecedented levels of repression and orchestrating anti-Muslim sentiment and pogroms in India.

Dialogue with Delhi is ruled out by its brutal and illegal actions in occupied Jammu and Kashmir, where even medical services have been denied during the pandemic, and India’s refusal to discuss the issue.

Aggressive moves by India on the Line of Control and covert actions in Balochistan represent a toxic mix that have sent tensions soaring with Pakistan.

Prime Minister Imran Khan’s repeated warnings about a possible false flag Indian operation underlines the growing danger.

Faced with this, Pakistan will have to avoid any engagement for the sake of engagement with India unless Pakistan’s concerns are accommodated in future talks. This is hard to see under Modi.

On Kashmir, Pakistan needs a strategic approach and a sustained diplomatic campaign, not an on-off approach. Tweets are not a diplomatic strategy. Noise is not a policy.

A strategy for a changed global environment should preserve our principled stance while mobilising international support for a peaceful Kashmir settlement.

This means pushing the boundaries at the international level. For a start, a virtual meeting of OIC foreign ministers should be sought, taking advantage of the rising concern among many OIC countries about India’s anti-Muslim actions.

Once the situation permits, Pakistan should also seek a meeting of the UN Human Rights Council exclusively on occupied Kashmir to refocus world attention on the egregious human rights violations there.

Space limits detailed consideration of policy towards the Middle East.

Most importantly, Pakistan should deftly balance its relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran, who remain locked in a tense stand-off, and stay the course on a policy that avoids being drawn into their rivalry, however challenging it may be given Pakistan’s increased financial reliance on Riyadh.

The writer is a former ambassador to the US, UK and UN.


Dawn – Provisional investigation report on PIA plane crash to be made public by 22 June – Ghulam Sarwar

Islamabad – Pakistan, 28 May 2020. Federal Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan on Thursday said that a provisional investigation report on last week’s plane crash, as well as previous crashes, will be made public by June 22 during the upcoming parliamentary sessions.

He made these remarks during a press conference in Islamabad, where he revealed that the prime minister met the inquiry board and directed them to conduct a thorough inquiry into the causes of the air crash.

A PIA plane, Airbus A-320, carrying 99 people on board, had crashed into a residential area near Karachi airport last week, resulting in 97 casualties.

“There have been 12 plane crashes in our recent history, including the one last week. And when I briefed the prime minister on these accidents, he inquired as to why their investigative reports never come out on time,” said Sarwar, adding that Prime Minister Imran’s “main concern” right now is to ascertain the causes of these delays.

“As the aviation minister, I will, therefore, try my best to release a provisional investigation report during the parliamentary sessions by 22 June,” Sarwar said.

He added that the said report will reveal not just the reasons for the recent crash in Karachi but will also “briefly” touch upon the reasons for the delay in the reports of previous air crashes.

He added that the forthcoming report will be “a free and fair” one because the members of the inquiry board were answerable to Allah.

The aviation minister also revealed that an 11-member team, comprising experts from Airbus and representatives from the French government and the engine manufacturers, had reached Karachi on 26 May.

“They [the members of the team] are currently investigating the causes of the air crash. And they will share their findings with our inquiry board,” Sarwar said.

DNA identification

Sarwar said that 51 dead bodies have been identified and handed over to the families until now and that the identification process will continue until all the results from the DNA tests have been received.

“It will take some time for all the bodies to be identified. But once that process is completed, we will hand over all the remaining dead bodies to the grieving families,” he said.

Reiterating the government’s support for the grieving families and of those residents who were directly affected by the crash, Sarwar said that he understands that monetary compensation isn’t enough to recompense for the loss of the grieving families.

“We have announced that families of those who were killed would receive Rs1 million each while the two survivors would be given Rs500,000 each. But we know this isn’t enough and therefore we will not rest until we have conducted a thorough inquiry into the crash,” he said.

Sarwar said that the causes of the accident were a concern for the entire country and not just of those whose families had lost their loved ones.
“We are all deeply concerned as to why these crashes keep happening,” he said.

The federal aviation minister also said that the government would offer compensation to the residents of the area whose houses were impacted by the crash.

“I met many aggrieved people on the ground when I visited the accident site,” Sarwar said, as he announced that the government will start the rehabilitation process in the area once experts have concluded their estimates.

He paid tribute to the “passion and bravery” of the civilian volunteers who assisted the recovery operation on the day of the crash. The aviation minister also urged people not to speculate on the causes of the air crash.

“I think the entire country should wait, be patient and wait for inquiry board to release their report.”

Responding to a question on whether there was a technical fault that caused the accident, Sarwar requested TV anchors and journalists to refrain from discussing the technical aspects of the crash, saying that only the experts could answer their queries.

“Look, if there was a technical fault in the plane, it must have been recorded. In other words, we will find out one way or the other soon,” Sarwar said.

“Voice and data records have been found. I believe one was found earlier today. French authorities will take these records back to France to decode them. There are technical questions that you or I can’t answer. So we will wait for experts to tell us,” he added.

Sarwar also said that the domestic flight operation has not been impacted in the aftermath of the accident.

“No, the domestic operation continues as usual. And PIA is also repatriating stranded overseas Pakistanis. In fact, we will soon increase the number of domestic flights,” Sarwar concluded.