Safety & Security Today recently got an opportunity to conduct interview of seasoned politician Ghulam Sarwar Khan. A cool, composed and graceful minister talked with ease and confidence on varies subjects ranging from his career to constituency and aviation matters. He dilated upon the strategies of his government and ministry to handle a complex situation arising from the ailing PIA and growth of aviation industry in Pakistan.
S&ST: Tell us something about your background, education and political journey?
I belong to Pind Noshehri Khan, a village near Taxila. My family has been settled in the village for five generations. I received education till matriculation from Public High School, Wah Cantt. Afterwards, I got a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of the Punjab.
I had no inclination towards becoming a politician, but my family convinced me to enter this field. My political journey began after I became a member of the district council back in 1979 – aged 24. Interestingly, under the law I was underage and not eligible to become the member of district council, but neither was I aware of this nor my opponents. Since I belonged to a middle class family, therefore, arranging finances for the election was also a problem. We arranged funds for the election campaign by selling around 100 maund of wheat which we had in stock. Later, I was elected to the Provincial Assembly of Punjab from Constituency PP-5 in the 1985 general election. I was re-elected to the Provincial Assembly in 1988, 1990 and 1993 respectively. Following the 1993 election, I was inducted into the provincial Punjab cabinet and was appointed as Provincial Minister of Punjab for Zakat and Ushr with the additional ministerial portfolios of Mineral Development, and Fisheries. I also served as the provincial minister of Punjab for Health from 1994 to 1996.
In the 2002 general election, I was elected to the National Assembly as an independent candidate from Constituency NA-53. In the same election, I was also re-elected to the Provincial Assembly of Punjab as an independent candidate from Constituency PP-8. I vacated the provincial seat and retained the National Assembly seat. In 2004, I was inducted into the federal cabinet and was appointed as Federal Minister for Labor and Manpower.
I was re-elected to the National Assembly as a candidate of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) from Constituency NA-53 in the 2013 General Election.
In the 2018 General Election, I was re-elected to the National Assembly as a candidate of PTI from Constituency NA-59 and from Constituency NA-63 (retaining the NA-59 constituency). Subsequently, I was sworn in as the Federal Minister for Petroleum in the federal cabinet of Prime Minister Imran Khan. After the cabinet reshuffle in April I was appointed as the Federal Minister for Aviation.
S&ST: How will you describe Wah?
Wah is a diverse city and people from all over Pakistan are settled there. I know people residing in Wah who originally belong to areas as far as the Ghanche District, the easternmost district of Gilgit–Baltistan. The diversity means that Wah may very well be called a “Mini Pakistan”. The city of Wah is also the only city in Pakistan that has approximately 100% literacy rate. This region was also home to the University of Ancient Taxila, which is considered to be one of the earliest universities in the world. It is believed that over 10,000 students from China, Babylon, Syria and Greece in addition to Indian students studied there.
S&ST: You previously held the portfolio of Minister for Petroleum. However, after April’s cabinet reshuffle you were given the Ministry of Aviation. How was your experience as the Petroleum Minister and now as the Minister for Aviation?
I have said this on record previously as well that becoming the Minister of Petroleum was not my own choice. The same is the case with my current portfolio, it was not my choice to be the Minister for Aviation. However, I was given the responsibility by Prime Minister Imran Khan and I am working to the best of my abilities to serve the nation.
S&ST: What are some of the major steps the present government has taken for the aviation industry?
The government approved a new National Aviation Policy in March this year to promote tourism and give a boost to the aviation industry in the country. The policy is expected to help spur growth of the domestic aviation industry, attract private investment for the management and development of new airports, and help revive the struggling national carrier. Another major step was the approval of a strategic business plan for the revival of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA). The government is also working to facilitate foreign airlines to increase international connectivity in Pakistan. British Airways, which suspended its operations in September 2008, in the wake of the Marriott Hotel bombing in Islamabad recently resumed operations.
S&ST: What are the major objectives of the National Aviation Policy?
