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Transparency is the core value of a democratic system. The idea of official secrecy is seen as the vestige from colonial past. The only question remains, whether transparency is an absolute value or some kind of protocol must be followed before putting information in public domain. What happens when a piece of information brings such unintended results that any amount of firefighting fails to control.

This is precisely what has happened with the Pakistan government, whose ministers never fall in trouble for telling lies, but a minister’s honest disclosure on the floor of National Assembly has all hell let loose. Pakistan’s image in the world aviation sector has become victim of domino effect and we don’t know when and how it is going to stop. It reminds us of Charandas Chor, a Rajasthan folk character immortalized by Habib Tanvir’s Chhattisgarh folk theatre. Charandas was a thief but not a liar and here was the whole twist. He suffered, not for stealing but for refusing to tell a lie.

When a minister speaks on the floor, whole world listens. This whole world’s attention proved very fatal for Pakistan civil aviation. Pakistan civil aviation minister of Imran Khan cabinet, Ghulam Sarwar Khan announced in Pakistan National Assembly that Pakistan International Airlines has 860 pilots and 262 pilots out of them have dubious flying licenses. He clarified that these pilots passed the exam with dummy candidates.

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He was presenting the report on PIA airbus A320 crash which took place on May 22, 2020. He was telling the truth in the capacity of being highest civil authority on aviation in Pakistan. He was being kind to the world of aviation that this is the level of danger emanating from large number of Pakistani pilots. Apart from PIA, 107 Pakistani pilots work with foreign airlines.

He was telling very honestly that the world is unsafe, if a Pakistani pilot driven plane passes through its airspace or even more unsafe if these planes are given landing rights in their airports. In a parliamentary democracy, a minister is the highest authority on the matters concerning his department. Had this statement come from an investigative journalist, an opposition leader, or even a party member, world would have taken it with a pinch of salt. But what can be more sacred than the words uttered by a minister on the floor of house?

World took cognizance. International media led the charge.

Vietnam and Kuwait grounded its pilots with Pakistani license. UAE asked Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority for verification of credentials of Pakistani pilots, engineers and flight operation officers working in middle-east. The biggest jolt came from European Union. It banned landing of Pakistani planes in Europe for next six months.UK also followed suit.

Pakistani pilots with dubious license are a source of worry and world has come in to action. But all is not well with the rest of the world. Russia is also not above board as far as its pilots licenses are concerned. A pilot with dubious license is threat for the world. But what do you think about a well trained and well accredited pilot who is sleep deprived? RT report makes claims that majority of Russian pilots are sleep deprived. Long hour flights and social media use leads to sleep deprivation. Our own former IAF Chief BS Dhanoa had raised this concern about social media use causing sleep deprivation among trained pilots of Indian air force.

Coming back to Ghulam Sarwar Khan’s statement, how much cost a country is ready to pay for such candid, voluntary official disclosure about its pilots? It is obvious that world gains in terms of safety and PIA and Pakistan lose in terms of both money and credibility. Apart from air safety, this case has raised another issue to consider, that is how should a minister behave on the floor. Should he act with transparency that can prove to be fatal for its core sector like civil aviation? Or some other protocol could have been followed for making sure that PIA adheres to international safety protocol? How much a minister or a member of ruling party is expected to behave like a whistle blower and when  does the act of whistle blowing begin to sound like loose cannon?


In Punjab, Navjot Singh Sidhu has acted in this manner, speaking in the public against the policies of own government. Satpal Dang, minister of food and civil supplies did this in United Front government led by Justice Gurnam Singh in 1967.  All Congress governments in Punjab have seen many such characters. Interestingly, such persons have been lauded for their so called honesty and they are rarely reminded about the ideal of party discipline.

Parliamentary democracy works on the principle of collective responsibility.  All the eggs are good, either, or all are rotten, this is parliamentary democracy. If a minister or MLA behaves like the opposition of own government, he is displaying utter contempt towards the conventions of parliamentary democracy. When a member from treasury bench speak, his words matter. What your words can do to your country, always remember the case of Ghulam Sarwar Khan and PIA, and learn to follow some protocol. Politicians’ words matter to the world.



Dr. Amanpreet Singh Gill teaches Political Science at SGTB Khalsa College, North Campus, Delhi University. Apart from short stories, he writes on Punjab politics and Sikh history. He has authored six books in Punjabi and English. Non-Congress Politics in Punjab (2015), 1708 Dasam Guru di Dakhan Feri (2017) and Kes History of Sikhs and other Essays (2020) are his better known works. He can be reached at: [email protected]

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