Some of the key objectives of the National Aviation Policy are the improvement of governance and oversight for the compliance of International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) standards of aviation safety, security and facilitation. Development of state of the art infrastructure, which contributes positively towards the national economy. Provision of a level playing field for all national operators to grow and compete in both domestic and international markets.
Further, under the policy, in order to improve the quality of air travel and to make it affordable, incidence of taxation on tickets will be rationalized. For the growth of air travel, domestic carriers will be given incentives through exemption of duties and taxes on the import of aircraft and spare parts. Induction of fuel-efficient aircraft by airline operators will be encouraged.
Efforts will be made to improve air travel connectivity across the country and at the regional level. Airline operations on feeder service routes will also be incentivized. Aviation sector in the country will be liberalized by allowing market forces to determine the price, quality, frequency and range of air service options. Steps will be taken to ensure Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the airline sector.
S&ST: PIA has incurred massive losses in recent years. How successful has the present government been in limiting the losses?
PIA’s current deficit is in excess of Rs 420 billion. It is mind boggling that an airline with an operating fleet of 31, incurred such humongous losses. The airline also had numerous grounded aircraft because it had defaulted on payments that were to be made to acquire spare parts. However, I am happy to report that due to the various steps taken by the incumbent government, the operational losses of the airline are now witnessing a downward trend.
We are also working to increase the fleet size of PIA. Two new aircraft will be added to the fleet by the end of the year. More aircraft will be added in the coming years to take the size of PIA’s fleet to 45 by 2023.
S&ST: Do you think corruption is one of the reasons of decline of our national institutions like PIA?
The New Islamabad International Airport falls in my constituency and I was a Minister at the time of its groundbreaking back in 2006. At that time the initial PC-1 of the project estimated the cost of the project at Rs 38 billion which escalated to Rs 105 billion when the project was completed. There were so many alleged irregularities in the project that now the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) are also looking into it. The same is the case with PIA and many other national institutions, for instance Pakistan Steel Mills which were once profitable but are now in net losses of billions of rupees.
S&ST: Services provided at airports can best be described as inadequate. What steps are being taken to improve these?
The National Aviation Policy has addressed this issue. Keeping in view the fast-changing technology of Aviation industry, training and skill development of personnel will be given high importance. The whole value chain of the Aviation sector will be synchronized for the growth of safe air travel and the national economy at large.
S&ST: Are you satisfied with the safety standards in our Aviation industry?
Pakistan has a fairly decent record when it comes to the Aviation industry. But considering the importance of safe travel, under the new aviation policy Civil Aviation Authority will implement the State Safety Program (SSP) and Safety Management System (SMS) as per ICAO requirements. Under this program, it will be ensured that relevant service providers implement the Safety Management Systems (SMS), proactively identify safety hazards, and apply risk management principles for mitigation of these hazards. A State Safety database will be developed to act as a basis for the identification of safety risks.
S&ST: Most of our airports are not of international standard. Are there any plans for uplift of airports?
Airport infrastructure in the country needs to be modernized in line with global standards to cater for the growing needs of passengers. Airports will further be made safer, user-friendly and infrastructure will be upgraded according to modern needs.
S&ST: Let us digress from the focus of our interview. What is your take on the atrocities in Kashmir and New Delhi’s move to end the special status of the occupied valley through revocation of Article 370 of its constitution last month?
India has made a huge blunder by revocation of Article 370 and this would give a new impetus to Kashmir freedom movement. Pakistani nation will stand with its Kashmiri brethren and will not leave them alone. We will give a befitting response to India if war is imposed on us. The defense of Pakistan is in strong hands and the entire nation stands united with the Armed Forces.
S&ST: As a seasoned politician and Minister, what message would you like to give to the people of our country?
I would sum it up in a few words. Pakistan is a great country and we are a resilient nation. Challenges are there, both internal and external but we have to stand firm to defend our country against all odds. Let us be positive and work for the development of the country with all our talent and abilities.